new Fox Cinema Archives line, SECRET AGENT OF JAPAN.
SECRET AGENT OF JAPAN stars two favorites of mine, Preston Foster and Lynn Bari. It's strange to think that their names are doubtless completely unknown to most modern-day filmgoers, but I always smile when I see one of their names turn up in a film's opening credits, as I know they'll add a little "something extra" to the movie at hand. Having them teamed as the leads in this film is even better.
The film is set in 1941, with Foster playing the mysterious Roy Bonnell, who always wears gloves. Bonnell operates Bar Dixie in Shanghai; think of it as a variation on Rick's Cafe Americain, as everyone in Shanghai comes to Bar Dixie! "Everyone" includes Kay Murdock (Bari), who might be a spy; Doris Poole (Janis Carter), who turns up dead early on; and Captain Larsen (Ian Wolfe), who's expecting a letter addressed to him at the bar.
There are lots more people lurking about, including pianist Alecsandri (Steve Geray), a pair of British agents (Leyland Hodgson and Leslie Denison), and most amusingly a young man (Victor Sen Yung) who anticipates Bonnell's every need, for a small "commission."
In all honesty the plot, featuring a large cast of characters and a great deal of back and forth about jade, a letter, and a code, gets more than a little murky at times. I didn't concern myself overly much about keeping up with the details and simply enjoyed being along for the ride for this brisk 72-minute film, which concludes with news of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
I somewhat anticipated the surprising ending, but it was very satisfying, nonetheless, and helped make the film worthwhile. All in all, it's only a moderately entertaining movie, but the leads and the interesting look at early WWII propaganda made it worth seeing for a "B" movie fan such as myself.
Foster and Bari were regular costars at Fox, as I learned from some Mystery File reviews of their movies NEWS IS MADE AT NIGHT (1939) and CHASING DANGER (1939). I'll hope to see these films in the future. The same site also reviewed SECRET AGENT OF JAPAN.
A nice bit of Preston Foster trivia: He was the first actor to have a star in a demonstration project for the Hollywood Walk of Fame, though he's not considered the "official" first star.
SECRET AGENT OF JAPAN was directed by Irving Pichel from a script by John Larkin.
I was quite pleased with the Fox Cinema Archives print, which was crisp and clear, doing a nice job showing off Lucien Andriot's black and white cinematography.