Betrayal from the East


1h 22m 1945
Betrayal from the East

Brief Synopsis

A carnival showman tries to keep Japanese spies from sabotaging the Panama Canal.

Film Details

Genre
Action
War
Release Date
Jan 1945
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 24 Apr 1945
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Betrayal from the East by Alan Hynd (New York, 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,404ft

Synopsis

Journalist Drew Pearson relates the following story, cautioning that it must never happen again: In 1941, as Emperor Hirohito preaches peace, the armed forces of Japan prepare to sabotage strategic defense sites in the western United States. When reporter Jack Marsden informs C. H. Hildebrand, the chief of the foreign press service in Tokyo, that he has stumbled upon a list of Japanese espionage agents operating in the United States, Hildebrand directs him to deliver the information to Army intelligence in San Francisco. When the U.S. agents meet Marsden's boat in San Francisco, however, they are informed by Tanni, the cabin boy, that the reporter fell overboard during a storm. Marsden's death is followed by the news that Hildebrand has plunged to his death from a Tokyo hotel room window. Meanwhile, at the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco, saboteurs Yamato and Kato arrange a meeting in Los Angeles to discuss obtaining information about the defense system of the Panama Canal. Kato then contacts Eddie Carter, an ex-soldier who likes easy money, to offer him the job of acquiring the plans. Eddie, who is now working as a carnival barker, feigns knowledge about the canal and agrees to meet Kato in a Los Angeles nightclub the following week. On the train to Los Angeles, Eddie meets Peggy Harrison, who pleads with him to give up his compartment so that she will have somewhere to sleep. Eddie obliges, and after he vacates his room, Peggy searches his luggage. Upon arriving in Los Angeles, Eddie asks Peggy to join him at the nightclub. There he is greeted by Kato, who escorts him into a darkened room filled with saboteurs. Although he is unable to see their faces, Eddie notices a pin worn by the ringleader. After lying that his old army friend, Jimmy Scott, is an ordnance worker in Panama, Eddie is hired by the Japanese to buy plans of the canal from Jimmy. Upon returning home, Eddie is about to telephone army intelligence when he notices that he is being watched by Omaya, the apartment handyman. To avoid detection, Eddie proceeds to headquarters to confer in person. After telling the intelligence officers about the fictitious Jimmy Scott, Eddie agrees to infiltrate the ring. On his way home, he is picked up and taken to see Yamato, who shows him a flim clip of Omaya and Peggy searching his apartment. After declaring Omaya and Peggy to be American spies, Yamato tortures Omaya and orders Eddie to deliver Peggy to his office later that afternoon. Although Peggy, who is aware of Eddie's cover, insists that he follow Yamato's orders, Eddie refuses, and as they begin to argue, Peggy steps out into the street and is run down and apparently killed by a passing car. That night, Kato presents Eddie with a ticket to Panama and tells him that he will be contacted by Araki once he arrives. In his hotel room, Eddie is visited by a fellow spy calling himself Jimmy Scott, who warns him that a dictaphone and camera have been planted in the room. As Nazi agents listen to their conversation over the dictaphone, Eddie offers Jimmy money in exchange for military information. When Jimmy asks for time to consider the proposition, they agree to meet the following evening. The next night, as they drive in Jimmy's car, Jimmy gives Eddie obsolete plans of the canal and warns him that Araki intends to kill him once he has gained possession of the plans. Jimmy instructs Eddie to stall until his safe transportation to the U.S. can be arranged, and informs him that he will be signalled by a telegram from his "sister." Their discussion completed, Eddie and Jimmy proceed to an exclusive nightclub, where Jimmy sees Peggy, who is alive and posing as a Danish socialite. Overhearing her make a date to meet her escort, Kurt Gunther, a beauty salon owner and Nazi agent, at the beach the next day, Eddie follows her there and swims out to the raft on which she is sunning herself. There, Peggy explains that her accident was staged to fool Yamato and that she is in Panama to investigate Nazi relations with the Japanese. Their meeting is reported to Yamato by Nazi spies. Soon after, Eddie receives a telegram from his "sister," notifying him that their "mother" is near death. Feigning grief, Eddie informs Araki that he must return home immediately and books passage on a ship leaving that afternoon. Araki instructs the Nazis to kill Eddie on his way to the ship, but the Department of Immigration arrests them for improper documentation before they can complete their mission. While visiting Kurt's salon, Peggy overhears Araki tell Kurt that he has ordered Eddie to be killed. When a call notifies him of the arrest of the Nazi assassins, Araki decides to drive to the harbor and kill Eddie himself. To warn Eddie, Peggy borrows Kurt's car and, pretending to have car trouble, flags down his cab and directs him to the airport rather than the harbor. Upon returning to the beauty salon, Peggy is imprisoned in a steam room and interrogated by Araki and Kurt. Rather than betray her country, she perishes from suffocation. Upon arriving at the Los Angeles airport, Eddie is met by Kato, who takes him to a Japanese ship. Recognizing the pin worn by Tanni, the cabin boy, Eddie realizes that he has uncovered the identity of the spies' ringleader. As Tanni examines the plans, Eddie sneaks into his cabin and discovers a trunk filled with the plans of the saboteurs' targets. After affirming that he is a lieutenant commander in the Japanese Navy, Tanni taunts Eddie with news of Peggy's death. Enraged, Eddie attacks Tanni, and in a furious struggle, seizes the Japanese's gun and shoots him, only to be then shot by Tanni's men. Returning to the present, Drew Pearson concludes that "Eddie died in an undeclared war...a war against underground enemies that never begins and never ends."

