1945, William Cagney Productions
Garrett Fort (story)
Frank Melford (original idea)
Lester Cole (screenplay)
Truman K. Wood
James Cagney (Nick Condon)
Sylvia Sidney (Iris Hilliard)
Porter Hall (Arthur Bickett)
John Emery (Premier Giichi Tanaka)
Robert Armstrong (Col. Hideki Tojo)
Wallace Ford (Ollie Miller)
Rosemary DeCamp (Edith Miller)
John Halloran (Capt. Oshima)
Leonard Strong (Hijikara)
James Bell (Charley Sprague)
Marvin Miller (Yamada)
James Cagney stars in this classic World War II-set drama that can be said to be the first true American martial arts drama.
Nick Condon is an American journalist in Tokyo just after the start of World War II. When he hears rumors of the Japanese attempting to attack the United States, he prints a story in the local paper, only to get a reprimand from his boss, Arthur Bickett. That night, he meets his old friend Ollie Miller, who tells him he is planning to head back to the United States and Nick is surprised to learn he has so much money to head back. When Ollie’s wife Edith confesses to Nick about her fears about Ollie, he agrees to meet her at the boat that night to say farewell. Needless to say, as Nick gets on the boat to say goodbye, he finds Edith’s body and sees a shadowy figure with an exposed hand which sports a ruby. When Nick heads home, he finds Ollie mortally wounded as just before he dies, Ollie gives Nick the important document that proves Nick’s rumors are true: the Tanaka Plan.
Nick soon becomes a wanted man by the deadly Japanese general Giichi Tanaka, who has set up the plan himself. Meanwhile, Nick meets half-Japanese half-Caucasian Iris Hilliard, who may or may not be working for Tanaka. As Condon tries to keep the proof out of the enemy’s hands, he is constantly dealing with Tanaka’s men as well as dealing with a rival reporter who has gotten himself involved possibly with the Japanese. Will Nick be able to get the document to the United States in time, or will Tanaka exert his power to get the document back and get rid of Nick once and for all?
In a time where World War II-set films tend to have a distinction of being anti-Axis power propaganda, this film may have that feeling behind it. After all, the film was made and then released towards the end of the war and in this case, it looks to have an anti-Japanese message of sorts. However, judging from some of the extra characters in the film, it is more as if it’s more of an anti-government of evil thing rather than an anti-Japanese story. The proof comes in the introduction of the legendary James Cagney, who is seen doing judo and respecting his instructor, who just happens to be Japanese. In addition, his love interest in the half-Japanese Iris, played by Sylvia Sidney, who delivers a performance that combines femme fatale and damsel in distress all rolled up in one little package.
At a time where Asian actors were more of a background thing in Hollywood films (with the exception of perhaps Anna May Wong), Western actors would play the Japanese government villains in the film under make-up. John Emery plays the mastermind Tanaka, who is described in the film as a “Japanese Hitler”, who doesn’t really engage in action, but more or less, gives the orders, even sometimes under the nose of Prince Tatsugi, played by Frank Puglia. The enforcers of the film, Col. Tojo, played by Robert Armstrong and Capt. Oshima, played by John Halloran, are truly menacing as they show no remorse towards any of their adversaries.
Many wonder why this can be said to be the first American martial arts drama. Well, as mentioned, James Cagney’s introduction scene shows him practicing judo. This is not a one-scene deal, but rather, he gets to use those skills in a few scenes throughout the film. He would even use some boxing skills. His best fight of the film is his climactic fight scene against John Halloran, who was one of two judo instructors Cagney trained with in making the film (the other being Ken Kuniyuki, a 5th-dan in the art). The even more awesome thing about Cagney in these scenes are he insisted and successfully performed his own fight scenes with no double. The fight against Halloran truly shows what Cagney is capable of doing should he have continued doing these type of films. He loved the art of judo so much he kept studying it until he suffered an injury on another film.
Blood on the Sun may emphasize more with the dramatic aspect, but Cagney’s fight scenes and performance of his own fight scenes and stunts truly make this the first American martial arts drama to be seen if you are into classic films.
WFG RATING: A