SPOTLIGHT: Bold Pre-Code Bankhead (V)

Welcome to a new Film Friday and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of the grand Southern diva of the American theatre, Tallulah Bankhead (1902-1968). For two years in the early ’30s, Bankhead tried her darndest to become a silver screen sensation, starring in five pictures for Paramount and one for MGM. Several of these pictures are quite hard to come by, but we will be featuring them all right here on That’s Entertainment! So far we’ve covered Tarnished Lady (1931), My Sin (1931), The Cheat (1931), and Thunder Below (1932). Today…


Devil And The Deep (1932)


A submarine commander’s jealousy drives his wife into the arms of another man, causing him to seek revenge. Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, and Cary Grant. Story by Harry Hervey. Screenplay by Benn W. Levy. Directed by Marion Gering.


Tallulah is surrounded by stars in this neurotic tale of infidelity that’ll keep you near the edge of your seat for most of the 76 minutes. It is probably the best of Tallulah’s Paramount films — the script and story are solid (not great, but solid), her cast mates are strong and full of chemistry, and she is able to deliver a performance that is simultaneously theatrical and cinematic. While not a brilliant motion picture, it is a sleeper — a surprisingly coherent piece that may even inspire repeated viewings. As a critic who champions the strength of the narrative, I was quite pleased with the premise (see below).


“In North Africa, submarine commander Charles Sturm is insanely jealous of any attentions given his beautiful wife Diana, although she is innocent of infidelity… Due to his suspicions, he has his first officer Jaeckel transferred. After a terrible fight with her husband, Diana runs into the street at night and… meets a stranger who buys her perfume, and they fall in love, unaware of the other’s identity. The next morning, the commander introduces Diana to his new first officer, Lieutenant Sempter, the man with whom she had spent the night. The commander immediately suspects the two and confirms his suspicions when he detects Diana’s new perfume on Sempter’s handkerchief. Diana goes to the submarine to warn Sempter of her husband’s volatile temper but Sempter thinks she exaggerates. After confronting his wife and Sempter, the commander has the submarine submerge and then sabotages their maneuvers so the submarine collides with a ship and is knocked to the ocean floor, out of commission. The commander then sabotages the communications device. Diana proves to the crew that the commander is insane and Sempter takes control. He manages to save Diana and the crew by flooding the submarine and having everyone swim out through the buoy hatch. Sempter exits after a struggle with the commander, who, unable to open a door, drowns with the submarine. Later, a court finds Sempter guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer because of his relations with Diana. Diana waits for him outside the court and they reaffirm their love for each other.”

1932 Devil and the deep - Entre la espada y la pared (ing) (lc) 01