Review of White Legion

White Legion (1936)
Muddled Direction Results In A Work Of Notably Poor Order.
18 October 2014
Alpha Video provides a valuable service for cinéastes through its fresh release of vintage films. However, as these are not remastered, not all are in good condition, some having soured over time. Nonetheless, Alpha offers new art work, as well as informative liner notes for these films, despite their ofttimes sub-par audio and visual quality. The history of the Panama Canal's construction supplies the background for this film. Following the fruitless efforts of France to complete the project, that was broken off due to the deaths, from yellow fever, of tens of thousands of imported contract laborers, an exceptional medical team, under U.S. leadership, isolated, and then destroyed the disease's carrier, the common mosquito. One-time matinée idol Ian Keith is cast as leader of the research team, an internationally flavoured collection of not inconsiderable scientific expertise. However, a large portion of his efforts are employed to show the way for available U.S. military personnel to coat local waters with oil as means of stymying mosquito movements, including breeding. Keith has the lead here, but merely walks through his turn with a dour performance. Slipping past him is the talented Tala Birell who is given the best passage of the film: when Keith's character tries to become more friendly with Birell's (Dr.Stern), he inquires "Dr. Stern! Is there a first name?" Her reply - "Doctor". Surely this is one of the most perfect squelches within the annals of cinema history. Gathering in the performing laurels here is veteran character actor Rollo Lloyd for a strongly defined Colonel, military commander of the Canal Zone's troops. He effectively handles a disturbance caused by unruly military personnel along with civilians who wish to avoid rules and regulations. Longwhile D. W. Griffith assistant Karl Brown is the director, with his efforts being undermined by his own screenplay, a disordered mixture composed of drama, action, romance and comedy. This makes for an unconvincing storyline, although the script is consistently handled throughout the affair. In sum, the film is denied that which it sorely needs, a secure hand at the helm, to highlight the drama within the story in order to outline the events of a fairly recent period (at the time of the work's release, only about 30 years prior); a missed opportunity, indeed!
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