Thu 2 Aug 2012
SECRET AGENT OF JAPAN. 20th Century Fox, 1943. Preston Foster, Lynn Bari, Noel Madison, Victor Sen Yung, Janis Carter, Steve Geray, Kurt Katch, Addison Richards. Screenwriter: John Larkin. Director: Irving Pichel.
Secret Agent of Japan was the third and final pairing of its two leading stars, Preston Foster and Lynn Bari, the others being Chasing Danger (1939) and News Is Made at Night (1939). This one’s not nearly as good, but there may be a reason for it, and a historical one, at that.
I’m told, from what I read, that this movie went into production the day after Pearl Harbor, and it was the first film to be released that included the attack as part of the story line. I’m also told that the critics were not particularly fond of the film, quite the contrary, but audiences flocked to it in droves.
Its official release date was April 3, 1942. Hardly enough time to get a story written and filmed, one that makes a lot of sense, you might think, and true enough, this one doesn’t.
Preston Foster plays an expatriate American (Roy Bonnell) running a bar called the Dixie Bar in Shanghai as the drums of the oncoming war fills the minds of the citizens there, of every nationality, and there are many. Bonnell thinks he knows his way around the city and has an understanding with the Japanese living there, but the latter are growing confident (and menacing) about something.
Enter Lynn Bari as a spy for the British, on the trail of some valuable jade she says, but with various mail drops, secret codes, and a mysterious death or two, it seems as though her cover story is not long to last, nor does it. (Poor Janis Carter, as Bari’s companion in the spying business. Her part is too short to make much of an impression, much less to warrant a listing so high up in the credits, but to her credit, she does and she is.)
The tale gets a twist or two from there along the way, with the various parts never coming together as a whole, but the audience in 1942 knew what was going on well enough, I’m sure, and the ending of course, is a happy one. The movie doesn’t stand up well today, but the people involved with it weren’t making it for viewers some 70 years later. They were making it for another audience altogether.