Sunday, August 21, 2011


In the striking opening shots of this cop/buddy movie, downtown Los Angeles looks like the nightmarish Pottersville vision of Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life. Stripper Sugar Torch is chased out of her dressing room and shot down in the street. Cops Glenn Corbett and James Shigeta, Korean War buddies and current-day roommates, investigate and discover that she had been working on a new production number in which she would have played a geisha who was murdered by a brick-crushing karate expert. Shigeta, who has contacts in LA's Little Tokyo, questions a judo instructor who was going to participate in the act. Meanwhile, Corbett talks to Victoria Shaw, an artist who had done a painting of Sugar in her kimono. Both men stir up some trouble, leading Corbett's old friend Anna Lee, herself an artist, to keep an eye on Shaw who has been ID'd in the press as a possible witness. Corbett falls for Shaw, but Shaw soon finds herself more interested in Shigeta, leading to tensions between the two friends, exacerbated by the racial element in the romantic triangle. During what is supposed to be a friendly kendo tournament between Caucasians and Nisei (first-generation Japanese-Americans), Shigeta beats the hell out of Corbett, venting over what he thinks is Corbett's racist belief that Shigeta isn't good enough for Shaw. In a climax set during a Japanese New Year parade, the killer is caught and the friendship seems to be repaired.

One is tempted to treat this Samuel Fuller film as a B-crime film, but it's really more a forerunner of the later "buddy movie" genre; even though Sugar Torch's murder is the starting point, we almost cease to care about the solution to the crime because the cops' relationship and the evolving love triangle take center stage. Corbett (pictured at left, perhaps best known for replacing George Maharis in the 60's TV show Route 66) and Shigeta (star of Flower Drum Song who went on to a long character actor career in TV) work well together, and Shaw pulls off the difficult task of genuinely liking both men but only loving one of them. Lee does a nice job against type as a tough old gal with a heart of gold--though for a while, I was sure she was the killer. This black and white film was shot in widescreen and its many notably striking compositions give it the look of a higher-budget movie. Rarely shown on cable, but worth searching for on DVD as part of the Samuel Fuller Collection from Sony. [DVD]

No comments: