Tokyo Joe (Stuart Heisler, 1949)

Tokyo Joe 4The shadow of Casablanca hangs heavy over Tokyo Joe, as Bogart attempts to recapture the mood of his most famous romance in a drama made by his own production company, Santana. Once again, Bogart plays an expat nightclub owner, this time wandering through the battered landscape of post-war Tokyo. And once again he rekindles his love for a glamorous old flame (Florence Marly) who is now married to someone else. There is even a song running through the film, this time the standard These Foolish Things.

Inevitably, the film, directed by Stuart Heisler, loses by the comparison with its celebrated predecessor,  and I’d have to say it is relatively minor Bogart – but then, even minor Bogart is so watchable. He brings his unique blend of dry wit and underlying passion to the role of Joe Barrett, and is so compelling that at the start of the film I was really excited and thought it was a little-known masterpiece. Sadly, it isn’t – the pacing falls away in the middle and there are too many unlikely plot twists, as well as a stereotyped Japanese villain.

Humphrey Bogart and Florence Marly

Humphrey Bogart and Florence Marly

However, I’d still say it is well worth a look, both for Bogie and for the haunting, shadowy portrait of Tokyo. The film was the first Hollywood production made there after the Second World War, with second unit director Arthur Black sent there for background footage, I don’t know whether the main cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr, of The Lady From Shanghai fame, accompanied him or whether it was someone else behind the camera, but would be grateful to know for sure if anyone can tell me (I’ve just been searching for information on this and coming up blank). Either way, the streetscapes are a stunning element of the film. While watching, I didn’t even realise that Bogart is always seen from the back in the outdoor Japanese footage. He never left Hollywood and his place was taken by a succession of body doubles in a raincoat and fedora. Once you know this, it is noticeable – but I think it is so well cut together that it isn’t really a worry.

Tokyo Joe 7Bogart’s character, Joe, ran a nightclub in Tokyo before the war and was married to Russian nightclub singer Trina, played by Czech actress Florence Marly. However, he walked out on her after a tiff and then war broke out – he wrongly believed she was dead and joined the Allied air forces, rising to Colonel. When he returns to Tokyo after the war, after learning she is alive, he is devastated to discover that she has divorced him and remarried. Several of the reviews I’ve read complain about Marly being too cold or having little charisma and about a supposed lack of chemistry between her and Bogart, but I think her performance is fine and especially liked her singing of These Foolish Things. She started out as a singer and the way she performs slightly reminds me of Dietrich. I also really like the scene where Joe and Trina are first reunited after his return to Tokyo – this does feel like Casablanca, especially with Bogart calling Marly “Kid” . I also liked the fact that Bogart barks out one or two lines in Japanese, emphasising the fact that Joe has lived and worked in the city.

Bogart and Teru Shimada

Bogart and Teru Shimada

However, meeting up with Trina again isn’t the only poignant reunion for Joe.  He also returns to the nightclub and meets up with the old friend who has been running it, Ito (Teru Shimada). Their reunion scene, also included in the link I’ve given above to some clips from TCM, is another highlight, as Ito starts with a delighted “Joe, baby!”, before becoming embarrassed and slipping into some formal Japanese politeness, much to Joe’s dismay, though this doesn’t last long. They then renew their bond over a drink and an impromptu bout of Judo, which leaves them laughing alongside one another. The relationship between Joe and Ito sadly takes further twists later and is affected by stereotyping. But in this early part of the film it seems natural and multi-layered, as their old friendship is complicated by the war and by all that has happened to both of them in the interim. However, I’d have to say that some of the other Japanese characters are all too stereotyped, in particular the villainous Baron Kimura (Sessue Hayakawa). The role helped Hayakawa to rebuld his career after the war, and he does all he can with the two-dimensional character.

Bogart and Alexander Knox

Bogart and Alexander Knox

Joe’s return to Tokyo soon becomes dangerously complicated as he meets up with Trina’s second husband, Mark Landis (Alexander Knox, who gives a fine performance), a member of the occupation administration, and also learns that Trina has a daughter, Anya (Lora Lee Michel). To Joe’s disgust and horror, it also transpires that Trina made propaganda broadcasts for the Japanese during the war because of a threat to her daughter’s life.

I don’t think it is really a spoiler to say that Joe is the little girl’s father, as most viewers would work this out almost immediately, far more quickly than Joe himself does! The scenes between Joe and Anya are quite sweet and touching, and it is interesting to see Bogart playing a father – I’m struggling to think of many other films where he had children – but I think they rather break the noirish mood of the film and slow its pace too much. I won’t go over all the later plot twists, which become rather far-fetched, but do give Bogart a chance to show his vulnerable side and his versatility as an actor.

Tokyo Joe is available on DVD from Palladium in the UK, with good picture quality but no extras. In the US you can get it as part of a TCM Vault collection, which does feature extras –  I’d be interested to hear what anybody thinks of these.

This review is a last-minute contribution to the Humphrey Bogart Day of the TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon. Although I’m in the UK and sadly don’t have access to the US TCM, I’m hoping to join in on a few more days of the event. 

Knox, Marly and Bogart

Knox, Marly and Bogart

Tokyo Joe 5

Bogart and Marly

Bogart and Marly

Tokyo Joe 3

 

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25 thoughts on “Tokyo Joe (Stuart Heisler, 1949)

  1. Pingback: 2013 tcm SUTS Blogathon Day 1: Humphrey Bogart | ScribeHard On Film

  2. I’ve got this on my list to watch soon! It’s one I’ve never seen, and I’ve been anxious to do so. Thanks so much for the writeup. And I agree! Even bad Bogart is watchable Bogart. I haven’t found one yet that I wouldn’t watch again.

