The Particulars of the Picture
|Flash the Wonder Dog…
|Jim Robbins …
|Molly James …
|Otto Von Krantz …
|Reverend James …
Henry B. Walthall
|The Chief …
The Flaming Signal: Taking a Tropical Bite Out of Crime
“You can take candy from babies for a while, but when they wise up– watch out!”
Dogs are great! I love dogs. Got two of them myself. Dogs are innately cinematic, too. I’m sure you’ve heard of Rin Tin Tin or Asta or many of the other canines who have made their fortune on the big screen. And, since there’s some you’ve heard of, I’m going to bet there’s a few you haven’t.
Here’s an obscure one named Flash, a cute German Shepard who’s trying to ride his way onto glory. His master, Jim Robbins, is a pilot who’s decided to go the daredevil route and attempt a trip directly from California to Hawaii. Flash, being Flash I guess, sneaks into the plane to tag along.
Flash was smart in bringing his own parachute on the ride because Jim loses control of the plane in a storm, and both he and Flash have to make a jump for it. Now I’ve done a tandem parachute jump before in my life (please, manage to hold your admiration), and I have to say that this film’s conceit that Flash the Dog can solo parachute is quite humbling.
On the island, Flash finds Molly, who is bathing in a nearby spring, and brings her back to help Jim. Jim’s pretty alright, and learns that he’s now one of five people on this island. Two are Molly and her missionary father, while the others are the owners of the local saloon and a pair of swindlers, Otto Von Krantz and his bartender… who also appears to be named Molly. Damn low budget movies, can’t even afford another name.
Otto is lecherous and cruel, and it’s amazing that he’s survived so long on the island. He takes it upon himself to swindle out the local hero of an enormous pearl he’s discovered, get the man drunk and steal his money back, and then he decides to rape the local chieftain’s daughter. This is, like, within a few hours of Jim and Flash arriving. Either they have great timing or awful luck.
The tribe is understandably upset about this chain of events, and the tribe’s chief confronts Otto directly. Otto, who is played by Noah Beery as emphatic as a bear with rabies, then kills the chief. The tribe doesn’t take this very well, either, and performs an elaborate ceremony back from the dead.
Jim and Molly, meanwhile, have realized their only chance to get off the island is a naval patrol plane that will be overhead in a few hours. Trapped in the bar by the rightfully angry natives, Flash must light a signal to bring help their way.
Meanwhile, the ritual is a success. That’s when, in a moment of panic, Krantz shoots and kills the chief. Again. Rather than go through the ceremony once more, the tribe just decides to kill everyone, and Jim and Molly make a break for it. After they escape, Flash reaches the bar, decides that it’s time to take the law into his own paws and [spoiler alert] rips out Krantz’s throat.
Okay, spoilers don’t matter much here. This is a standard low budget, Poverty Row thriller, manufactured during the Depression for young boys and their fathers to waste a nickel and an afternoon on. It’s got action, ladies in skimpy clothes, and a badass dog.
With such a low budget, though, the film often meanders and sometimes becomes funny by its own means. Some examples:
- A ‘large crowd’ is six people and a mess of stock footage.
- Rain is superimposed over footage of a plane to show us a dangerous storm.
- The special effect of the plane hitting the ocean is extraordinarily silly; it’s really obviously a toy thrown into the water.
The film is also padded to an almost ludicrous degree. We see every movement the characters make, which often includes laying around in pain or running around indiscriminately. The film even becomes distracted watching one man dive for pearls for a bit and meanders to watch an octopus and a shark fight. Look, I’m down for a good octopus/shark fight as much as the next guy, but at least pretend like it’s there for a reason.
Despite that, the film has its share of charms. It’s laconic, and playful even when it’s glaringly un-PC. Flash is indeed a cute doggy, even when he notches up his body count to two in the film’s final minutes. Nowadays it’s good background noise, since you only need to look up at the film once every few minutes to get the gist of what’s going on without missing anything, and its many flaws somehow add to its charms.
It is funny to note is that, though Flash kills (at least) two people in the course of the movie, Jim and Molly remain completely unaware of it by the film’s end. The only thing that could possibly improve this knowledge would be if the movie ended with Flash winking at the camera and the James Bond theme starting up.
Proof That It’s Pre-Code
- Not super Pre-Code or anything, but this put down is great: “And you’re full of prunes!”
- An admiring fan at the airfield asks Jim to sign her leg. The propeller for the plane starts up, and we see a lot more of her as her skirt blows up.
- When we first see Molly, she’s swimming in a pool in nothing but her underwear… well, the bottom half of that equation in any case. We also linger on her dressing to an almost perverted degree.
- We get ringside seats to the prelude to a rape as well as several gruesome murders. Here’s Flash on his rampage for the curious:
Trivia & Links
- I am not making this up: there is a Henry B. Walthall fanpage. It is not a favorable review, with Walthall’s character’s death knocking it down an entire point in the ‘Walthall Factor’ score.
Awards, Accolades & Availability
- This film is available on Amazon Instant.
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Caren · April 30, 2013 at 6:32 am
Henry B. Walthall was in a lot of films, it seems. Just saw him in two in one night–Strange Interlude and Me and My Gal, both 1932.
Danny · April 30, 2013 at 10:31 am
He plays ‘smart and kindly old dude’ pretty well, and there was definitely a demand for that at the time.
Cliff Aliperti · April 30, 2013 at 11:46 am
Henry B. died too soon. He really seemed to be piling up an impressive list of supporting roles, which surprised me the first time I noticed him in a talkie (“Hey, it’s the Little Colonel!”). He can do ‘awkward and slightly creepy’ as well as ‘smart and kindly.’ For a bit of each my two favorites are Dante’s Inferno and A Tale of Two Cities. I think we’d know him a lot better had he survived past 1936.
Danny · April 30, 2013 at 4:08 pm
I agree. I was reading the Walthall page I linked below, and the man had range. And at least one very devoted fan.
Judy · May 2, 2013 at 11:26 pm
Danny, I really want to see this one now for the parachuting dog! I like Walthall as David’s father in ‘Wings’, and also agree with Cliff that he is good in ‘Dante’s Inferno’ – he certainly had an impressive list of roles and it would be interesting to see more of his silents.
Danny · May 3, 2013 at 10:00 pm
The man’s got character, that’s for sure. Unfortunately Walthall does not get a chance to parachute in the course of the film; the dog does steal his thunder there.
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