U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee investigators Jim McLain and Mal Baxter attempt to break up a ring of Communist Party troublemakers in Hawaii (ignoring somewhat, as do their superiors in the Congress, that membership in the Communist Party was, at the time, legal in the U.S.)Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
This was made in the midst of the Korean War and during the 'red scare' days and needs to be viewed in that context. The cold war was on and America had recently lost the security of being the sole nuclear power, the US Army was locked in a dismal stalemate after hordes of Communist Chinese soldiers poured over the Korean border launching a surprise attack against the vastly outnumbered UN forces snatching sure victory from them and pushing them back again into South Korea, Soviet pilots were flying against American pilots for the North Korean Air Force, American and allied soldiers in Europe were facing off against a large Soviet and allied communist army, at home there were fears of war with nuclear USSR and scandals as communist party members with links to Soviet agents were uncovered. This was the mess that America found itself in when this movie was made. This mix led in turn to paranoia, some well founded and some not. The answer to this threat seemed to be the House Un-American Activities Committee that used intimidation to do what it thought was necessary to secure American safety (Perhaps there's a lesson for in it us today as our people give away freedoms for safety) This film therefore should be viewed in the context of the times when it was made and not with 50 year hindsight, as doubtless 50 years from now our children will view at least some of the steps taken in the heightening of security today. While some critics have cited the committee for its violations of civil rights, it should be mentioned that many that have criticized this committee also heap praise upon the film industry for its patriotic films of World War II. Unfortunately this is a hypocritical viewpoint as the anti-Japanese films produced certainly helped produce the fear and paranoia that led to the abuse of Japanese-Americans' civil rights and their internment by their own government. The internment of a whole group is a much worse example of civil rights abuse than calling someone before congress resulting in them losing their job. Such is the narrow-sightedness of those who pick and choose their heroes and villains in black and white. The film in question deals with spies and saboteurs and not with (as one review gave me the impression of) the innocent "small fries". In the film the villains are not the idealists who go to American Communist Party meetings call everyone comrade debate Marx and Engel's viewpoints and who should run for election next fall and then go home to their spouses, but agents acting against the United States, and yes this did exist at the time. (People that had been believed innocent victims of communist 'witch hunts' were indeed shown later to have actually been foreign agents when the Soviet archives were opened after the collapse of communism in the USSR)
While facing the same problems as many other patriotic wartime films it does deliver enjoyable scenes and it is certainly mostly superior to many similar films made during World War II. The plot is generally entertaining but seems to suffer from an identity crisis as to whether it is trying to be more a counter espionage film or a romance film set in beautiful Hawaii. In fact a few parts even seem more reminiscent of a travelogue or a Hawaiian tourist advertisement. Despite this the plot does fill out and provides some entertainment. Wayne's acting is good as is that of most other cast members except for James Arness whose emotional outbursts don't come off as very believable when he gets infuriated about the traitorous party members and possibly Soo Fong also when recounting her personal ordeal about her 'recovery' from communism. She may have been trying to do her best with a script that seems to fall apart on this point of making communism sound like alcoholism or drug dependence. (You can almost picture John Wayne doing an 'intervention' and dragging off Stalin to the Betty Ford Clinic. In some ways this part of the movie reminds more of anti-drug or anti-sex exploitation films that have become cult classics such as Reefer Madness) While not the best, once the plot develops it is entertaining. Overall there are better films (and worse) about similar subjects and many better Wayne films but it is worth watching even if it's just to see one of the Korean-Cold War patriotic films or Wayne as a counterspy.
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