Key West in 1940 plays host to a thriving salvage business based on the many wrecks of ships found in the vicinity. Always first on the scene is King Cutler (Raymond Massey), arousing the suspicions of ship owner Loxi Claiborne (Paulette Goddard). Loxi's suitor, Captain Jack Stuart (John Wayne), is also implicated in the scam, thanks to the accusations of lawyer Steve Tolliver (Raymond Milland), who wants Loxi for himself.
John Wayne was in the early stages of superstardom when this lavish Cecil B. DeMille adventure was produced in 1942, so it's interesting to see the Duke in a heroic supporting role as opposed to the commanding one. Here he's on equal footing with Ray Milland in the romantic lead; they play a pair of dashing yet wildly different characters who've both fallen for a feisty Southern belle played by Paulette Goddard. It's 1840 on Florida's Key West, and while Wayne plays a daring seaman eager to command a brand-new steamship, his ambitions are hampered by his daredevil reputation and the ruthless profiteering of a salvager (Raymond Massey) who preys on ships that are routinely wrecked in the Key's rocky coastal waters. Milland plays the dapper gentleman who can decide Wayne's future, but Wayne's competitive edge leads to a progression of apparent betrayals and shifting allegiances. Ultimately, both men cast aside their differences to seek justice on the open sea, where an underwater encounter with a giant octopus threatens to bury them both in a watery grave.
Providing spectacle and romance as only DeMille could serve it up, this blustery adventure has its share of corny dialogue and obligatory crowd-pleasing action, but that's all part of the movie's considerable charm. It's like Gone with the Wind on the open sea, with the high-spirited Goddard (who had been a candidate for the role of Scarlett O'Hara) holding her own with her chest-thumping costars. DeMille fills his frame with delightful characters and background business, spicing up the story with just enough humour and hokum to offset the movie's forgivable flaws.--Jeff Shannon.