Wednesday 17 June 2020

Movie Review: Blood On The Sun (1945)

An anti-Japan propaganda spy adventure, Blood On The Sun never rises above rudimentary ambitions.

It's the 1930s in Tokyo, and Nick Condon (James Cagney) is the rambunctious managing editor of the English-language Tokyo Chronicle newspaper, owned by Arthur Bickett (Porter Hall). Nick antagonizes the Imperialist regime by publishing rumours of Japan's intentions to attack the United States. Reporter Ollie Miller (Wallace Ford) gets involved in a plot to smuggle incriminating documents out of Japan and is killed for his troubles, but the secret papers go missing.

Premier Giichi Tanaka (John Emery) leans on Nick to retrieve the memorandum, and deploys spy Iris Hilliard (Sylvia Sidney) to cozy up to Nick. She is half-Chinese and her real loyalties reside with China. As romance blossoms between Nick and Iris, the Japanese authorities grow more desperate to retrieve the missing documents, and lives are placed in danger.

A crude attempt to whip-up anti-Japanese sentiment towards the end of World War Two, Blood On The Sun has a clumsy plot and bumbling execution. With white actors in all the Asian roles, a dreary MacGuffin in the form of barely-defined "papers", and the evil Japanese officials always giving Nick plenty of leeway and every opportunity to get away with whatever he is hatching, director Frank Lloyd fails to generate meaningful drama or tension.

Star James Cagney makes matters worse. Although never less than energetic and committed, his bull-in-a-Tokyo-shop persona, standing up to high-level Japanese officials with empty threats and squaring off in Judo confrontations with local goons, is almost comically misplaced.

The better moments of the script by Garrett Fort and Lester Cole expose the misinformation and fact-twisting expertise of militaristic regimes, and the film at least makes an attempt to delve into pre-war pan-Asian complexities through the characters of Iris and journalist Joseph Cassell (Rhys Williams), a recent arrivee from Shanghai.

The final third of Blood On The Sun unapologetically attempts to pilfer a Casablanca vibe, but just lurches towards the ending of a dreadful star slip.

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