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    • Thank you! I agree with you that his films are always rewatchable. Last night, inspired by reading about the Bogart day in the US, I watched my DVD of ‘The Caine Mutiny’, a first-time viewing for me, and loved it – that’s one I will definitely go back to.

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  3. Pingback: Day 1: Humphrey Bogart | Sittin on a Backyard Fence

  4. Thanks for your review. I’ve never seen this Bogart film and it sounds interesting. I’ve never heard of Florence Marly. Alexander Knox is always good.
    Glad you’ve seen Caine Mutiny.

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    • Thanks, Vienna – hope you get a chance to see it. According to the imdb Florence Marly was blacklisted during the McCarthy witch-hunt and then they realised she had been mixed up with a singer called Anna Marly! She doesn’t look to have made all that many films in English but did do some TV.

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  5. Very nice article Judy on a film I haven’t seen in quite a few years. I bought the old Columbia R1 DVD in around 2004, watched it, and it’s been on the shelf since. I’d really need to give it another spin before I could comment in great detail. Having said that, I think (from memory) that you’re right in referring to the film as minor Bogart. It’s a cut above some of his worse independent efforts though and reasonably entertaining. For me anyway, even weak Bogart movies have aspects and moments that are worthwhile.
    Good to hear you saw The Caine Mutiny, and enjoyed it too.

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    • Thank you, Colin – totally agree that even Bogart’s weaker movies are still always of interest and worth watching, and that this one is fairly entertaining. I might write something about ‘The Caine Mutiny’ in the future, but think I would really need to watch it at least once more as there is so much to think about.

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    • Judy, I forgot to say that the presence of Steve Fisher as writer on this movie is another positive aspect.

      On The Caine Mutiny, it’s an excellent movie but there’s so much going on that another viewing is probably recommended.

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    • I did mean to mention the writers, but failed to do so. I see Steve Fisher also wrote ‘Dead Reckoning’, which has a great script, during his long and varied career. Thanks, Colin.

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  6. Bogart seemed to replay his Casablanca persona several times later in his career (Passage to Marseille, Sirocco, Dead Reckoning), though, as The African Queen and Treasure of Sierre Madre demonstrate, he did have far greater range. And he actually does play a father in another film, The Two Mrs Carrolls, where he’s papa to the young but astonishly precocious Ann Carter, although my impression of his performance in that film (he’s an artist who’s murdered one wife and is planning to bump off another) was that he was ludicrously miscast. Still, Barbara Stanwyck is in it, and that makes any film watchable, so I recommend checking it out.

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    • Good to hear from you, G.O.M.! I’ve seen ‘The Two Mrs Carrolls’ but had forgotten Bogart was a father in it – must agree that I also remember feeling he was miscast, although it was interesting to see him play such a different role and he made a good combination with Stanwyck. I think he also has kids in ‘Black Legion’., but that’s all I can come up with, although there are still loads of his movies I haven’t seen, so there may well be more.Out of those ‘Casablanca’ influenced movies you mention, I love ‘Passage to Marseille’ – and must also agree he had far greater range. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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  7. Pingback: Western Countdown Upcoming U.K. trip to London and Kendal on Monday Morning Diary (August 5) | Wonders in the Dark

  8. Judy, a good review, as always. It’s been many years since I watched so I really cannot comment other than unlike many others Bogart films I don’t remember being very impressed with it. But like I said, it’s been a long time.

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    • Thanks, John – I’m trying to catch up with as many Bogart films as I can, and it’s interesting to see how good he is even if the film overall isn’t all that great.

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  9. Judy, first of all, thank you for your kind words about the loss of my sweet beagle, Nikki. Her passing has been heartbreaking for our family, but the kindness and caring of friends has been comforting.

    I’ve never seen this film, nor even heard of it. It sounds enjoyable though. I realize almost no film can ever hope to compete with the masterpiece, Casablanca, but this one sounds solid and interesting…well worth a watch. I’m definitely going to look for it. Too bad I didn’t DVR it on Humphrey Bogart day.

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    • Patti, thanks so much for the comment – I know the loss of a much-loved pet is very upsetting.

      I do think this film is interesting even though it isn’t one of Bogart’s great roles. I suppose the downside of all the wonderful films being shown during Summer under the Stars is that it must be hard for you all to decide what to record! Thanks again.

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  10. Judy,

    Thanks so much for your contribution to the blogathon. Tokyo Joe is an interesting film and one that was definitely trying to capture some of that Casablanca magic. Not perfect, but an entertaining film and good performance from Bogart. Really enjoyed your piece. Thanks again.

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    • Jill, many thanks to you and Michael for organising the blogathon, and for the nice comment. I think ‘Tokyo Joe’ is a film I will enjoy revisiting in the future and definitely agree that it has a good performance from Bogart.

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  11. Late checking in here Judy, but I highly commend you for another fantastic essay, this time for the blogothon. I’ll have to take another look at this film, as it’s been a long time, though Bogart’s performance remains a most positive recollection, and most comparable to his Rick in CASABLANCA.

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    • Sam, very kind of you to take the time to comment on this one during your travels, much appreciated! I definitely agree that Bogart’s performance is the most memorable thing about this film.

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  12. Pingback: Dallas (Stuart Heisler, 1950) | Movie classics

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