Trade Winds is a 1938 American comedy murder mystery film directed by Tay Garnett written by Dorothy Parker, Alan Campbell, and Frank R. Adams, based on story by Tay Garnett. The film stars Fredric March and Joan Bennett, with a supporting cast featuring Thomas Mitchell, Ralph Bellamy and Ann Sothern. Distributed by United Artists, Trade Winds was released on December 28, 1938.
Socialite Kay Kerrigan (Joan Bennett) is accused of fatally shooting millionaire cad Thomas Bruhme II (Sidney Blackmer). Kay blames the callous Bruhme for her sister's suicide but when he is confronted, he dismissively throws Kay a gun, but she angrily shoots him in the stomach.
Police detectives Ben "Homer" Blodgett (Ralph Bellamy) and George Faulkner (Robert Elliott) find the body, with a gunshot in the back of Bruhme's head that is the fatal shot. After finding her handbag at the murder scene, the police are on Kay's trail. First she fakes a car accident, driving into the San Francisco Bay, then makes arrangements to go to Hawaii. When she pawns a unique piece of jewelry, Police Commissioner Blackton (Thomas Mitchell) knows that Kay is alive and puts former detective Sam Wye (Fredric March) on the case.
Kay with her hair dyed brown, and travelling on a British passport as "Mary Holden" has taken a ship to the South Seas. She is followed by Sam and his secretary Jean Livingstone (Ann Sothern), an old flame who also wants to collect a $100,000 reward now being offered by Bruhme's father.
On a boat sailing to Saigon, Sam finally meets Kay, and immediately falls in love with her. Along the way, Homer and Jean do the same. Sam eventually determines that the actual killer was John Johnson (Richard Tucker), a jealous husband whose wife was having an affair with Bruhme. Kay is thus cleared and free to marry Sam.
Principal photography on Trade Winds took place from August 22 to October 20, 1938. The film was a "labor of love" for Tay Garnett. Frank Nugent described the process in his review for The New York Times:
Frank Nugent in his contemporary review ofTrade Winds for The New York Times, said: ""Trade Winds," which blew gently into the Music Hall yesterday and may be remembered by posterity as the process shot that went 'round the world. It is not exactly a travelogue. As a mystery film it's a bit on the porous side. We hesitate to call it a romantic comedy, beginning as it does with a suicide, adding a murder and ending with a third body on the floor. And certainly it's not a straight drama. Maybe a new word is in order—a travestery comiromance, or a dramalogue of travesty." [N 1]
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