Monday, February 06, 2006


This is one of the first movies that James Cagney and his brother produced as independent filmmakers, trying to break away from the strictures of the studio system. It looks like it was made on the cheap, but after a while, it exerts a certain pull and the last 15 minutes or so are quite exciting. The plot, based very loosely on historical fact, is about an American journalist (Cagney) serving as editor of an English-language newspaper in Tokyo in the late 20's who breaks a story about a secret Japanese plan for world domination initiated by Premier Tanaka (John Emery). A fellow reporter (Wallace Ford) who comes into possession of a copy of the document winds up dead, but not after leaving the papers with Cagney. Sylvia Sidney, a Chinese temptress in league with Tanaka's men, is introduced to Cagney in order to seduce him so she can get hold of the plan, and she does, but after some manhandling by her colleagues, she goes over to Cagney's side and manages to smuggle the plans out of the country while Cagney faces off with a gang of violent goons, using judo to get the upper hand (although his formidable judo skills are of no help when the goons pull out guns in the last few minutes of the movie). As the fisticuffs fly, the plot loopholes grow--when the bad guys realize that Sidney is in league with Cagney, she is essentially put under house arrest in a hotel but we never see how she manages to escape, let alone get out with the plan intact. Frank Lloyd, the director, displays little in the way of interesting visual style, though there is an interestingly shot scene showing one of Sidney's Japanese handlers committing hari-kari after he realizes she has escaped. In the Hollywood tradition of the era, most of the major Japanese characters are played by Caucasian actors (including Robert Montgomery and John Halloran) but it's pulled off well and it's not distracting. Rosemary DeCamp, who played Cagney's mother in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, is Ford's wife, who also meets a bad end, and Porter Hall is Cagney's nervous publisher. The slam-bang ending makes the movie worth watching. [TCM]

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