The Second World War is raging in the Pacific, and Lieutenant Elizabeth Smythe (Linda Darnell) is a doctor on a hospital ship so devoted to her work that the other staff consider her a cold fish, even an old maid since she does not show any interest in getting married. Also on that ship tonight is Corporal Mike Dugan (Tab Hunter), who among his fellow marines is regarded as the baby of the company, much to his chagrin as they taunt him with a song. Just as he is about to lose his temper, there is a huge explosion and the craft is rocked by the damage, sinking fast. There are casualties and Mike is almost one of them, knocked out for a while, though he does come round and manage to climb into a life raft – then he hears a cry for help.
The Blue Lagoon had more influence than you might think – not the Brooke Shields epic, but the original which did for Jean Simmons what the remake did for Brooke. Saturday Island was very much in that vein, planting its two attractive co-stars in a region of dry land in the Pacific (actually Jamaica for the purposes of filming) and sitting back to watch the sparks fly. It was significant for Hunter in that this was the first of his starring roles, signalling a new hunk of beefcake was arriving in the world’s consciousness and breaking the mould for ideas of what constituted male beauty on the screen. That this was mainly down to the fact he spent most of his time on front of the camera displaying a muscular torso sans shirt was not lost on his fans.
They included men as well as women, for Hunter became a gay icon for movie buffs of that persuasion thanks to his willingness to pose for pin ups much in the same way that female stars would be demanded to. That he was homosexual himself was a not too well-hidden secret around Hollywood, but his female followers preferred to ignore the rumours, making Hunter an ideal fantasy figure, just friendly enough to have you believe you had a chance to get to know him, but enough of the Adonis to appreciate the worship of him as a demigod among us mortals, or that was how he would be portrayed in his publicity. Without Tab, a whole industry selling boyishly handsome males to a salivating demographic that continues to this day would not have had what amounted to its founding member.
Which makes it all the more unfortunate to report he was to Saturday Island what Christopher Atkins had been to the Blue Lagoon remake, a rather whiny, petulant and objectionable part that you would not be too keen to see hooking up with the Lieutenant even as their close proximity and solitude on the island practically forced them together. The issue here wasn’t Elizabeth’s chastity, but the ten year age difference, as he was a teenager and she was a positively ancient old dear in her late twenties, which might sound less of a big deal now, but despite being portrayed by Darnell, one of the legendary screen beauties of her day, her character was meant to have missed the boat as far as securing a partner went so should be grateful for this whinger’s attentions. Naturally, she grows less buttoned down the further the story progresses, not least because Mike saves her from the de rigueur shark.
If you wanted camp, it was certainly present: witness the flashback sequence where Mike finds the skeleton of the last inhabitant, who turns out to be John Laurie who had a fling with a native girl (Sheila Chong), but when she died he went off the rails and bizarrely was frightened to death by a dinosaur. This leaves you wondering when the giant monster is going to show up again, but sad to say it’s a mere cameo for the magnified iguana, and he doesn’t become the third wheel in a love triangle, though there remains that role to be filled, so when a plane crashes onto the island Elizabeth is able to save the life – if not the arm – of the pilot, William Peck. He was played by legendary voiceover man and radio actor Donald Gray, who did indeed have one arm (lost in combat) and a more suitable partner for his saviour, cue Mike beating him up in a particularly unendearing display. That he and Elizabeth have already consummated their relationship (cue crashing waves on the beach) complicates matters, but not so much that you’d be shocked at the outcome. Daft, torrid escapism. Music by William Alwyn.
[Network's DVD from The British Film brand has a nice print and a trailer (which is hilarious) and gallery as extras.]