BLOOD ON THE SUN has an American newspaperman scooping the scheme behind Japan’s militant nationalism as it took shape during the decade before World War Two, when conquest-bent factions were banzai-bent on steering the country to Imperial glory. Directed by Frank Lloyd, written by Lester Cole, it lets us know “Forgive your enemies. But first, get even.” *
Tokyo,1929. ‘Nick Condon’ (James Cagney), the pugnacious Yankee editor of the ‘Tokyo Chronicle’, publishes an expose revealing Baron Giichi Tanaka’s blueprint plan for conquest, starting with China, working toward the United States. The secret police go after Nick, who’s aided by ‘Iris Hillard'(Sylvia Sidney), a Eurasian working with liberals in the government.
Japan denied the “Tanaka Memorial”, once widely believed to genuine, now largely thought to have been a hoax. Fake or fact, there’s no arguing the thrust of it played out in Japan’s military moves that brought millions to their deaths from Nanking to Pearl Harbor and back. By the time this agitated actioner came out, in late April of 1945, Nippon’s rising sun was sinking in a sea of fire, with the WW2’s convulsive conclusion only four months ahead. “The Bomb” was a still secret when Jimmy’s brother William produced this evidence-rattler, with everyone primed for an invasion promising to be the bloodbath of all time. It did well, 18th for the year, a healthy gross of $9,400,000 against a cost of $750,000.
Cagney at 45 was still full of p&v, and he replaces pistols with body blows, demonstrating a variety of judo chops and throws he was taught by former cop named Jack Sergel. Taking the name Jack Halloran, Sergel, makeup affixed, plays one of the bad guys. Other nefarious enemies are handled by John Emery (as Tanaka), Robert Armstong as a hissable Hideki Tojo (then an ambitious Colonel in the Army, later the infamous Premier) and Marvin Miller, piling it on as ‘Yamada’. Naturally, modern viewers will either take offense or laugh at (or both) the makeup, and “inscrutable” utterances put forth. What is unusual and surprising for a agitprop item of the day is that not all the Japanese characters are played as evil, with a number (again played mostly by Anglo actors in makeup) shown to be sensible, liberal or just ordinary citizens.
Aside from delivering judo action, Cagney has a good leading lady in Sylvia Sidney (they enjoyed working together), an offbeat, intelligent and attractive actress whose cool matches his spark. Miklos Rozsa gave it a flavorful score, and the well-designed art direction won an Academy Award.
Also in the cast: Porter Hall, Wallace Ford, Leonard Strong, Rosemary DeCamp, Rhys Williams, Frank Puglia, Hugh Beaumont, Philip Ahn (as Yamamoto). 94 minutes.
* Serving, and being served—veteran director Frank Lloyd (Mutiny On The Bounty, The Last Command) had just finished war duty as commander of the 13th Air Force Combat Camera Unit, the “Jungle Air Force”, covering action in the Pacific. Lester Cole, who also added to ’45’s fervor by writing the fire & brimstone Objective Burma! would find his patriotism under fire just two years later when was blacklisted as one of “The Hollywood Ten”.
Cole’s statement to the witchhunters: “I want to say at the outset that I am a loyal American, who upholds the Constitution of my country, who does not advocate force and violence, and who is not an agent of a foreign power…. This Committee is determined to sow fear of blacklists; to intimidate management, to destroy democratic guilds and unions by interference in their internal affairs, and through their destruction bring chaos and strife to an industry which seeks only democratic methods with which to solve its own problems. This Committee is waging a cold war on democracy.” Looks like totalitarian Japan wasn’t alone in suppressing free speech. Cole later wrote the screenplay to Born Free.