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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

BRIDGE TO THE SUN (1961)

Belgium director Etienne Périer & scripter Charles Kaufman must have left half the drama on the table in what remains of Gwendolen Terasaki’s fascinating tru-life story of life in Japan during WWII. As strongly played by Carroll Baker, she’s a classic Southern Belle with rebel streak who falls for independent-minded Japanese embassy attaché James Shigeta. Leaving D.C. for Japan as newlyweds, the gauche but charming bride blunders thru all the expected cultural adjustments while Shigeta is confronted with rising military belligerence from his colleagues. Labeled as a peace-monger and married to a blonde girl from Tennessee, their path of honorable resistance all but impossibly narrow, and only growing worse as the war effort turns desperate. Then, when the war does end, and Shigeta’s character is needed as liaison between the Emperor & General MacArthur (titanic events largely skipped on screen), he finds his health broken. A tremendous story opportunity, visually alive simply in watching blonde Baker maneuver as a stranger in a strange land, let alone the trials of being a suspected foreign enemy. If only someone had the moviemaking skills to take advantage of the dramatic situations. Mini-series, anyone?

DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: For three years (CRIMSON KIMONO/’59 to FLOWER DRUM SONG/’61), Hawaiian-born James Shigeta looked set to become Hollywood’s first mainstream Asian leading man. Hollywood wasn’t ready. Instead, four active decades as a tv ‘guest star.’ It’s a living.

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