Cast & Crew
In 1937, cynical American Roy Bonnell runs a nightclub in Shanghai with his Roumanian partner, Victor Eminescu, and continually refuses offers to be bought out by Isoda Saito, head of a Japanese gambling syndicate. One evening, Roy is intrigued by a beautiful British woman, Kay Murdock, and another woman, Doris Poole, who both request a letter sent to the club, addressed to Captain Karl Larsen. Roy follows Kay to her hotel after she steals the letter, and there she tells him that she is an agent for a jade-buying concern that is attempting to purchase a valuable collection offered by Larsen. For a considerable percentage, Roy allows Kay to substitute her name for that of jade connoisseur Pierre Solaire as the person whom Larsen is to contact. Roy is then warned by Fu Yen, a Chinese lawyer, that Eminescu has been arrested by the Japanese secret service. Upon arriving at their headquarters, Roy learns that Saito is actually the head of the secret service, and that Eminescu is being questioned both about a jade deal and Doris Poole. Saito informs Roy that his lawyer met with an "accident" a few minutes earlier, after which Eminescu is tortured to death. Roy escapes, but upon returning to his club, finds that his employees have been replaced by Japanese, and that his wall safe has been ransacked. Larsen arrives and collects his letter, after which Roy finds Doris' body in a closet. Before she died, Doris wrote "CDA=Mulhauser" on the wall. Because she is wearing the same unusual earrings as Kay, Roy suspects that they were in league and goes to Kay's hotel. He overhears her talking to Saito and will not accept her subsequent explanation that both she and Doris are British intelligence agents sent to capture Saito and an unknown agent named Mulhauser who is directing a mysterious action in the Pacific. When Larsen arrives and gives her a jade sword handle and a list of numbers, Kay explains that the numbers are a coded message to Mulhauser. Planning to sell them to the highest bidder, Roy steals the list and sword handle. The next morning, Roy goes to Solaire's shop, where Saito is waiting for him. Kay and two fellow agents rescue Roy from Saito, but he escapes from them and goes to hide at the house of his friend, Roumanian Constantine Dimitrius Alecsandri. Upon seeing a cigarette case with Alecsandri's initials, Roy realizes that he is the secret agent Mulhauser who killed Doris. Alecsandri confirms Roy's suspicions, then threatens to torture Kay, whom Saito has captured, if Roy does not give him the list and sword handle. After deciphering the code, which states that the operation in Hawaii is ready, Alecsandri and Saito reveal to Roy that he could have prevented the upcoming attack on Pearl Harbor if he had given the sword handle to Kay, for it contains the names of Japanese agents in Hawaii. As Saito is about to kill Roy and Kay, they are rescued by Fu Yen, who reveals that he is a secret agent for Chiang Ki-Shek. Fu Yen extracts a promise from Roy to join the Chinese Army as a mechanic, and Roy and Kay kiss as they board a plane bound for Chunking.
Jean Del Val
Wiard B. Ihnen
Harry M. Leonard
Sol M. Wurtzel
Secret Agent of Japan was the first "anti-Japanese" picture produced by a major studio after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In a September 1942 press release, Twentieth Century-Fox asserted: "Having restrained itself for years while the United States Government patiently tried to guide the Japanese from paths of bloody aggression, the motion picture industry was given a release to discuss the Nipponese in the frankest possible manner by the bombs that fell on Pearl Harbor." Many reviews of the picture noted that it was the first film of World War II in which Japanese people were presented as villains.
The following information comes from studio publicity contained in the film's clippings file at the AMPAS Library, as well as a February 1, 1942 New York Times news item and a December 9, 1941 Los Angeles Examiner news item: In the summer of 1941, producer Sol M. Wurtzel assigned John Larking to "write a scenario under the title 'Secret Agent of...' on the premise that the United States was at war with an unspecified country." The New York Times news item further stated that "Larkin laid the photoplay in Shanghai with some prescience and ignored all normal restraints in painting his villians. After December 7, all that remained to be done was to fill in the blank and choose appropriate character names." According to the Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest review, however, the film was "fabricated from idea to finished print since December 7." The earliest screenplay for the film contained in the Twentieth Century-Fox Produced Scripts Collection at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library is dated December 10, 1941. According to the Los Angeles Times, George Sanders was originally signed to co-star with Preston Foster, and the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, also located at UCLA, note that Roland Got was first signed for the role of "Fu Yen."
According to a studio press release, Noel Madison was selected for the role of "Isoda Saito" after "three Japanese actors had turned it down for fear that playing such a role would subject relatives in Japan to retaliatory measures." Approximately thirty Japanese-American actors appear in the film. The press release goes on to read: "All were American citizens and all were checked with the FBI and Naval Intelligence. To make this check...[the actors] were told that photographic tests of them with Lynn Bari had to be made. Copies of these tests were then passed on to the proper officials....Two uniformed policemen and two plain-clothesmen were stationed on the set at all times and the Japanese, many of whom were in Japanese army uniforms, were forbidden to leave the set unless escorted by a policeman. This was to prevent them from coming to any harm and also to prevent studio employees from becoming used to the sight of Japanese soldiers in case the real thing should one day appear."
According to August 1942 Hollywood Reporter news items, the picture was banned in Argentina at the request of the Japanese and German embassies.