With prestige projects that go back to the ‘teens, it’s surprising to find Frank Lloyd, after taking the last decade off, back in the director’s chair for this low-budget ensemble piece. Always more solid-citizen than inspired artist*, he calmly keeps this hostage drama on the incremental move, dotting his ‘I’s and crossing his ‘T’s before each narrative step. Hardly necessary when we’re already ahead of this story about a gaggle of foreign nationals held in Shanghai hotel purgatory by Communist Chinese authorities who are pressuring their ‘guests’ to reveal the spy amongst them. Those evil-hearted ‘oriental’ sadists of movieland may have morphed from 1930s Chinese Warlords and WWII Japanese combatants to 1950s Commies, but the old tropes never change. The bad guys still shoot the little girl’s dog, they still get duped by sexy Eurotrash gals, and you still get to see Caucasian actors in a leading Asian role or two. Formulaic as it is, it starts to work in its way after a bit, with some neat characterizations from a second-tier cast, including an unusually trim Edmond O’Brien (the doctor), Ruth Roman (the shady lady) and Richard Jaeckel (outfitted as a very ‘butch’ sailor boy). A nonsensical romantic tag end may cause a giggle, but on the whole, the film is a pretty rust-free piece of work from Lloyd.
DOUBLE-BILL: While this was Lloyd’s penultimate pic, another old warhorse, John Ford, ended his career in similar fashion with 7 WOMEN/’66 (not seen here), a Chinese Warlord hostage drama that has Anne Bancroft (taking over from an ailing Patricia Neal) in what sounds like a combination of the roles Roman & O'Brien play here.
*OR: To see Frank Lloyd at his spirited best, try his silent THE SEA HAWK/’24 with Milton Sills & Wallace Beery. Tremendous stuff, with a completely different storyline than the 1940 Errol Flynn classic.