The Bamboo Prison (1954)
Perhaps this film played much better during the McCarthy communism witch hunts. Then again I’d like to think the general public wasn’t quite this naive as Harry Cohn’s studio would have us believe.
Our film takes place in a prisoner of war camp during the Korean war. Brian Keith and a group of soldiers are new arrivals in a camp overseen by Richard Loo and Keye Luke. Already stationed there is Robert Francis who is seen by fellow inmates as a collaborator with the enemy. He’s turning “red”.
This doesn’t sit well with perennial tough guy Leo Gordon who would like nothing better than to put a knife into Francis for the good of all. Could it be that Francis isn’t a communist sympathizer after all? Brian Keith just might provide the answer to that question.
E.G. Marshall turns up here as the camps Catholic priest who does his best to help the men through their ordeals and tortures at the hands of the evil Loo. Richard Loo was a very well known face during the war years and was frequently cast as the enemy during the forties and fifties military films.
How about a little romance thrown into this rather ridiculous film. Stunning Dianne Foster turns up as the wife of a Russian agent who enters into an affair with Francis. All this after he has become a camp trustee we can call Comrade.
This film loves to teach us the evils of communism to the extent that from our vantage point of looking back this is just laughable. Lines like “Those stinking brain washers” ring out when Keye Luke holds his daily class attempting to sway Keith and company to their cause. Best of all is when actor Earl Hyman let’s Loo know that “I’ve decided I’d much rather be black then red.” Maybe you had to live through it to completely appreciate it.
Either way a film like this has to be insulting to the men who served or worse yet, we’re actually prisoners of war. Everybody seems so happy in between their griping about the “commies”. We even have a makeshift band playing an up tempo number. Perhaps Columbia studios was hoping for a poor man’s Stalag 17. Unfortunetly director Lewis Seiler is no Billy Wilder.
Films like these have to be viewed as a time capsule of sorts and I suspect might actually be quite enjoyable for the wrong reasons if viewed with a group of people who find it as campy and unbelievable as I did.
For the record, there are some solid actors in here from our enemies Loo and Luke to an actor I feel never quite got the credit he sometimes deserved in Brian Keith.
E.G. Marshall of course became a familiar face on both television and film and what’s a western without nasty Leo Gordon riding the hero till his eventual undoing?