Film Details

Genre
Action
War
Release Date
Jan 1945
Premiere Information
New York opening: week of 24 Apr 1945
Production Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Betrayal from the East by Alan Hynd (New York, 1943).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 22m
Sound
Mono (RCA Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
7,404ft

Articles

Betrayal from the East


Was it someone's idea of an inside joke to cast Lee Tracy in a "Yellow Peril" movie? The Georgia-born, Pennsylvania-raised actor had spent much of his early years in uniform - military school, service in World War I, and a stint as a semi-pro baseball player - before becoming one of Hollywood's great iconoclasts, both onscreen and off. His star-making turn as fast-talking newsman Hildy Johnson in Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur's Broadway smash The Front Page got the attention of Hollywood; though he would lose the role of Hildy to Pat O'Brien in Lewis Milestone's 1931 film adaptation of The Front Page, Tracy became Hollywood's go-to guy for playing wisecracking reporters. Loose-limbed and tart-tongued, Tracy was hard to hate, even when he played against type, doing dirt to Ann Dvorak in The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) and manipulating Jean Harlow to do his bidding in Bombshell (1933). Tracy was at the height of his popularity as an MGM star when he got into trouble during the Mexico shoot for Viva Villa! (1934). Though the facts have long been a bone of contention, the official story - that a drunken Tracy urinated out of a hotel window and hit a passing military parade - got him booted from the country and canned at Metro. After bouncing from studio to studio as a free agent, Tracy eventually wound up starring in programmers churned out on Poverty Row.

Real estate investments had made Tracy a wealthy man, giving him the freedom to work when he pleased, and to take time off to serve his country in World War II. (A second lieutenant in the First World War, Tracy rose to the rank of first lieutenant in his posting to Michigan's Fort Custer, where he was assigned to the military police.) The actor's first film upon returning to Hollywood was Betrayal from the East (1945), shot at RKO. Inspired by the non-fiction bestseller by Alan Hynd ("The Inside Story of Japanese Spies in America"), the film took a fictive spin on two true crime case histories, of the recruitment of former Navy men, fallen on hard times, by Japanese nationals charged by Emperor Hirohito with obtaining US military secrets. Though deep into his forties at the time and seeming a bit long in the tooth to play the dashing Hollywood hero, Tracy was younger than his real life counterpart. Former Navy yeoman and Hollywood bit player Al D. Blake was fifty when, while playing "Keeno, King of the Robots" in a department store window, he was recruited for espionage by friend Toraichi Kono. Blake had met Kono years earlier when he played a small role in Charlie Chaplin's Shoulder Arms (1918), while the Japanese national was working as Chaplin's valet. Desperate for money but true to his country, Blake pretended to go along with the plan, obtaining useless intelligence for Kono and his associates before the law was able to swoop in and ankle the spy ring.

