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To the Ends of the Earth

To the Ends of the Earth(1948)


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teaser To the Ends of the Earth (1948)

Big studio films about narcotics trafficking and drug use were rare in 1948, prior to Otto Preminger's legitimization of the tawdry subject matter with The Man with the Golden Arm (1955). One sizeable stumbling block to the on-screen depiction of narcotics use came via the Hollywood Production Code, which had since its formation in 1934 forbid the dramatization of drug abuse or drug smuggling in motion pictures. The rules were bent for To the Ends of the Earth (1948) after Columbia was able to assure the censors that any depiction of narcotics use, abuse or trafficking would not be exploitative in nature but educational and ultimately condemning. Production was spread out over two years, at an ultimate price tag of $2,000,000. Shot in a semi-documentary style codified by the success of Fox's The House on 92nd Street (1945) and Universal's The Naked City (1948), To the Ends of the Earth follows G-man Dick Powell around the globe on the trail of opium smugglers. The various international settings were the excuse Columbia needed to trot out the gowns of Jean Louis on the backs of actresses Signe Hasso (a Swedish import whose career as "the new Garbo" never materialized) and Maylia (born Gloria Chin and wife of Asian actor Benson Fong).

To the Ends of the Earth had the full support of the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Narcotics, whose first appointed commissioner, Harry J. Anslinger, appears in a cameo as himself. It was Anslinger's globe-trotting investigations, conducted between 1917 and 1928 as an agent for a variety of international police and military organizations, that supplied the spine for the original story by Jay Richard Kennedy. Kennedy's shooting script was given an uncredited punch up by the film's producer, Sidney Buchman. The Minnesota-born, Oxford-educated Buchman had gone from being a script reader at Warners to President of the Screen Writer's Guild in little over a decade and his seventeen-year association with Columbia got him branded "Harry Cohn's fair-haired boy." Buchman contributed to the screenplays for Cecil B. DeMille's The Sign of the Cross (1932), Zoltan Korda's Sahara (1943) and Frank Capra's Lost Horizon (1937) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) before his politics brought him under the scrutiny of the House on Un-American Activities Committee. The former card-carrying Communist refused to name names for HUAAC but avoided jail time on a technicality. Anslinger supplied the filmmakers with a wealth of classified material and granted permission for director Robert Stevenson to film a session of the Narcotics Control Commission at the original Lake Success, New York headquarters of the United Nations, prior to the completion of the UN Building in Manhattan in 1952.

At the time of the film's February 1948 release, critical response was mixed, with some critics feeling melodramatics and "derring-do" overwhelmed the bid for steely verisimilitude while others feared the consequence of the film's attention to the devilish details of drug use. Writing in British newspaper The Observer, C. A. Lejuene carped that To the Ends of the Earth "should prove invaluable to anyone proposing to elude the customs officials in a somewhat exotic way." (A dozen years later, Lejuene would resign from her post in double disgust at Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, both 1960.)

A relatively early credit for Jean Louis, To the Ends of the Earth is seldom discussed in the context of the designer's long and celebrated career. Born Louis Andre Berthault in Paris in 1907, Jean Louis studied at the cole Nationale Suprieure des Arts Dcoratifs and was a sketch artist for the design house of Drecol before he came to New York with settlement money related to a traffic accident. Employed by fashion entrepreneur Hattie Carnegie at her East 49th Street boutique, Jean Louis impressed regular clients Irene Dunne, Joan Crawford and the wife of Columbia Pictures boss Harry Cohn. A personal recommendation from Joan Cohn resulted in a studio contract, which lasted from 1944 to 1960. One of the designer's most famous creations was Rita Hayworth's strapless black satin evening gown in Gilda (1946). Marlene Dietrich was a private client and Jean Louis designed the flesh-toned beaded gown in which Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in May 1962.

A multiple Academy Award® nominee, he finally took home an Oscar® in 1957 for his designs for Columbia's The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956). Retired after 1973 and partially disabled by a stroke, Jean Louis married family friend Loretta Young following the death of his second wife, Margaret Fisher. He died in Palm Springs in April 1997, at the age of 89.

Producer: Sidney Buchman
Director: Robert Stevenson
Screenplay: Jay Richard Kennedy (story & screenplay); Sidney Buchman (uncredited)
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Art Direction: Stephen Goosson, Cary Odell
Music: George Duning
Film Editing: William Lyon
Cast: Dick Powell (Commissioner Michael Barrows), Signe Hasso (Ann Grant), Maylia (Shu Pan Wu), Ludwig Donath (Nicholas Sokim), Vladimir Sokoloff (Commissioner Lum Chi Chow), Edgar Barrier (Grieg), John Hoyt (George C. Shannon), Marcel Journet (Commissioner Lariesier), Luis Van Rooten (Commissioner Alberto Berado), Fritz Leiber (Binda Sha).

by Richard Harland Smith

Jean Louis obituary by Tom Vallance, The Independent (UK), April 25, 1997
The Protectors: Harry J. Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1962 by John C. McWilliams (University of Delaware Press, 1990).
Forever Young: The Lives, Loves and Enduring Faith of a Hollywood Legend; the Authorized Biography of Loretta Young by Joan Wester Anderson (Thomas More Publishing, 2000).
American Vision: The Films of Frank Capra by Ray Carney (Wesleyan University Press, 1996).

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