Tokyo Joe (DVD)

“These foolish things remind me of you.”

Humphrey Bogart is most closely associated with Warner Bros., for it was there that he rose to stardom and appeared in so many well-loved classics such as The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, To Have and Have Not, and The Big Sleep. Eventually, like James Cagney, Olivia de Havilland, and Bette Davis, he looked elsewhere, having wearied of the constant run-ins with the studio over contractual issues and the quality of the films offered to him. During the last ten years of his career, he worked at virtually every major studio, but mainly at Columbia, where he had arranged a production and distribution deal after forming Santana, his own production company. The various films that resulted from this arrangement were a mixed bag, ranging from quality items such as The Caine Mutiny, The Harder They Fall, and In a Lonely Place, to more prosaic efforts such as Knock on Any Door, Sirocco, and 1949’s Tokyo Joe.

In Tokyo Joe, Bogart is World War II pilot Joe Barrett who, several years after the war, returns to Tokyo where he used to operate a gambling joint. There, he learns that his wife Trina, whom he had believed dead, is in fact not only alive and remarried, but also the mother of a seven-year-old daughter, Anya, who is actually Barrett’s child. Barrett sets out to win Trina back, but he is sidetracked when Baron Kimura, former Japanese Secret Service head, threatens to expose Trina’s role in broadcasting wartime propaganda. Kimura forces Barrett to set up a phony air freight service in order to transport Japanese war criminals, and then abducts Anya to ensure Barrett’s compliance.

The idea for Tokyo Joe probably sounded like a good one at the time — an exotic foreign locale, Bogart as an American expatriate, and a mysterious woman from his character’s past who is now linked to another man. It’s not quite as obvious an attempt to recreate the magic of Casablanca as Sirocco was, but it’s equally unsuccessful. Bogart still looked pretty fresh, having not yet taken on the aged, weary visage that characterized his later films, but he appears unable to generate much interest in the material. The general ho-hum nature of the film is further emphasized by the complete lack of charisma delivered by the work of Florence Marly as Trina and Alexander Knox as her husband. One certainly wonders what Bogart’s character ever saw in the cold fish that is Marly’s Trina.

Aside from these deficiencies, the film’s plot is let down by the predictable plot thread involving Baron Kimura (played by Sessue Hayakawa). There’s not necessarily anything wrong with predictability, but it does need some sort of fresh angle to work well. It doesn’t get it here, unlike in 1945’s Blood on the Sun, another piece of Japanese intrigue that starred another Warners alumnus, James Cagney.

Columbia’s DVD looks quite decent. The black and white image (full frame in accord with the original aspect ratio) exhibits deep blacks, clean whites, and good shadow detail for the most part. There is a fair amount of speckling, a bit of debris, and some grain in evidence, but no edge effects. The Dolby Digital mono sound conveys the dialogue-driven movie clearly with no background hiss. In a moment of weakness, Columbia actually gives us more than the usual three trailers for other classic releases as a supplement package. Included is a short montage of text and poster images tracing Bogart’s Columbia releases, but it’s pretty inconsequential, suggesting that Columbia couldn’t be bothered to make the most of what could have been a good idea.


I imagine Bogart completists will want this disc, but anyone else looking to check out what may, to them, be a lesser-known Bogart title should consider a rental at best.

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