1 October 2002 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Lisping McAvoy is "thea-thick"
"Caught in the Fog" is a po-faced treatment of material that was already spoofed quite mercilessly in Raymond Griffith's silent comedy "You'd Be Surprised". Both films have very nearly the same premise, the difference being that "Caught in the Fog" tries (and fails) to be a thriller, with comedy relief (from Mack Swain and Hugh Herbert) that overwhelms the thriller elements.
A valuable pearl necklace is stored in a safe aboard a houseboat off the Florida coast. Mrs Vickers, who owns the houseboat (and also the necklace) is absent, but her son Bob (Conrad Nagel) is aboard, disguised as his mother's butler. Among the guests aboard the houseboat are Dr Voisin (Emile Chautard) and his wife (Ruth Cherrington), a respectable French couple who are secretly jewel thieves. Also aboard is "Silk Shirt" Harry (Charles Gerrard), a jewel thief who doesn't even bother to hide the fact that he's a jewel thief. Rounding out the passenger list is pretty blonde Jane Reagan (May McAvoy), disguised as the maid. Jane is helping "Silk Shirt" to steal the necklace ... but anyone as blond and pretty as May McAvoy can't possibly be a real crook. Maybe she's secretly working for the cops...
This movie is ridiculous. The necklace vanishes from the safe almost immediately, and throughout the rest of the film it keeps popping up in vases, hollowed-out books, statuettes, and other implausible places. We're supposed to suspect everybody. The incredibly contrived plot is laughable without actually being funny.
Matters are not helped by the fact that "Caught in the Fog" is that most awkward of films: a part-talkie. May McAvoy was an extremely beautiful actress in late silent films; here, in this film's brief talking sequences, she exhibits a very weak voice with a lisp. The talkies destroyed her career. McAvoy played the female lead in the 1925 silent epic "Ben-Hur" ... and she played an extra in the 1959 remake of "Ben-Hur". Farewell, sweet silent beauty.
"Caught in the Fog" is slow, clumsy, and ludicrous. Swain and Herbert provide welcome comedy relief. The photography (by Byron Haskin) is excellent, although -- as usual for films set on shipboard -- all the sets, actors and props seem much steadier than they ought to be.