Manila Calling (1942)
Looking back to the release date of this Sol Wurtzel production, it’s easy to understand the racism involved with WW2 underway. Does that excuse it when looking at it over seventy five years later? I’m not about to embark on that topic but I will say if one looks at this war time film as a straight forward action adventure, it not only delivers the goods but it features a top notch cast of character actors led by the sometime leading man Lloyd Nolan.
With the Imperial Japanese Forces taking control of the Philippines, the only remaining opposition are pockets of freedom fighters waging guerilla warfare against the invaders. Cue a who’s who list of well known character actors. Anyone of them is a welcome presence but considering they are all cast here under the command of Lloyd Nolan only makes this warfare adventure from Herbert I. Leeds under the 20th Century Fox banner required viewing for fans of Nolan and company.
How’s this for name dropping. An on the rise Cornel Wilde, James Gleason, Martin Kosleck, Elisha Cook Jr., Ralph Byrd, Harold Huber, Victor Sen Yung, Louis Jean Heydt, Lester Matthews a barely visible Richard Loo and rounding out a cast in need of a love interest, Carole Landis.
Cornel Wilde finds himself in command of the ragtag group of volunteers hiding in the jungles of Manila though it’s Lloyd Nolan who takes charge as the central figure in this action packed storyline. The group will overtake a compound/plantation held by the Japanese in what can only be called insulting fashion but again it goes with the era of the film’s release. Putting it bluntly, it makes the Japanese officers look somewhat less than intelligent. Once we get past this point, the film turns into that action packed battle flick I’ve been bragging on.
“Here we are in a tough jam and a dame has gotta come along.”
Arriving at the fenced compound the boys are calling headquarters comes Carole Landis. She’s a nightclub entertainer caught up in the war with nowhere to turn. Nolan isn’t happy that a dame has wondered into his own private war. He’d rather spend it fighting alongside his best pal, James Gleason, sporting an Irish brogue. Gleason’s character represents a large part of the racism caught on camera as a “Jap” hater who’ll stop at nothing to continue his onslaught against the enemy.
While Richard Loo has little more than a blink and you’ll miss him appearance near the opening of the film, it’s nice to see Victor Sen Yung playing one of the heroes as opposed to donning a Japanese uniform and doing his best to look menacing in a cookie cutter characterization. At this point Victor was well known to mystery movie fans for his role in the long running Charlie Chan series as Number 2 son, Jimmy Chan.
It’s hot, it’s sweaty, snipers are a real threat and water is becoming scarce which had me thinking this film beat Bogie’s Sahara to theaters by a year. Not quite as the main thrust of the story isn’t the watering hole that the Japanese poison on Nolan and company. With things looking bleak for the gang whose numbers are dwindling, it’s decided that they need to have pilot Harold Huber fly Carole to safety. Thus sacrificing their own lives drawing fire from an airplane they had captured earlier in the film.
Not only was it refreshing to see all these actors in one film but it’s nice to see guys like Elisha Cook and Martin Kolseck playing good guys for a change. At this point Cook was usually playing a thug like that of Wilbur in The Maltese Falcon and Kosleck with his thick accent was often cast as German officers or in horror films playing it nasty. He even scores some sympathy this time out with his character’s background.
Leading man Nolan, bounced around at this time between starring in lesser movies and offering support in bigger ones opposite the box office attractions of the day in films like Johnny Apollo opposite heartthrob, Tyrone Power. Nolan gives this one a Rambo like presence when it comes to battling the enemy and walking towards them with a machine gun in hand. From our point of view looking back, Cornel Wilde would likely be named as the biggest star in the movie but at this time it’s fairer to say he was being groomed for stardom and would eventually have his day in a long run of feature films that even led him into directing some of his own performances in films like the classic, The Naked Prey. A film which only gets better with every viewing.
Again, look past the racism (if you can) and enjoy this war time effort for the action and the superior cast of faces we all know but might give you pause trying to recall the names. It’s available from the made on demand DVD department of 20th Century Fox.