Across the Pacific
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An attempt to capitalize on the success of The Maltese Falcon (1941), John Huston's Across the Pacific (1942) reunited Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet in a cat-and-mouse thriller coated with a new layer of political intrigue.
Bogart stars as Rick Leland, a dishonorably discharged soldier who decides to sell his military expertise to the highest bidder beneath the gathering clouds of World War II. Boarding the Genoa Maru, a cargo boat traveling to the Pacific via the Panama Canal, Rick encounters a variety of questionable characters, including the sophisticated but sinister Dr. Lorenz (Sydney Greenstreet), who seems oddly enamored with Japanese culture, and Alberta Marlow (Mary Astor), an alluring woman who is very secretive about her true background. By the time they reach the Panama Canal, Rick has learned of an elaborate plot to destroy the crucial passageway, and realizes he is the only man who can thwart it.
One of the only Maltese Falcon principals missing from Across the Pacific was Peter Lorre, who did make a surprise appearance on the set during production. Without informing his cast, Huston had Lorre enter the background as a waiter, clumsily disrupting the scene until announcing his presence with a wet kiss on the back of Astor's neck.
Serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, Robert Garson's story "Aloha Means Goodbye" originally revolved around a Japanese plot to attack Pearl Harbor. When, near the beginning of production, the American base was actually attacked, the story was quickly revised so that the Panama Canal was made the enemy's new target. "It was kind of a creepy feeling," remembered Mary Astor in her autobiography, "to have been talking about 'the plans of the Japanese' in the picture, and have them practically blueprint our script."
Once war was declared, it was difficult for the crew to hold onto their Japanese American actors, who were suddenly considered a threat to security. According to Astor, "a little indignation and some wire-pulling held them at least until the picture was finished." The Japanese actors were forced to endure a fair amount of racial stereotyping in the wartime film. Most speak pidgin English, while Victor Sen Yung was required to wear grotesque magnifying spectacles. In spite of this thinly disguised racism, Across the Pacific is in many ways respectful of Asian culture and in several instances attempts a serious understanding of the Japanese character and the philosophy of Judo.
Because it was a modestly budgeted film, director Huston devised several ways of adding atmosphere to the studio-bound production. To remind viewers that the characters are on a sea voyage, he had the set of the Genoa Maru's deck constructed on a platform supported by hydraulic lifts so the riggings and the cast were kept in constant motion. In some of the interior cabin sequences, rather than move the set, Huston moved the camera. The camera subtly, almost imperceptibly, edges toward and away from the actors, providing a vaguely disorienting effect that well serves the film's ever-shifting moral ground.
After the Pearl Harbor attack, Huston, like many Hollywood filmmakers, accepted a commission to become a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He was called into service just prior to the completion of filming Across the Pacific and had to leave it in the hands of another director: Vincent Sherman. As a parting prank on Sherman, Bogart and Warner Bros., Huston concocted a sequence in which Rick is tied to a chair, surrounded by armed Japanese soldiers, in a house which is surrounded by even more soldiers. "There was no way in God's green world that Bogart could logically escape," said Huston. "I shot the scene, then called Jack Warner and said, 'Jack, I'm on my way. I'm in the army. Bogie will know how to get out.'" When Sherman took over as director, he was unable to contrive a plausible means for Rick to escape. Much to the chagrin of the producers, the entire sequence had to be reshot so that Rick was held captive under more lax security.
In the end, Across the Pacific failed to recreate the chemistry of The Maltese Falcon. However, its deft blend of romance and international espionage made it a dry run for a film that would become an undisputed classic. Casablanca (1942) was filmed at Warner Bros. later that year, with Bogart again playing Rick, a cynical expatriate whose national loyalty is tested in the midst of wartime espionage and tempestuous romance.
Director: John Huston
Producer: Jerry Wald, Jack Saper
Screenplay: Richard Macaulay
Based on Aloha Means Goodbye by Robert Garson
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Production Design: Robert Haas, Hugh Reticker
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: Humphrey Bogart (Rick Leland), Mary Astor (Alberta Marlow), Sydney Greenstreet (Dr. Lorenz), Victor Sen Yung (Joe Totsuiko), Roland Got (Sugi), Charles Halton (A. V. Smith), Lee Tung Foo (Sam Wing On), Frank Wilcox (Captain Morrison), Monte Blue (Dan Morton).
BW-97m. Closed captioning.
by Bret Wood