Devil and the Deep (1932): Pre-Code Melodrma, Starring Tallulah Bankhead, Charles Laughton, Gary Cooper, and Cary Grant

Though planned as a star vehicle for Tallulah Bankhead, it is Charles Laughton’s performance that dominates Devil and the Deep, a Pre-Code marital melodrama.

Laughton would win the Best Actor Oscar in the following year, for his performance in the British biopic, The Private Life of Henry VIII.

This was Cary Grant’s second film at Paramount, whose big star in the early 1930s was Gary Cooper.  This is the first of two films in which Grant and Cooper appear together, and while they have no scenes together in this one, they share the screen in one scene in their next film, the 1933 Alice in Wonderland.

Directed by Marion Gering, the film is based on Maurice Larrouy’s novel, Sirenes et Triton.

Laughton plays Charles Sturm, a naval commander whose jealousy and abuse makes life miserable for his wife Diana (Bankhead).  Suspicious of his own subordinate, Lieutenant Jaeckel (Cary Grant), he has him transferred.

In one fit of paranoid rage, he strikes Diana, who then wanders off into the streets, where she encounters another officer, Jaeckel’s replacement, Lieutenant Sempter (Gary Cooper).  Upon learning of their affair, Charles plots a revenge.

Diana goes aboard to warn Sempter of Sturm’s dangerous scheme, but when Sturm arrives, he orders the sub out to sea.  Sturm then deliberately maneuvers into the path of an oncoming ship, which sinks the sub. Some compartments are flooded, but the crews is able to get out.

The trapped survivors gather in the control room; Sempter and Sturm square off, asserting command, while Diana exposes Sturm’s madness.

Sempter then takes control and organizes the crew’s escape. Diana and the crew exit through the sub’s escape trunk using Momsen lungs.

Refusing to leave the ship, Sturm stays behind and sinks into raving insanity; he opens a door, laughing maniacally as the water rises.

Sempter, cleared by court martial, encounters Diana again in a shop, and they reunite.

This and all the other films Bankhead made in 1932 were commercial flops. The outspoken actress famously later said, “Dahling, the main reason I accepted the part was to f–k that divine Gary Cooper!”