Alan Ladd proves himself Expendable material here as an American doing business with the Japanese in war torn China before the United States declared war upon Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Directed by John Farrow this film opens with a tremendous shot of William Bendix working his way through a Chinese village under attack by Japanese airplanes. It’s well choreographed and lasts almost a full two minutes as Bendix avoids incoming torpedoes. It’s a great start to a film that is solid in the action department but less so with the teaming of Ladd and lovely Loretta Young on the romance side of things.
Ladd portrays an unlikable sort who is out for number one and isn’t about to stop and allow a group of young female refugees to hitch a ride on his truck. Even if his pal, big hearted Bendix doesn’t mind. The girls are under the care of Loretta and Victor Sen Yung who are trying to transport them to safety. Against his better judgement, Ladd gives in.
Ladd remains cold hearted and disinterested until he and Loretta come across the result of a Japanese massacre upon a farm that had welcomed and fed them previously. It’s pretty strong stuff to see an American matinee idol gun down three unarmed men even if his reasoning seems justifiable. After all this was made during the second world war and is primarily a propaganda film that calls for the support of China in the fight against Japan.
Also joining in as an underground fighter is Philip Ahn who along with Sen Yung travels alongside Ladd and co. as they evade Japanese forces. After the customary Ladd and Loretta scenes director Farrow gets back on track with another action packed night raid that once again struck me as rather violent compared to other films of the day with muscular Ladd going shirtless. He charges into battle smashing a few skulls and fires off a few rounds from a sub machine gun. Perhaps a Rambo inspiration?
As the ending approaches, Ladd learns that America is now at war with Japan. Along with his fighting force of Bendix and the boys he sets out to do as much damage as he can and save Loretta and her group of school girls towards the fade out.
This action film works best during the battle scenes. Farrow directs with a sure hand here and the violence and explosions of planes and jeeps must have been quite harrowing for audiences back in the day. Unfortunately the film fails in respect to the Ladd and Loretta scenes. Partly because you have to wonder what Loretta would see in the rather unlikable character Ladd is playing in the first place. Then again for the paying crowds in 1943 I would imagine this was perfect fodder for them at 79 minutes. Seeing a couple box office attractions taking on the enemy and coming out on top.
For those of you who don’t recognize the name Victor Sen Yung, he played Charlie Chan’s number two son and went on to play Hop Sing for years on Bonanza.
Philip Ahn played in numerous films and also appeared in the television series Kung Fu opposite David Carradine.