Saturday 11 January 2014

Movie Review: Affair In Trinidad (1952)

An average conspiracy thriller, Affair In Trinidad reunites Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford from Gilda (1946), but a sophomoric "evil lurks here" plot limits the film's effectiveness.

In the sultry Caribbean British colony outpost of Trinidad, fledgling American artist Neil Emery is found dead in a small boat. It is left to local Inspector Smythe (Torin Thatcher) and American diplomat Anderson (Howard Wendell) to break the news to Neil's wife Chris (Hayworth), a nightclub performer. There are indications that Neil may have committed suicide, but Smythe suspects that mysterious local tycoon Max Fabian (Alexander Scourby) had something to do with the death. Smythe recruits Chris to secretly infiltrate Max's circle and investigate, a task made easier by Max's infatuation with Chris.

Neil's brother Steve (Ford) arrives in Trinidad in response to a letter that Neil wrote before his death, and is shocked to find his brother dead and his sister-in-law already sidling up to Max. Although Steve and Chris are attracted to each other, she has to keep her distance in order to seduce Max and poke around his mansion for clues of wrong-doing. With Steve uncovering his own evidence that Max is up to no good, Chris stumbles onto a dangerous international plot being orchestrated by Max, and involving a ragged group of traitors.

Affair In Trinidad has some noirish elements, but it is more earnest than cynical. Max and his plotters come across as a bunch of Nazi outcasts forming an amateur science club in his garden shed, and Steve steams through the movie with a boiling temper unbefitting of a thoughtful saviour. The movie is more of a Hayworth comeback role, and she is the central focus not as a femme fatale but rather a widow and victim clumsily thrust into a conspiratorial world. Her two musical numbers are a mish mash of the seductive and the ungainly, Hayworth stomping around rather than gliding on the dance floor, her moves more aggressive than graceful.

Director Vincent Sherman does conjure up a good mood. The nightclub and the parties at Max's mansion evoke a carefree yet tense island lifestyle where the rich and the riffraff all have something to hide and the heat helps to elevate the levels of agitation. The love quadrangle, with Chris struggling with feelings towards the hot-headed Steve, the smooth-tongued Max, and the deceased Neil, creates a flow of bubbling emotions.

The three central performances are also steady. There is no faulting Hayworth's commitment in the central role, her presence magnetic with shades of conflict, although despite many fetching gowns she never fully catches fire. Ford and Scourby play opposite characters and both deliver, Ford full of pent-up anger as Steve and Scourby full of himself as Max.

With Max's rag tag villains more bumbling than menacing, ultimately the rather inane plot undermines any momentum that Affair In Trinidad may have generated. The film ends in a rush and with an exceptional number of loose ends flailing in the Caribbean wind, waiting to be picked up by more polished movies.

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