In Tokyo, a ruthless gang starts holding up U.S. ammunition trains, prepared to kill any of their own members wounded during a robbery. Down-at-heal ex-serviceman Eddie Spannier arrives from the States, apparently at the invitation of one such unfortunate. But Eddie isn't quite what he seems as he manages to make contact with Sandy Dawson, who is obviously running some sort of big operation, and his plan is helped by acquaintance with Mariko, the secret Japanese wife of the dead American. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
According to Samuel Fuller, originally, Gary Cooper was to play the role of Eddie Spanier. But because he was too well known in Japan he could not act incognito among passers-by without being recognized so Robert Stack, a less popular actor at the time, was chosen instead. However, according to STEP BY STEP sheet by script writer Harry Kleiner written in November 1954, the names of Robert Stack and Victor Mature were listed. See more »
When Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack) is first knocked unconscious by members of Sandy Dawson's gang, Dawson tells one of his underlings to awaken him by tossing a bucket of ice on him. As he lies on the floor, however, Eddie flinches as soon as Dawson gives this command, before any ice actually hits Eddie's face. See more »
This movie has similarities to THE THIRD MAN in that both involve someone (an American) living comfortably in an alien culture as a parasitic gangster in a war ravaged country just after WW2 with a good guy (another American) in pursuit. In narrow cinematic terms, in terms of the story as other reviewers point out, its not a great movie. There is though very much more of interest to it than that.
In historical terms we see Tokyo as it then was in 1954. We see the Japanese as officials, as policemen, as gangsters, the good, the bad, in their natural habitat rather than simply as massed cruel soldiery or suicidal pilots. It has elements of a travelogue with a fascinating glimpse behind the rice paper screen. The movie, which has really handsome colour photography, starts with the curious beauty of a snow covered landscape with Mount Fuji in the background and a murderous attack on a military supply train in the foreground. The ending too shares the same deliberate disjunction - dark violent justice dealt out in a sunny family setting - Top of the World, Ma?
Robert Stack here very much pre-figures his role as Eliot Ness in THE UNTOUCHABLES - dogged and brave in the fight against organised crime. Robert Ryan, tall impeccably elegant and seemingly entirely at ease as a violent mobster in a very foreign land.
Much criticism seems carping and misses the point. As was said of the dog that could walk upright - the question was not so much that he couldn't do it perfectly but that he could do it at all. This was a unique bold movie embedded in post WW2 underworld Japan really striving for authenticity. Not the customary montage of tourist sites and hotel interiors with a cast looking as if they'd gone no further than that themselves.
Were there American gangsters in this way in post war Japan? Presumably so if CATCH 22 is any guide. In this movie however the morality is old-fashioned, certain and unambiguous. By 1970 CATCH 22 served up satire and moral ambiguity to the Hippy generation.
A fascinating little bit of history as well as being a very watchable movie
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