None of this backstory is in evidence in Betrayal from the East, a government issue wartime propaganda tale in which the Blake character is not an actor but a down-at-heel carnival barker whose military experience makes him a valuable asset to Nipponese spy Kato (Philip Ahn, whose Korean ancestry did not prevent him from playing agents of the Yellow Peril in Behind the Rising Sun and The Purple Heart). Though RKO starlet Bonita Granville had been announced in The Hollywood Reporter as having signed to play Tracy's love interest, the part was filled by Nancy Kelly, a former child star turned second tier leading lady (perhaps most notably as the beleaguered mother of The Bad Seed in 1957). Trucked in to contribute peripheral villainy were such reliable Hollywood exotics as Richard Loo, Victor Sen-Yung (both Chinese-Americans) and Abner Biberman. Brought onboard to add a measure of verisimilitude was columnist Drew Pearson, whose stentorian tones would later be put to effective use in Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1950).

Back to Toraichi Kono. Scion of a wealthy Hiroshima family, Kono disappointed his father's aspirations for him by gravitating toward the fast lane. Sent to Seattle to be disciplined by an older relative, Kono drifted instead to Hollywood, where he dabbled in aviation and answered a job listing placed by Charlie Chaplin, who was in need of a chauffeur. Kono eventually became more than a driver to Chaplin; while playing bit parts in several of his films, Kono staffed the filmmaker's estate with his own countrymen and developed a reputation for being Chaplin's gatekeeper, a conduit through which the rest of the industry was expected to pass if they wanted facetime with the Little Tramp. Kono's relationship to his employer was strained by Chaplin's marriage to Paulette Goddard and sundered when Kono attempted to curtail Goddard's spending. At one point given rein of United Artist's Tokyo office, Kono's embroilment in the espionage scandal that served as the inspiration for Betrayal from the East resulted in his internment for the duration of World War II. Despite the severity of the charges against him, Kono was in effect a free man in peacetime, traveling back and forth between Japan and the United States until his death from natural causes in 1971. A documentary on Kono's life, Living in Silence is currently in development.

By Richard Harland Smith

Sources:

The Enemy Within: A History of Spies, Spymasters, and Espionage by Terry Crowdy (Osprey Publishing, 2011)
In Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War on Terror by Michelle Malkin (Regnery Publishing, 2004)
Insidious Foes: The Axis Fifth Column and the American Homefront (Oxford University Press, 1995)
"Mr. Kono and the Tramp" by Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times, April 16,
Betrayal From The East

