House of Bamboo, 1955. 7/10

Robert Ryan and Robert Stack star in an exotic film noir set in postwar Tokyo. Sandy Dawson (Ryan) runs a black market gang which has taken the life of Mariko’s (Shirley Yamaguchi’s) husband. She teams up with Stack’s military cop character Eddie Kenner against the underworld.

Rounding the cast of good and bad guys are Brad Dexter as Captain Hanson, Sessue Hayakawa as Inspector Kito, Cameron Mitchell as Sandy’s second-in-command Griff, Bill Elliot as Mariko’s husband, Webber. there’s Coram (Sandra Giglio), and Charlie (DeForest Kelley).

Eddie goes undercover in Sandy’s gang as Spanier, falls in love with Mariko, and gets in the crosshairs himself., Well we’re stuck with a narrator for a while, but, on the plus side, we get an amusement park denouement, ala Strangers On A Train.

We first have a train heist; the only one in history with the picturesque Mt. Fujiyama in the background. The contraband is unloaded by the gangsters onto a waiting truck. A woman sees the body of her husband lying in the snow.

From police HQ Hanson goes out to the hijack site. Ceram, a journalist, accompanies them. Three weeks later, they discover that Webber was shot by a gang member using the same gun as that from the train incident. Webber won’t finger anyone; they mention Spanier; Webber doesn’t cop to that guy, but does admit that Muriko’s his wife.

Another three weeks on, we get Eddie as Spanier–looking into a theatre. He wants to talk to Muriko, but she’s not to be found. Look here, she’s at a seaside wharf area. Definitely the Ugly American, he bullies his way around. Still, she eludes him.

Kind of a foot chase ensues (strangely there’s some people wearing masks, just like right now). Finally he corners her. I guess he hasn’t got the memo, cause he doesn’t know that her husband is dead. She thinks he’s in the gang too; actually, he was looking for a cut of the racket. On the other hand, she doesn’t know that the cops know about her.

She tells him that her husband was secretive about his business. “I didn’t figure he was in that deep” Eddie remarks. He tells her there’s nothing to sorry about. Anyway, he goes to a pachinko parlor and demands protection money–probably Webber’s old job.

He makes the rounds demanding to meet “the number one boy” for a shakedown. He finally gets his comeuppance, as Dawson is in charge of Eddie’s next mark. Griff and Charlie are his lieutenants. Anyway, he gives Eddie back the bribe, with the advice to try another town for his Pachinko racket.

He stops in for a plate of octopus–he’ll just have the tea. He’s practically lynched for stealing some jewelry; “the American army has quite a history on you” the cops say. Charges were dropped. That mess over, he’s next rousted by Sandy’s gang. He’s offered a more promising job “I’ve got other interests” Sandy says enigmatically.

The gang doesn’t like Eddie; sarcastically, Sandy goes over his war, err, criminal record, and characterizes him as a “stockade hound.” The big guy gives Eddie some get-cleaned-up money. Now he’s a gentleman of means, as it were. Aha! Eddie reveals to us what he’s really up to; he’s meeting with the Captain and the Inspector to discuss Dawson.

Checking in with Dawson, he has to tell them about Muriko. So Dawson hauls him over to Muriko’s, telling her “you came close to losing him permanently.” Eddie’s actually able to fix the situation; Sandy’s none the wiser. Later, she and Eddie meet up privately; amazingly, she wants to help him.

He thinks about it… she’ll hang out with him anyway. He’s such a great guy: rude, crude, and a quasi-criminal. Well, he cracks a smile when she him coffee in the morning, and the bath…and, y’know. C’mon where’s the cops and robbers?

She tells him that it’s dishonorable to live with a foreigner; “It was a bad idea from the start” he says. Agreed. Oh, man, one of Sandy’s mugs come to summon him. But back at Dawson’s HQ we join a meeting in progress; they’re talking about a cement plant for some heist. “The fog lifted, we’re all set.”

Near the site, it’s time to pass out the weapons. So what? Anyway, we see the bad guys arrive at the plant and take their positions; a payroll job. They get the loot, but a gunbattle ensues. No mercy for the wounded bad guys. The smoke bombs cover their escape, though. Dawson’s actually pissed that they saved the wounded Eddie.

Muriko comes to tend to him. She’s compromised now; he tells her that Spanier is still in jail in the States, he’s taken his identity for the other side. Now, there’s more unconvincing romantic crap. Charlie comes around to tell them that Dawson’s having a party to celebrate the successful payroll job.

Nice party, who cares? Some stereotypical cultural stuff as Eddie and Muriko chat on the veranda; a massage, then, blah, blah. At last, we get the set up for the next job: Bank of Tokyo. Griff is wondering why he’s being sidelined; “you’re just about ready for a Section-8.” Anyway, now it’s Eddie’s turn to flip the switch on the gang.

He tells Muriko to call Hansen; they fix to meet at a hotel. Unfortunately, Charlie is at the bar. But she’s able to give the layout to Hansen. When she goes home, though, Dawson’s waiting for her. He feigns to have a chummy tea party with her. Charlie saw her with Hansen; is she “two-timing” Eddie, or…worse?

Dawson’s got a nice moble HQ. Good and bad guys converge on the bank; some cool back alley and side street stuff. Cleverly, the van has loudspeakers–one tune means to call of the heist, etc. Meanwhile, Reason takes care of loose ends by draining Griff’s bathwater with bullet holes–it’s going to be a gooey rinse now.

Dawson blames Griff for tipping off the cops. Ceram comes to see Dawson–Ceram knows who really fingered him “you killed the wrong man!” Hmm…now what? Well, in the deliberate way that everyone acts here, it takes a whole set of speeches for Dawson to explain things to his crew. But he tells them the informer was Griff! What’s he up to?

So, he takes Charlie and Eddie out on a new job. Back to the pearl business; ok, it’s a slam dunk to rip off these chumps. It’s only now that the ultimate plan becomes clear; Dawson’s going to finger Eddie for the robbery. So, Dawson calls the cops to take their own position, so to speak. He says he’ll leave killing Eddie up to the local police. Nice.

Charlie jabs Eddie with his gun butt; they figure if they prop him up the cops will just shoot him when they burst in. Might’ve worked, but the cops get the jump on them and start shooting while the three of them are still in the room. Charlie gets it, but Dawson tries to lose the cops in an amusement park. Weird juxtaposition of him getting in the way of the rides. He can’t really get away; ending up in a whirling globe ride.

The cops have a good position in the ride’s control tower. In a long scene reminiscent of the merry-go-round denouement in Strangers On A Train , but with tons of shooting, they manipulate the ride to flush out Dawson. Eventually, Eddie, revived once again, brings Dawson down. That’s it. Done. Thankfully.

Ok, this was an exciting noirish crime drama, with a good plot, and two tough guy leads. But, the romance, which is never convincing, bogs this down and draws it out. The setting, which is certainly picturesque, with a boatload of local nuance, nonetheless seems wasted.

Tokyo would’ve been an exotic, romantic location for a romance; but there’s really nothing that helps what is essentially an urban crime premise. In any big American city, this might’ve seemed grittier and more focused. Several noirs make use of a Mexican setting as an escape, a place to make deals or something in between; most notably, Mexico works well as a episode in Out Of The Past.

But Japan isn’t really a logical stopover for American criminals; I get that there was a transitional period when a lot of our guys were there after the war. But back here the seamy underside was lurking in any big city due to a different, but nonetheless overt post-war mash-up of readjustment.

This was an entertaining experience–despite its flaws. 7/10

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