When B’s Get an A-Minus: ‘Island in the Sky’ and ‘Betrayed’

Although their DVD releases are bare-bones, Island in the Sky and Betrayed both benefit from their recent restorations from Fox and Warner archives.

Island in the Sky and Betrayed, both very good B pictures, each run at only 67 minutes. The films feature heroines navigating through tricky murder mysteries. They’re examples of the obscure little gems you find on demand from various studio catalogues, and both films look good in their bare-bones releases.

Gloria Stuart, most famous as the old lady in Titanic, is an excellently game and vivacious secretary to the District Attorney (Michael Whalen) in Island in the Sky. When he prosecutes a poor sap (Paul Kelly) for killing his rich dad, the man’s guilt looks as open and shut as if it were a Perry Mason case, and you know what that means. Our strong-minded gal Friday starts snooping with method and intelligence and finds all kinds of information, facing her own murder attempt along the way.

Also in the picture are Robert Kellard as a jailbird, June Storey as a tearful girlfriend, Paul Hurst as a comic-relief sidekick, Leon Ames as a nightclub owner, and the always striking Madame Sul-Te-Wan as a cleaning lady who projects dimensions beyond her lines. Writers Frances Hyland and Albert Ray deserve kudos for a satisfying, stylish story that begins and ends in a skyscraper nightclub called Island in the Sky, not to be confused with a John Wayne movie of the same name. Although it’s only a B item, it’s produced with the kind of gloss seen in the B’s at 20th Century Fox, including crisp and shiny photography by Edward Cronjager.

From Warner Archive comes the Monogram picture Betrayed (a reissue print of what was originally called When Strangers Marry) as directed by William Castle, who’d later set himself up as the king of promotional gimmicks and a rival to Alfred Hitchcock. He’s signaling his Hitchcocky ambitions as he throws many nifty bits of style at us, like cutting from a screaming woman to a train. Meanwhile, the script by Philip Yordan (who moved on to lots of tough and moody crime pictures) and Dennis J. Cooper seems at least partly inspired by the previous year’s The Seventh Victim, in which Kim Hunter wandered as a waif through an unwelcoming New York City.

DVD: Betrayed

Film: Betrayed

Director: William Castle

Cast: Kim Hunter, Robert Mitchum

Year: 1944

Rated: Not rated

US DVD release date: 2010-11-23

Distributor: Warner Archive

Rating: 7

Extras rating: N/A

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/betrayed_dvdblog_dvdart200.jpg

She’s doing it again here, only now she’s looking for the husband she barely knows (Dean Jagger) and beginning to wonder if he’s got something to do with a loudmouth salesman (Milton Kibbee) who got strangled with a silk stocking. Robert Mitchum makes such a strong impression as her ex-boyfriend, you’d say that boy’s got a career ahead of him. Neil Hamilton is a detective, Minerva Urecal is a landlady, Lou Lubin is a nervous bartender, and Rhonda Fleming has a bit role in the last scene.

Leonard Maltin calls it “as good a B-picture as you’ll ever find” and the package has a blurb declaring it “the finest B film made”. These overstate the case, but the movie’s absorbing while it unreels, even if the story’s unsteady. One of the most unusual passages has our heroine and her husband wandering through Harlem and checking out an all-black nightclub. This is presented as a signifier of the city’s slightly sinister other-ness, and it’s the kind of glimpse of black society that didn’t much occur outside of the occasional noir film.

RATING 7 / 10