—As Good as an Action Thriller Can Get—
Your Bogie Film Fix:
Director: John Huston (Vincent Sherman finished the film, uncredited, after Huston was called off to film war documentaries.)
After being kicked out of the military for stealing funds, Rick Leland (Bogart) entertains the thought of selling out to the Japanese during World War II after meeting another traveler (Sydney Greenstreet) and a mysterious woman (Mary Astor) while on a ship headed for Asia.
What I Thought
When Hollywood has a hit film, the first thing they do is try to find the formula for it and do it all over again. Most famously in Bogart’s career, he made a few movies after Casablanca that were accused of being a little too reminiscent of the blockbuster. Some of the films, like Tokyo Joe, have been quite fairly accused of falling into this category. Other films, like Chain Lightning, might bear some resemblance as well, but I feel that they’ve been unfairly compared.
But a few months before Casablanca was released, America got Across the Pacific – a film that some considered an attempt by the studio to recreate the magic from The Maltese Falcon. Three of the core cast from Falcon were back for lead roles, with Greenstreet even being referenced as “the fat man” at least once by another character. Add into the mix the same director that helped Bogart become a household name, and yes, it certainly does seem like Warner Brothers was stacking the deck in an attempt to get lighting to strike twice.
While Across the Pacific is not The Maltese Falcon, it is one of the best action-adventure thrillers of its time, and if not for the Japanese stereotyping, I think this one would probably get a little more play in the greatest Bogart films ever conversations.
Huston does amazing things with his trio of stars. He gives us exactly what we want from Bogart and Greenstreet, shaping characters for both of them that play up to their specific skill sets. With Astor, we get something similar to the mystery that surrounded her in Falcon, but with a different spin. There’s a greater sense of playfulness this time around as she portrays more of a girl-next-door. The change is great, and even though nothing physically was changed, I have a whole new respect for Astor’s acting range and beauty.
Huston, as always, is an incredibly efficient director, giving us no wasted scenes and making everything from the smallest conversations to the biggest action sequences riveting and beautifully shot. Bogart’s shootout and escape from the movie theater has to be, hands down, the BEST action scene I’ve ever seen him in. The fact that there’s a knife thrower mixed into the chase makes it all the more crazy, and the choreography is done so well that it’s impossible to tell when Bogart’s work ends and the stunt double takes over – just like it should be.
My only complaint about the film is that I felt the script tipped its hat a little bit too early as to some of the twists in the story. Rather than giving us a major character reveal thirty minutes in, I would have rather been left in the dark until the climax. The scene works, and it sets up some good momentary tension later in the film, but I would have been fine with questioning everyone’s motives for just a little bit longer.
Director Huston also gives us one of the most graphic beatdown scenes I’ve seen in classic film between Bogart and Greenstreet when the big man attacks Bogart with his cane after Bogart is already unconscious. Like the very best directors, Huston shows us no real violence, but has Greenstreet deliver his blows just offscreen, making our imaginations do all of the grotesque work of creating visuals for the horrible sounds we’re hearing. It’s a brilliant and disturbing moment of violence that sticks with you long after the film is over.
Does the name of the film strike you as funny? You know, considering the fact that they never even actually make it to the Pacific Ocean? Well, it turns out, in an amazing coincidence, that the original script of this film actually predicted the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. After the actual attack, the script was quickly changed to make the plot revolve around an attack on the Panama Canal so as not to belittle the real life tragedy. Despite the plot change, the film’s title was left alone.
The Bogart Factor
While the character of Rick Leland might not carry as much gravitas of some of Bogart’s more classic roles, this was a character that he was born to play. Fedora, trench coat, cigarettes, the requisite drunk-Bogie scene, a beautiful woman, dangerous enemies, and plenty of intrigue – very few of Hollywood’s stars could lend a film like this as much credibility as Bogart does. I truly can’t imagine anyone else filling in this role and having the same effect.
I also think that the love scenes here between Bogart and Astor are a step up from Falcon. I know how blasphemous that might be to write, but I don’t think I ever truly believed that he fell for her in Falcon. Here though, it plays out beautifully. Oh man . . . that scene with the three of them on the deck of the ship .
Mary Astor is top notch as Alberta Marlow, the mysterious woman who’s sailing with Bogart and Greenstreet. I really enjoyed the fact that we don’t get to find out the full story on her until the end of the film, and I wish that had been the case for at least one other character. Again, I have to say that I think this role fit her a little more comfortably than the one she played in The Maltese Falcon. I feel that she just comes off as more compelling and attractive when she gets to be a little comedic and playful.
Sydney Greenstreet plays the cagey Dr. Lorenz, another passenger on the boat who seems to have untoward intentions for Bogart and Astor. What I really loved about Greenstreet here is that his character is an incredibly wealthy world traveler, meaning Greenstreet is dressed to the nines and a tad more sophisticated in his demeanor than he was in The Maltese Falcon. One of my all-time favorite Greenstreet-Bogart scenes occurs when Greenstreet plies Bogart’s past out of him with an endless supply of booze. Any classic Bogart film has at least one drunk Bogie scene in it. Adding Greenstreet into the mix just makes it all the better!
Victor Sen Yung plays a traveler sharing passage on the boat, Joe Totsuiko. Again, there are some pretty strong stereotypes to be had here – some of which are played up to hide his character’s real identity – but it’s over the top. (Especially the glasses.) It is kind of fun seeing him judo-throw Bogart during a martial arts exhibition on the boat.
Lee Tung Foo plays Bogart’s old friend and sidekick, Sam Wing On. It’s not a huge role, and Foo is no Dooley Wilson, but he’s solid in the role. He’s also probably the only Asian actor in the film who gets a semi-non-stereotyped role.
Roland Got plays ship steward ‘Shoulda-be’ Sugi. 90% of his lines are two words . . . “Shoulda-be!” There are laughs to be had, but you never feel great about having them.
Paul Stanton and Charles Halton appear in small roles as undercover contacts for the U.S. military. They’re both fine in their roles but don’t have a whole lot to work with.
Classic Bogie Moment
How could I not go with a shot of Bogart and Greenstreet together? What’s even better is that they get another chance to play allies (somewhat), and so we get to see them enjoy each other’s company over a few drinks, and a comparison of pistols!
Mine’s bigger than yours . . .
The Bottom Line
I love this film, and I can never get enough of Bogart and Greenstreet together. Supposedly, Huston snuck Peter Lorre onto the set to play a waiter on the ship during shooting one day to play a joke on Greenstreet. While no footage of the incident seems to exist, it’s a great gag, and I’m only left to imagine how much fun it would have been to add Lorre into the mix here.