Based on a novel and play written by Carl Sloboda and borrowing on themes from Guy de Maupassant's short story “Boule de Suif,” Infernal Machine is an examination of the threat of impending death on a group of people aboard a ship bound for New York.
This pre-Code comedy-thriller centers on Robert Holden (Chester Morris), a broke and discouraged veteran, who meets fellow American Elinor Green (Genevieve Tobin) at a cafe in Paris. After their first encounter, Holden's attempt to return Green's thought-to-be stolen purse ends up rendering him a stowaway on board a ship bound for America. Also aboard is a collection of characters, including Green's banker fiancé, a famed scientist, and an opera singer. Unbeknownst to the notable passengers, they are all being observed by Spencer (James Bell), a telegram operator and obsessed author, who seeks to write an exposé on celebrities entitled “The Arrogance of Power.” Romance begins to blossom between Holden and Green, just as Spencer produces a radiogram claiming that an “infernal machine,” or bomb, is aboard the ship. Accusations fly and the passengers begin to turn on one another, showing their true nature. Quickly each passenger accuses the others of planting the bomb until eventually Holden, jealous of Green's attention to her undeserving fiancé, falsely admits to being the culprit. In his role as assumed perpetrator, Holden tests the group further.
Infernal Machine was one of only three films directed by the French-born Marcel Varnel for the Hollywood studio system. Shortly after directing this feature, Varnel relocated to London where he continued to direct a series of low-budget comedies. —Staci Hogsett
35mm, b/w, 65 min. Director: Marcel Varnel. Production: Fox Films Corp. Distribution: Fox Films Corp. Screenplay: Arthur Kober. Based on the novel and play Die Höllen Maschine by Carl Sloboda and an English-language adaptation The Infernal Machine by B. Harrison Orkow. Cinematography: George Schneiderman. Art Director: Gordon Wiles. Music Director: Sammy Kaylin. Cast: Chester Morris, Genevieve Tobin, Victor Jorey, Elizabeth Patterson, Edward Van Sloan.
Restored from a 35mm nitrate print. Laboratory services by The Stanford Theatre Film Laboratory, Film Technology Company, Audio Mechanics, DJ Audio, Inc., Simon Daniel Sound. Special thanks to Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.