Friday, May 31, 2013

Across the Pacific (1942)

Our Man Bogart

- Humphrey Bogart starred in six John Huston-directed films (and a couple of others that Huston wrote but did not direct) during his career and if he had not passed away before his time the two would have surely produced more. Many of these Huston and Bogart collaborated films, such as The Maltese Falcon (1941) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), have been brilliant classics but the two did not strike gold every time. The wartime spy thriller Across the Pacific (1942) is easily the worst of these collaborations.

Huston reunited much of the cast of The Maltese Falcon for Across the Pacific. Bogart stars as Rick Leland, a military intelligence agent undercover as a disgraced and disgruntled ex-Coast Guard captain looking for any army that will hire him. Leland goes into the field aboard the Panama-bound Japanese freighter Genoa Maru in November of 1941. His target is Dr. Lorenz (Sydney Greenstreet), a Filipino citizen of British origin and Japanese loyalties, but he also meets and falls for Alberta Marlow (Mary Astor) whose purpose on board is mysterious.

Across the Pacific was one of the many World War II propaganda films created by or in complete cooperation with the Roosevelt Administration, Leland's individual prevention of a Japanese assault signifying the power of one during the war effort. The story never goes across the pacific; the title derives from an eerily prophetic original storyline of Rick Leland stopping a Japanese plot to attack Pearl Harbor. Of course, Japan did attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 so the story had to be changed to Leland trying to thwart a Japanese attack on the Panama Canal. Considering the circumstances, the plot change makes complete sense but one would assume that a title change would have been wise as well.

The propaganda element can be seen throughout the film but the way that the film tries to show that Japan wanted to start a war with the United States for seemingly no reason is especially overbearing. Of course, it is well known now that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was not a foundationless attack but the result of the economic warfare perpetuated against Japan by the Roosevelt Administration. Propaganda films rarely stand the test of time and the shallow, incorrect and sometimes racist portrayal of an unprovoked Japanese attack on the US in Across the Pacific does no justice to the facts.

Unfortunately, Across the Pacific has worse problems than just its feeble propaganda mission. Huston very uncharacteristically weaves a generally lifeless and uneven story. Spy films that feature a slow-burning pace often work very well but the plot and pacing never seems to go anywhere hereThe fluffy comedic banter and abrupt romance between Bogart and Astor also feels absolutely out of place in this spy film even before it is revealed that Leland is a spy. 

Across the Pacific is not a complete waste of time however. A few scenes of note (including an especially thrilling few minutes in a movie theatre) pass by from time to time and the excellent cast of Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet are enough to make the film watchable. So while Across the Pacific lacks intrigue and thoughtfulness, it does work on a semi-entertaining level as a Humphrey Bogart vehicle. This however does not prevent Across the Pacific from ending up as the worst of the six of the Humphrey Bogart-starred John Huston-directed films.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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