“I’ll write a retraction when they prove the story is false.”
A presentation such as the one that Artisan has given us of James Cagney’s Blood on the Sun is another glaring reminder of how poorly that fine actor is represented on DVD. Sure, his Academy Award winning effort in Yankee Doodle Dandy is imminent from WB, but otherwise all his best titles are missing in action. Correcting that should be a priority for WB, which controls most of those films. In the meantime, several of Cagney’s films that were independently produced by his brother William Cagney and originally released through United Artists have been widely available — items such as The Time of Your Life and Blood on the Sun.
Blood on the Sun is actually a pretty good film. Cagney was starting to exhibit the somewhat burly look he would battle through most of the last half of his career, but was still his energetic and magnetic self playing the role of an American editor for an English language newspaper (the Tokyo Chronicle) in the 1920s. The story involves Cagney’s efforts to bring a Japanese plan for world domination (the Tanaka Plan) to international attention. Along the way, a good friend and his wife are killed, Cagney is framed by the Japanese police, and he becomes involved with a beautiful half-Chinese woman (played by Sylvia Sidney) who seems to have ties to high levels in the Japanese military establishment.
Produced in 1945, the film obviously intended to cash in on the American hatred for the Japanese as World War II in the Pacific reached its climax. It also seized upon its Japanese setting to introduce judo as the main form of action arising from the story. Cagney worked with a couple of Los Angeles area judo experts (one of them, Jack Halloran, plays a Japanese captain in the film) and became quite adept at judo as a result. The judo exchanges in the film are well choreographed and provide some strong action sequences, particularly the climactic fight between Cagney and Halloran. Cagney and Sylvia Sidney also worked well together, reflecting Cagney’s respect for Sidney as an actor and also his enjoyment of her adeptness at witty repartee. It didn’t hurt the film either that she looked stunning made up as a Eurasian woman. Nice supporting opportunities were filled by the likes of Porter Hall, Wallace Ford, Rhys Williams, and Marvin Miller (only one of numerous Japanese roles played by occidentals). Many critics and certainly the public agreed that the film offered good entertainment value, although it really didn’t boost Cagney’s career substantially at the time.
Artisan’s DVD represents only its latest indignity to the classic films in its library. For some inexplicable reason, it’s released a colorized version of Blood on the Sun that is nowhere identified as such on the packaging. In fact, the packaging explicitly states “black and white.” About the only thing that Artisan got right was the aspect ratio, but then the film was made at 1.37:1 so presenting it full frame was pretty hard to mess up. The advertised Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround track sounds little different from a standard mono presentation. Of course, there are no supplements.
You may be wondering how I arrived at a rating of 40/100 for this disc. Well, I simply averaged film content and disc presentation. The film content got 80 and the presentation got zero since I’m tired of cutting Artisan any slack (as I did on its recent Laurel and Hardy disc) for its transfer efforts. If you want a decent version of the film on disc, your best bet is Image’s release.