Based on the files of the United States Department of Treasury. Commissioner Michael Barrows is an American Government Agent. On board a Coast Gaurd boat off the California coast he chases ... See full summary »
Based on the files of the United States Department of Treasury. Commissioner Michael Barrows is an American Government Agent. On board a Coast Gaurd boat off the California coast he chases a ship. The Captain of the ship, the Kira Maru, panics and ruthlessly sends 100 Chinese slaves to a watery death. Barrows recovers a live preserver that tells him the ship is out of Shanghai. He travels there to track down the ship's captain and discovers that these deaths point to a huge drug smuggling operation. In Shanghai, while searching for the captain of the Kira Maru, he becomes suspicious of a women, Ann Grant, believing she's Jean Hawks the narcotics ringleader. He follows the narcotics trail "to the ends of the Earth" taking him from Shanghai to Cairo, Beirut and Havana to stop the drugs and the jean Hawks ring at the US border. Written by
Fast-paced, tautly told tale of international opium smuggling in the pre-WWII period. Despite the docu-drama format (from the files of the US Treasury Dep't, etc.), police procedure manages not to get in the way. And a crackling good story it is, with a sneaky twist ending. Anti-Drug agent Barrows (Powell) has got to unravel an elaborate drug operation that takes him around the globe. On the way, he encounters all sorts of suspicious characters and risky situations. The studio (Columbia) does a good job mimicking exotic locales to create an appropriate atmosphere for the dedicated Barrows.
So, who's the man behind the illegal operation? Well, for one thing, we know he's an agent of imperial Japan (circa,1935) since their army seeks to pacify a conquered Manchuria with loads of the deadening drug(note: I wish the prologue stated whether this wicked scheme is actual historical fact or not). Anyhow, the premise provides employment opportunity for a host of Hollywood's shady characters, including Hoyt, Hasso, and two favorite Nazis, Triesault and Donath. So there's intrigue a-plenty.
However, I'm not sure I buy the last leg of the smuggling operation since it seems so risky, depending as it does on exact timing in a big ocean. Nonetheless, the various ruses are cleverly conceived, although at times the various in's and out's may be a little hard to follow. And you may need a scorecard to keep up with the shifting cast of characters. But that early scene of jettisoning illegal cargo is one-of-a-kind and about as cold-blooded as any film of that era.
(In passing-- a recurring theme is international cooperation in behalf of mankind, while the final shot is an optimistic one of the United Nations building. A year later, and I suspect the menace would have shifted to the Soviets with a much darker outlook.) Still and all, this is one of the best docu-dramas from a time when Hollywood appeared to be doing gratis pr work for the feds.
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