Spy 100, #51: Across the Pacific

John Huston’s Across the Pacific (1942) takes place entirely in the Atlantic, but its sights are set squarely on Japan. Humphrey Bogart stars as former artillery officer Rick Leland, court-martialed in disgrace and dishonorably discharged. Leland heads north to volunteer for the Canadian armed forces, but his reputation proceeds him. When rejected, he secures a birth on a Japanese cargo ship bound for the Panama Canal, planning to hire himself out as a mercenary in China. But as the boat makes its way south along the Atlantic seaboard, he attracts the attention of fellow traveler Dr. Lorenz (Sydney Greenstreet), a shady Japan-o-phile who displays an acute interest in Leland’s military past in Panama. Also onboard is Alberta Marlow (Mary Astor), with whom Leland enters into a contentious romance. Clearly espionage is afoot, and nobody is exactly who they seem to be.

Across the Pacific is a good old-fashioned cloak-and-dagger picture, flavored with a touch of wartime patriotism. It’s a soundly plotted travelogue, not unlike a Hitchcock spy thriller, banking on Bogart-Astor chemistry and Greenstreet’s erudite British villainy as the story moves southward from Halifax to New York to Panama. I found the romance a bit odd, its quirky comedic flourishes occasionally disrupting the otherwise somber tone of intrigue, and there are shades of period racism — although, in light of the era and war xenophobia, it’s not terribly egregious. Setting these issues aside, it’s an enjoyable picture with an unusual international milieu and mysterious atmosphere, carried largely by Bogart’s inimitable charisma.

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