Sunday, October 19, 2008


When RKO released "Betrayal from the East" (** out of ****) World War II was into its waning days. Nevertheless, the Japanese are portrayed as vicious, omniscient antagonists with the Nazis running a close second in this tale about pr-Pearl Harbor espionage. A couple of Americans in Tokyo have gotten hold of some volatile information about high-ranking Japanese military officials in the United States, but they are killed before they can get the information to U.S. military intelligence referred to here as G-2. One of the Americans—a leading newspaperman—dies from a mysterious fall while the other vanishes into the ocean on his voyage to San Francisco. It seems that the wily Japanese want information about the Panama Canal so that they can shut down the canal and prevent the U.S. from shipping men, munitions, and ships through this important point. That's when carnival barker Eddie (Lee Tracy of "Bombshell") finds himself lured into the story. The Japanese contact the wise-talking Eddie and he assures them that he was not only stationed in the Canal Zone during his six years in the Army but also that he knows a sergeant who can get him to the plans to the zone. The Japanese pay his expenses on the way south to the canal. Before they set out for Panama, they show him what they do to double agents. We see a gardener that the villains have captured and Eddie watches for a moment or two as they try to sweat information out of him then approach him—the gardener—with the glowering end of a steel rod. Later, Eddie learns that an attractive clothing designer that he met on the train trip to L.A. was another agent. Although he has made a deal with the Japanese, Eddie goes to G-2 and they reveal that they have been tailing him the entire time. Despite the threat of torture and execution, our intrepid hero decides to play along with the Japanese. Unfortunately, the scenarists have written Eddie as a dim-witted idiot who finds himself in over his head and makes virtually every mistake that can be made. Meanwhile, the Japanese villains are portrayed as experts and nothing is too devious for them. "Betrayal from the East" is the kind of Hollywood propaganda that the studios churned out to the chagrin of the U.S. Office of War Information (O.W.I.) during World War II that painted the Japanese as double-crossing, back-stabbing dastards. Along the way, the clothing designer Peggy Harrison (Nancy Kelly of "Tarzan's Desert Mystery") falls in love with Eddie and stages her own death to protect from the Japanese. Actually, the Japanese placed a camera in Eddie's apartment so they knew that Harrison was a U.S. spy. When Eddie reaches the Canal Zone, he meets with an Army sergeant (Regis Toomey) who is impersonating the Eddie's fictitious friend and they arrange to pass the Japanese false, out-of-date Canal Zone defense plans. Prolific scenarist Audrey Wisberg and director William A. Berke then pull a real boner by reinserting the Harrison character back into the story in the Canal Zone (much to Eddie's surprise and consternation as a woman with impeccable credentials who is a Nazi agent's girlfriend. The Japanese suspect the Harrison character from the get-go as untrustworthy and eventually the Nazis come around to their way of thinking. Peggy blows her cover when she warns Eddie about a plot to murder him by his Japanese employers. Yes, Eddie is so incredibly cretinous that he does things that a four-year old would never do when he tries to outwit the Japanese. Now, "Betrayal from the East" not only kills off both Peggy (she dies in a sauna bath) but also the chief Japanese villain (Chinese actor Richard Loo) kills Eddie just as G-2 breaks down the door. Journalist Drew Pearson appears in a prologue where he warns Americans that this kind of treachery must never happen again. Actually, if you want to see this story done with great credibility and more dramatic impact, watch the Warner Brothers 1942 release "Across The Pacific" with Humphrey Bogart where he strings along with Japanese saboteurs who want similar information about the Canal Zone.

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