Betrayal from the East

Was it someone's idea of an inside joke to cast Lee Tracy in a "Yellow Peril" movie? The Georgia-born, Pennsylvania-raised actor had spent much of his early years in uniform - military school, service in World War I, and a stint as a semi-pro baseball player - before becoming one of Hollywood's great iconoclasts, both onscreen and off. His star-making turn as fast-talking newsman Hildy Johnson in Ben Hecht and Charles McArthur's Broadway smash The Front Page got the attention of Hollywood; though he would lose the role of Hildy to Pat O'Brien in Lewis Milestone's 1931 film adaptation of The Front Page, Tracy became Hollywood's go-to guy for playing wisecracking reporters. Loose-limbed and tart-tongued, Tracy was hard to hate, even when he played against type, doing dirt to Ann Dvorak in The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) and manipulating Jean Harlow to do his bidding in Bombshell (1933). Tracy was at the height of his popularity as an MGM star when he got into trouble during the Mexico shoot for Viva Villa! (1934). Though the facts have long been a bone of contention, the official story - that a drunken Tracy urinated out of a hotel window and hit a passing military parade - got him booted from the country and canned at Metro. After bouncing from studio to studio as a free agent, Tracy eventually wound up starring in programmers churned out on Poverty Row. Real estate investments had made Tracy a wealthy man, giving him the freedom to work when he pleased, and to take time off to serve his country in World War II. (A second lieutenant in the First World War, Tracy rose to the rank of first lieutenant in his posting to Michigan's Fort Custer, where he was assigned to the military police.) The actor's first film upon returning to Hollywood was Betrayal from the East (1945), shot at RKO. Inspired by the non-fiction bestseller by Alan Hynd ("The Inside Story of Japanese Spies in America"), the film took a fictive spin on two true crime case histories, of the recruitment of former Navy men, fallen on hard times, by Japanese nationals charged by Emperor Hirohito with obtaining US military secrets. Though deep into his forties at the time and seeming a bit long in the tooth to play the dashing Hollywood hero, Tracy was younger than his real life counterpart. Former Navy yeoman and Hollywood bit player Al D. Blake was fifty when, while playing "Keeno, King of the Robots" in a department store window, he was recruited for espionage by friend Toraichi Kono. Blake had met Kono years earlier when he played a small role in Charlie Chaplin's Shoulder Arms (1918), while the Japanese national was working as Chaplin's valet. Desperate for money but true to his country, Blake pretended to go along with the plan, obtaining useless intelligence for Kono and his associates before the law was able to swoop in and ankle the spy ring. None of this backstory is in evidence in Betrayal from the East, a government issue wartime propaganda tale in which the Blake character is not an actor but a down-at-heel carnival barker whose military experience makes him a valuable asset to Nipponese spy Kato (Philip Ahn, whose Korean ancestry did not prevent him from playing agents of the Yellow Peril in Behind the Rising Sun and The Purple Heart). Though RKO starlet Bonita Granville had been announced in The Hollywood Reporter as having signed to play Tracy's love interest, the part was filled by Nancy Kelly, a former child star turned second tier leading lady (perhaps most notably as the beleaguered mother of The Bad Seed in 1957). Trucked in to contribute peripheral villainy were such reliable Hollywood exotics as Richard Loo, Victor Sen-Yung (both Chinese-Americans) and Abner Biberman. Brought onboard to add a measure of verisimilitude was columnist Drew Pearson, whose stentorian tones would later be put to effective use in Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still (1950). Back to Toraichi Kono. Scion of a wealthy Hiroshima family, Kono disappointed his father's aspirations for him by gravitating toward the fast lane. Sent to Seattle to be disciplined by an older relative, Kono drifted instead to Hollywood, where he dabbled in aviation and answered a job listing placed by Charlie Chaplin, who was in need of a chauffeur. Kono eventually became more than a driver to Chaplin; while playing bit parts in several of his films, Kono staffed the filmmaker's estate with his own countrymen and developed a reputation for being Chaplin's gatekeeper, a conduit through which the rest of the industry was expected to pass if they wanted facetime with the Little Tramp. Kono's relationship to his employer was strained by Chaplin's marriage to Paulette Goddard and sundered when Kono attempted to curtail Goddard's spending. At one point given rein of United Artist's Tokyo office, Kono's embroilment in the espionage scandal that served as the inspiration for Betrayal from the East resulted in his internment for the duration of World War II. Despite the severity of the charges against him, Kono was in effect a free man in peacetime, traveling back and forth between Japan and the United States until his death from natural causes in 1971. A documentary on Kono's life, Living in Silence is currently in development. By Richard Harland Smith Sources: The Enemy Within: A History of Spies, Spymasters, and Espionage by Terry Crowdy (Osprey Publishing, 2011) In Defense of Internment: The Case for "Racial Profiling" in World War II and the War on Terror by Michelle Malkin (Regnery Publishing, 2004) Insidious Foes: The Axis Fifth Column and the American Homefront (Oxford University Press, 1995) "Mr. Kono and the Tramp" by Bruce Wallace, Los Angeles Times, April 16,

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

According to a pre-production news item in Hollywood Reporter, Bonita Granville was originally slated to play the female lead in this picture. Although a Hollywood Reporter production chart places Kurt Kreuger in the cast, his participation in the released film has not been confirmed. A news item in New York Times notes that this was Lee Tracy's first screen appearance since his two-year stint in the Military Police. A Hollywood Reporter news item adds that Tracy's performance in this picture won him a contract with RKO. Although noted news commentator Drew Pearson's name is not included in the onscreen credits, Pearson does appear as the narrator in the film.