Monday, June 08, 2015


This 13-chapter serial is set on Shadow Island, off the coast of China, the last area of neutrality in the Pacific War theater. Lucky Kamber runs a tavern/gambling joint called the House of Shadows where spies of various persuasions frequently cross paths. Kamber is friendly with Nabura, a Japanese "dragon lady" who is in charge of broadcasting propaganda from Lynn Moore, an Australian Tokyo Rose who sends dispiriting messages to Australian troops. However, Lynn is actually working for the Allies, sending coded messages in her broadcasts to Allied Command. Into this hornet's nest comes Phil Corrigan, aka Secret Agent X-9. His mission: to find out what's behind the secret Japanese project known as "722." We find out right off the bat that it's a chemical formula which, when mixed with distilled water, becomes a cheap fuel that could help the Japanese gain a distinct advantage in the war. But the Japanese don't actually have the formula; they need to get it from an American professor, so they plot to hire an agent to have plastic surgery done so he'll look like the professor, head off to America, and steal the formula. X-9 is onto them, they're onto X-9, and Kamber is stuck having to maintain official neutrality as spies from both sides run rampant.

This spy story with echoes of CASABLANCA in the setting and characters starts out as a fast-paced, entertaining thriller, but once all the plot threads are laid out—around Chapter 4—a creeping repetitive numbness sets in as the filmmakers seem to be simply marking time until they can get enough chapters to ensure a good run at weekend matinees around the country. Part of the problem is that everyone seems to know what everyone else is up to, but they act like they don't.  Also, despite the set-up of interesting characters, few of them get fleshed out in any way that would make us truly like or dislike them. Lloyd Bridges makes a fun and breezy hero as X-9 and Keye Luke (pictured with a gun at right) is fine as his sidekick. Sadly, for the most part, they are the only interesting actors in the whole thing. Nabura, who is in the serial as much if not more than X-9, should be either creepily sinister or campy fun, but Victoria Horne gives a disappointingly monotone performance, with eyes aimed down at the floor almost the entire time. Cy Kendall, usually a welcome presence as a heavy in B-films of the 40s, isn't given much to do as Lucky Kamber, who spends most of the serial playing X-9 and Nabura against each other, hoping for a big payoff for himself no matter which side wins in the end; Jan Riley as Lynn—who somehow gets top billing above Bridges in the title role—is flat-out amateurish.

I enjoyed Nabura's two main henchmen, the German Bach (George Lynn) and the Japanese Takahari (Clarence Lung), both of whom I would steer clear of in a dark alley. There are two characters who appear in every chapter doing the exact same thing: Papa Pierre (Ferdinand Munier) is a landlord who listens in to X-9's conversations, and Solo (Samuel S. Hinds) is an old man who sits at the bar playing tiddlywinks. Both characters do become more interesting by the last couple of chapters—in fact, the last two chapters are quite good, though it's a bit of a slog getting through 3-1/2 hours to that last half-hour. The cliffhangers are generally fun—a truck going off a cliff (a literal cliffhanger), a ship blowing up, a room in which the floor slides back to reveal a pit with swords and knives sticking up. And I like that one of X-9's better tricks from early in the serial is repeated to even better effect at the end. Pictured at top are Horne, Bridges and Kendall. [DVD]

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