Monday, 7 November 2011

Across the Pacific (1942)

ACROSS THE PACIFIC is an American thriller that was directed by John Huston and released by Warner Brothers in September 1942.  It stars Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet.  After being dishonourably discharged from the US Army, embittered Rick Leland boards a ship bound for the Orient.  Aboard he meets ex-pat Dr Lorenz who makes him an unusual and dangerous job offer.


Let's be honest, with those credits this whole enterprise screams MALTESE FALCON.  But there are cash-ins and there are cash-ins.  At least Warner Brothers had the sense to retain the best talent which means that despite  not being in the earlier film's class this one was never going to be a stinker.  Think of the difference between JAWS and JAWS 2.  For the sequel, Zanuck and Brown only managed to retain Roy Scheider and bloody Lorraine Gary, losing Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Steven Spielberg; if you're going to try to successfully recreate the success of an earlier movie your first task is to retain the same talent.

The three stars of THE MALTESE FALCON reunited, plus Victor Sen Yung as Joe (R)
What ACROSS THE PACIFIC also does is play to the strengths of its cast: Bogart is another outwardly cynical but inwardly patriotic and heroic tough guy; Mary Astor is another beautiful and charming young woman who may not be everything she seems; and Sydney Greenstreet is another bluff and genial but utterly ruthless villain.
Sydney Greenstreet
In some respects though the film is overshadowed by its production history.  Apparently, the original version of the story had Leland thwarting a Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor; when they did actually attack Pearl Harbor the setting was hastily changed to Panama.  No-one remembered to change the title though; so, notoriously, the Pacific doesn't come into it.  Also, the US entry into the Second World War spurred John Huston into leaving the production before it was complete in order to make war documentaries (such as REPORT FROM THE ALEUTIANS (1943) and SAN PIETRO (1945)) and he was replaced by Vincent Sherman.
In case you don't know where Panama is or what its significance is
It's all good fun and in one sense is more enjoyable than THE MALTESE FALCON because it is a straightforward adventure yarn with plenty of wisecracking interplay between Bogart and Astor and without any of its predecessor's intensity and brutal greed and cynicism.  But for the same reasons it is less memorable.
Mary Astor and Humphrey Bogart
Film anorak notes: the cinematographer Arthur Edeson was another member of the MALTESE FALCON team, as was make-up expert Perc Westmore.  The special effects were by Byron Haskin who went on to become a director, most notably of the innovative ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS which I've written about previously.

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