Wednesday, August 31, 2016


I have only the vaguest memory of watching ACROSS THE PACIFIC (1942) on late night television many, many years ago. I watched it again the other day, remembering nothing from that first viewing, so the whole thing was new to me. This two-fisted WWII spy thriller, produced by Warner Brothers, reunites director John Huston with stars Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet, all of whom at worked together on Huston's debut (and masterpiece) THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). In fact, ACROSS was the first film Huston directed after FALCON.

The action in the film takes place in November, 1941 (before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor).  Bogart stars as Captain Rick Leland who is court-martialed (by John (Perry White on ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN) Hamilton, no less) from the U.S. Coast Guard Artillery at the beginning of the film. Leland tries to enlist with the Canadian Army but he's turned down. He decides to become a solider of fortune and sell his talents to the highest bidder, which just happens to be Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek. To get to China, Leland books passage on a Japanese freighter where he meets fellow Americans Alberta Marlow (Astor) and Dr. Lorenz (Greenstreet). These people are clearly hiding something as is the entire crew of the ship which sets sail for the Pacific via the Panama Canal.

During a stop in New York City, it's revealed that Leland's court-martial is a fake. It's a cover to get him on board the ship to discover and stop whatever nefarious plan of sabotage is being cooked up. The ship eventually reaches the Panama Canal zone where Leland finds out that Dr. Lorenz has plans to blow up one of the locks of the canal using a small plane piloted by a Japanese suicide pilot/bomber. Of course, Leland foils the scheme in an exciting, action packed climax.

About that climactic action sequence. The story is that Huston had directed all of the film up that point in the story when he left the production to serve in the military. Director Vincent Sherman stepped in and finished the film without the shooting script (which Huston took with him). Huston explained to Sherman, "Bogie will know how to get out."

There are several things worth noting about ACROSS THE PACIFIC. First, despite the title, no one ever gets to the Pacific Ocean, much less across it as the film ends in Panama. The montage sequences were edited by future director Don Siegel (a job he also performed on CASABLANCA (1943)), while the special effects are the handiwork of Byron Haskin, who went on to work with producer George Pal as director of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953). The trio of Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet are all terrific. Every time I see Greenstreet on screen, with his rotund jocularity masking depths of hidden menace, I always picture him as playing a Marvel Comics super-villain like The Kingpin or The Owl. Astor is lovely, Bogart is Bogart and the whole thing is a heck of a lot of fun.

Thumbs up.

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