Thursday, May 16, 2024

Tonight's Movie: Tokyo Joe (1949)

Last weekend at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival I saw a pair of Humphrey Bogart films. I revisited DEAD RECKONING (1947), which I first saw at the 2016 Noir City Hollywood Festival, and I also saw THE ENFORCER (1951) for the very first time. A review of the latter film will be forthcoming.

My enjoyment of both these movies caused me to contemplate that there are still a significant number of Bogart films released in the late '40s and '50s which I've never seen.

By coincidence, I noticed that Bogart's film TOKYO JOE (1949) was playing on Turner Classic Movies Monday evening, and that motivated me to get out my Blu-ray set of Bogart's Columbia films released by Powerhouse Indicator; the set includes TOKYO JOE.

Bogart plays Joe Barrett, a U.S. Army veteran who returns to his former home, Tokyo, a couple years after the end of the war.

Joe discovers his former nightclub is still standing, but he's not allowed to reopen it under Occupation rules. He'll need a going business if he wants to stay in Japan more than a couple of months, and staying becomes very important indeed when he learns that his former wife Trina (Florence Marly) didn't die during the war as he'd believed.

Trina is now married to a very nice lawyer (Alexander Knox) and is raising a young daughter named Anya (Lora Lee Michel), but despite that Joe hopes to win her back, especially when he learns the truth about Anya's parentage.

Baron Kimura (Sessue Hayakawa) offers Joe the opportunity to go into business flying freight -- but what exactly is Kimura shipping, and what will the opportunity to remain in Japan cost Joe?

While TOKYO JOE isn't a great film, it proved to be an entertaining 88 minutes. It's somewhat derivative, including overtones of CASABLANCA (1942), but I thought it rated a solid, watchable 2-1/2 to 3 stars thanks to a good cast.

The script by Bertram Millhauser and Cyril Hume, adapted by Walter Doniger from a story by Steve Fisher, is predictable at times, but it also has some very nicely played moments of adult understanding between not only the three leads but among Bogart and various members of the U.S. military, particularly Colonel Dahlgren (Rhys Williams).

I appreciated that, other than Baron Kimura, the characters weren't portrayed in black and white, but shades of gray; all are sympathetic, including Joe's old friend from prewar days, Ito (Teru Shimada). Even the colonel (Williams) we're initially set up to find annoying turns out to be a savvy man who handles a difficult criminal situation with aplomb.

Bogart and Knox are both very good; I especially enjoyed Knox as Trina's unflappable, supportive husband. It takes a good actor and character to persuade the audience that Trina might be better off staying right where she is, rather than ending up with Bogart's Joe.

Bogart's interplay with his employee pilots, played by Gordon Jones and Jerome Courtland, is also particularly enjoyable, with nice touches of humor.

I wasn't familiar with Marly, who at times seems to be channeling Rhonda Fleming or Marta Toren, but she's fine, if not particularly memorable.

Lora Lee Michel is cute as the little girl who unexpectedly ends up at the center of the action late in the movie. I was reminded after watching this that Michel had a particularly tragic life, which was sad to read after enjoying her in this. Hers is one of those "child actor" stories with an unhappy outcome.

There are familiar faces such as Hugh Beaumont and Whit Bissell in small roles as military officers. Also in the cast are Hideo Mori, Kyoko Kamo, and Charles Meredith.

TOKYO JOE was directed by Stuart Heisler and filmed in black and white by Charles Lawton Jr.

The impressive extras on the Region B Powerhouse Indicator Blu-ray disc include a commentary track by Nora Fiore (aka "The Nitrate Diva"); a 34-minute featurette on the film with Bertrand Tavernier; a 15-minute featurette on Sessue Hayakawa; 11 minutes of second unit photography shot for the film in Tokyo; a 1944 documentary, THE NEGRO SOLDIER; and more.

In the U.S. TOKYO JOE was released on DVD in the 2014 Humphrey Bogart: The Columbia Pictures Collection, which was part of the late, lamented TCM Vault series. It was also released as a single-title DVD and on VHS.

I'm looking forward to watching more films in the Blu-ray set, and I've also ordered a Twilight Time DVD of THE LEFT HAND OF GOD (1955) so that I can cross more Bogart films off my viewing list.


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