Pre Code Hollywood Season: FD Cinematheque
White Woman (1933)
Director: Stuart Walker
Cast: Carole Lombard, Charles Laughton, Charles Bickford, Kent Taylor, Percy Kilbride, James Bell, Charles Middleton, Claude King, Ethel Griffies
White Woman is a 1933 American pre-Code drama film directed by Stuart Walker and starring Carole Lombard, Charles Laughton, and Charles Bickford. A young widow remarries and accompanies her husband to his remote jungle rubber plantation. The film was based on the Broadway play Hangman’s Whip by Norman Reilly Raine and Frank Butler.
One of hundreds of Paramount films held in limbo by Universal Studios. Universal gained ownership of Paramount features produced between 1929 and 1949. Paramount remade the film in 1939 as Island of Lost Men, with Anna May Wong, J. Carrol Naish and Broderick Crawford in the roles originated by Lombard, Laughton and Bickford. It was directed by Kurt Neumann.
Judith Denning, a beautiful cafe singer in Malay, has been forced to leave town after town because of gossip that says her husband’s suicide was on account of her infidelity. Upright British lawyer C. M. Chisholm accuses Judith of being a “loose white woman” who is tempting the natives and forces her to leave town by getting her fired.
Horace H. Prin, “King of the Jungle,” then offers to marry her. Prin takes Judith to his jungle home on the river, where he has been running a trading outfit for twenty years. Prin’s white management crew consists largely of criminal exiles whose secret pasts he uses as leverage to get them to remain under his ruthless tyranny.
When Hambly, who runs a station up the river, insists that the poor diet Prin has been feeding the native workers is breeding insurrection among them, Prin has him killed. Overseer David von Elst, who has not seen a white woman in ten years, quickly falls in love with Judith. A month after Judith’s arrival, she and David decide to run away, but when they confront Prin, he refuses to give them a boat and sends David up the river to take Hambly’s place at Gubar.
David, meanwhile, has told Judith he deserted his regiment after natives decapitated his partner and threw his head through David’s window. Since then he has lacked the courage to fight Prin and return to society. Ballister, the new tough overseer, then arrives and immediately asks Judith for a “tumble,” undaunted by Prin’s eccentric tyranny. When two tribal chiefs request the right to deal with other traders, Prin foolishly refuses them, and they prepare for war against him.
The natives kill Connors, one of Prin’s men, and throw his head through David’s window, after which David finally regains his nerve and travels through the dangerous jungle to warn Judith. David and Judith prepare to leave, but Prin drains their boat of gas. Ballister, sympathetic to the lovers, warns them to take another boat. When Prin shoots his pet baby ape, “Duke,” Jakey, Prin’s most faithful white servant, throws his machine guns in the river and leaves with David and Judith. Ballister and Prin play poker and drink as the natives approach, armed with spears. After Ballister is killed, Prin declares he is forever king of the jungle and walks out into the onslaught of spears.
- Carole Lombard as Judith Denning
- Charles Laughton as Horace H. Prin
- Charles Bickford as Ballister
- Kent Taylor as David von Elst
- Percy Kilbride as Jakey
- James Bell as Hambly
- Charles Middleton as Fenton (as Charles B. Middleton)
- Claude King as C. M. Chisholm
- Ethel Griffies as Mrs. Chisholm
- Marc Lawrence as Connors
- The American Film Institute Catalog Feature Films: 1931-40 published by The American Film Institute c.1993
- Hangman’s Whip, St. James Theatre, February 24, 1933, IBDb.com; accessed August 5, 2015.
- The American Film Institute Catalog Feature Films: 1931-40 published by The American Film Institute, c. 1993