Thursday 20 February 2014

Movie Review: Across The Pacific (1942)

A World War Two adventure conceived before the attack on Pearl Harbor and hurriedly re-written afterwards, Across The Pacific is a would-be classic, unfortunately let down by a poor ending.

It's 1941, World War Two is well underway, and Japan is making aggressive gestures towards the US. In the Panama Canal Captain Rick Leland (Humphrey Bogart) is unceremoniously drummed out of the US Coast Artillery after being caught stealing money. He travels to Halifax but even the Canadian Army refuses to recruit him. He boards the Japanese ship Genoa Maru, intending to travel to Asia via New York and the Panama Canal, to join Chiang Kai-shek's army.

But it's all a ruse. Rick is working for US intelligence, with a mission to cozy up to the wealthy Dr. Lorenz (Sydney Greenstreet), a Philippines-based professor traveling back to Asia on the Genoa Maru. Dr. Lorenz has strong ties to Japan, and may harbour treacherous plans. Also on board is Canadian girl Alberta Marlow (Mary Astor), and Rick immediately tries to get close to her, as it becomes evident that her story of being a small-town girl from Medicine Hat does not ring true. As they steam to New York and then approach the Canal, the trip becomes hazardous when Rick thwarts an assassination attempt and uncovers Dr. Lorenz's true intentions.

Across The Pacific is four-fifths of an excellent film. Director John Huston headed off to the real war before the ending was wrapped, apparently taking the script with him. An uncredited Vincent Sherman was left to find and film any sort of an ending, and it's miserable B-movie botch of a job. The final 15 minutes almost undo all the preceding good work, and leave a bitter taste in the mouth.

But up until all the main characters find themselves at the Morton Plantation in Panama, Across The Pacific (despite being set entirely in the Atlantic) is a sassy and clever espionage caper, benefiting from three intriguing characters playing a game of cat and mouse on board a tense ship in the shadow of a war that is about to get a lot worse. Across The Pacific is fast-paced, with sharp dialogue (by Robert Garson and Richard Macaulay) and edgy direction. Rick, Dr. Lorenz and Alberta rarely say what they mean or reveal their true intentions, creating a delightful dance of duplicity balanced on a knife's edge.

Huston, Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet reunite from The Maltese Falcon (1941), and the chemistry is immediately evident. Huston transforms the Genoa Maru into a veritable maze of spies and a den of love, Rick and Dr. Lorenz engaged in dangerous deceit while Rick makes a separate play for Alberta. Of course she is hiding secrets of her own, setting up a triangle of saucy secrets on the high seas. Grim-faced Japanese crewmen who seem to eavesdrop on all conversations add to the mounting tension.

But then the climax arrives, a horribly staged, childishly simplistic and brain dead resolution. Across The Pacific is a seductive journey that flounders badly at the final port of call.

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