Disgraced reporter Lloyd Nolan tries to redeem himself by solving crime on an ocean crossing.
After the wild but fun ride that was Air Hawks (1935) I went for another B by the same director, Albert S. Rogell, but while Atlantic Adventure (1935) was almost as frenetic, little of its activity was interesting or amusing.
Lloyd Nolan plays a reporter whose assignments always cause him to break dates with his girl Nancy Carroll. Carroll’s mother keeps steering her toward a dull and prissy “gentleman” who’s no match for the astringent but appealing Nolan, but Carroll’s fed up with his neglect and dumps him. On the same day, Nolan skips a routine interview with the boring district attorney so he can meet Carroll, but the D.A. gets murdered and Nolan misses the hot story. Now he’s lost both girl and job, so he decides to get both back by solving the crime on his own. With his photographer sidekick Harry Langdon in tow, Nolan follows a lead about the D.A.’s suspected killer (John Wray) sailing on the liner S.S. Gigantic.
Nolan lures Carroll on board to woo her one more time, and all three end up as stowaways. Carroll is mistaken for someone and handed a packet with cash and a passport, which leads Nolan to discover that Wray is not the only criminal on the ship. Wray has a henchman (Dwight Frye), there are thieves (Robert Middlemass and Vivien Oakland) carrying loot from a recent diamond heist, and they’re being tailed by another crook (Arthur Hohl). What ensues is lots of spying, stealing and double crossing, breaking into staterooms and hiding in closets, misunderstandings with the crew and several appearances by two very dapper and very drunk gents searching for booze and “shigarettes.” Loyalties change, and once the villains get wise to Nolan’s snooping and figure out Carroll is not one of their gang, they band together to split the jewels and toss our three heroes overboard.
The chances of all these plots converging on board the Gigantic are infinitesimal, but implausibility can be lots of fun when it’s done properly. In this one, I found all the threads and scrambled activity just became a waste of a cool group of actors, and excuses to throw a bunch of useless characters and annoying obstacles in Nolan’s path. I’ve enjoyed many Langdon comedies, but here his mugging and goofiness was too much. His character is loud and obnoxiously stupid, so hungry he’d sell his mother for a banana, and gets Nolan into trouble more than once. It’s grating to watch him blather on about how they didn’t pay their passage, in front of the ship’s officers (including E.E. Clive), while Nolan’s stare says “shut up.” Langdon’s looking straight at them, it’s not like they’re behind his back or anything, so it’s just not the least bit funny. Sadly, Carroll’s character is just as tiresome; Nolan calls her a “stubborn little nitwit” and that’s being generous. She looks glamorous but she’s such a dim bulb with zero regard for Nolan’s feelings, well-being or career, that I couldn’t see why he even gives a rip about her. With friends like these to mess up his investigation, Nolan hardly needs bad guys.
Those bad guys were played by such good actors that thanks to them and the always enjoyable Nolan, I couldn’t call the movie a total waste of time. I enjoyed how Nolan struts into the newsroom and lies about doing his interview with the murdered D.A., quoting him extensively while the rest of the staff look on in horror. It’s a fun bit that feeds on the way his nasty editor (Thurston Hall) listens and lets him go on before showing him the front page headline he failed to get. Also in that scene is Victor Kilian, who I liked in Air Hawks, and he does so much in his few short moments on screen that I wished he was Nolan’s sidekick.