Saturday 7 August 2021

Movie Review: Sangaree (1953)

A stiff costume drama, Sangaree is a talky and stodgy romance and adventure.

Just after the Revolutionary War in the late 1700s, wealthy and progressive land owner Victor Darby (Lester Matthews) is on his death bed when he bequeaths his Sangaree estate near Savannah, Georgia to Dr. Carlos Morales (Fernando Lamas). Carlos is from humble origins but is the only man trusted by Darby to continue his legacy and work towards freeing the slaves.

Darby's son Roy (Tom Drake) supports Carlos, but Roy's sister Nancy (Arlene Dahl) is influenced by her arrogant fiancé Harvey Bristol (John Sutton) and his evil father Dr. Bristol (Francis L. Sullivan). She rejects Carlos' authority and plans to dispute her father's will. Sparks fly between Carlos and Nancy, while Carlos also has to deal with pirates raiding his trading ships and a possible bubonic plague outbreak.

Directed by Edward Ludwig and filmed in fashionable 3D, Sangaree adapts the 1948 novel by Frank Slaughter with plenty of ambition but insufficient talent and budget. The ingredients promise swashbuckling intrigue, and the brief set-piece highlights include a naval raid, a duel with daggers, and a barroom brawl. All are choppily constructed and inelegantly staged. 

Too much time is occupied with dull and repetitive verbal sparring, and the constrained resources are evident in uninspired dialogue and cramped studio-bound sets. The pacing is uneven, the scenes between  Carlos and Nancy dragging on, all other events and characters squished into the brief remaining time. The acting is of the basic, one-note variety, Fernando Lamas focusing most intently on being shirtless as often as possible, otherwise revealing little beyond angry determination. Arlene Dahl struggles with Nancy's sudden transformation from manipulative schemer to acquiescent lover.

The many under-developed sub-plots include fragmented hints about emancipation, and the lingering passion of Carlos' ex-lover Martha (Patricia Medina), now married to Roy Darby but still lusting after the good doctor. A succession of poorly-defined secondary characters and would-be villains clutter the action with once scene here and two scenes there, the third dimension reserved for budget consumption and the occasional gimmick shot, all else plain and flat.

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