Thursday, May 10, 2012


On the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Claire, an American nightclub singer, is living in Manila with a maid and an adopted daughter; John, her soldier boyfriend, is called up to go to Bataan and tells her to leave the country, but she wants to stay near him.  He arranges a quick wedding ceremony out in the woods, and without even a wedding night, he's off.  Later, when she hears about the fall of Bataan, Claire rather improbably treks off into the jungle to look for John.  She finds him as a prisoner of war but sees him shot dead by a Japanese soldier when he tries to drink from a poisoned water trough.  Luckily, Claire is helped out by Corporal Boone, whom she then helps out by agreeing to go back to Manila to become a spy for the underground.  In the city, she reunites with her former boss and runs a nightclub which caters to the Japanese troops.  Under the code name "High Pockets" (for her habit of slipping notes in her bra), she turns the Club Tsubaki into a clearinghouse for intelligence which is passed along to Boone; she also cozies up to Col. Masamoto to find out more information helpful to the Allies.  She is a successful spy for two years until her cover is blown and she is arrested, tortured, and sentenced to death by Masamoto, who is none too happy to have been tricked by a woman.  Eventually, with the Americans closing in, Boone and a squadron of men raid the prison and free Claire, whom we last see being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

This film is based on the true story of Claire Phillips, who really was a spy in Manila, was tortured, and won the Medal of Freedom.  Still, much of this telling of her life is convoluted:  in real life, she had a daughter, not through adoption but by a previous marriage, and after the first 20 minutes, we barely see the girl.  The incident in the jungle in which she sees her husband killed and meets Boone is far-fetched and in fact completely fictitious—in real life, she didn't know her husband was dead until much later.  The final raid is a little confusing—it seems as though only a handful of men are involved, but suddenly, there are dozens of men storming the prison.  Still, for a low-budget war film, this is watchable enough.  Ann Dvorak (pictured) is fine as Claire, though her personality is a bit unstable:  at the beginning, she's mousy and passive, and not at all like an entertainer; later, at the Club Tsubaki , she is suddenly confident and outgoing.  She even gets to sing a song, "Because of You," and we see her start performing a fan dance in an attempt to keep a Japanese officer in the club past midnight.  The rest of the B-level cast is OK: a bearded Gene Evans, looking quite contemporarily bearish, as Boone; Douglas Kennedy as her husband; Philippine actor Leon Lontoc as a native guerrilla fighter and protector of Claire; and best of all, Richard Loo as Masamoto, a worthy adversary for Claire, and surprisingly a somewhat fleshed-out character rather than just a stock villain.  The best scene is a mutual slapping argument in the club between Clair and a pudgy Japanese businessman (who turns out to be a munitions dealer). [TCM]

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