Monday, March 4, 2024

The Crimson Kimono and The League of Gentlemen

James Shigeta as Detective Joe Kojaku.
The Crimson Kimono (1959). Writer-director Samuel Fuller's once-controversial cult film revolves around two police detectives, one Caucasian and one Japanese, who try to solve a complicated murder case involving a stripper in the Japanese quarter of Los Angeles. Along the way, both detectives fall in love with a key witness, leading to a love triangle that threatens their friendship. Fuller's on-location shooting, in and around Little Tokyo in L.A., gives The Crimson Kimono a vibrant and gritty feel. It's a perfect setting for a quirky film noir and the opening scene, in which stripper Sugar Torch is fatally shot as she runs into a busy street, promises as much. However, Fuller's primary interest lies elsewhere, leading to a plot detour into an examination of the relationship between detective Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta) and Chris, an art student (Victoria Shaw). Joe has to cope with his own cultural norms (his family expects him to marry a Japanese woman) and what he perceives as racial bias from Charlie (Glenn Corbett), his detective partner and longtime best friend. It's an interesting theme and James Shigeta effectively conveys Joe's inner struggle. Still, it's a shame that there's little left time left for the mystery. When it gets wraps up quickly at the climax, I felt that Fuller had cheated me out of a potentially brilliant film noir.

Jack Hawkins as Norman Hyde.
The League of Gentlemen (1960). Forced into retirement, Lieutenant Colonel Norman Hyde (Jack Hawkins) recruits seven former army officers, each facing desperate or humiliating circumstances, for a bank robbery. Hyde convinces the team that a large-scale crime, planned and executed with military precision by former soldiers, is a "can't miss" proposition, It also helps that he guarantees each man a payout of over £100,000 (equates to $2.9 million in 2024). Like the heist it depicts, The League of Gentlemen is a well-executed film that grabs the viewer from its opening shot: Hyde, dressed in black tie, emerges from a manhole on a London street at night. While the climatic heist is sufficiently engrossing, the film's highlight is an earlier theft of weapons from an army depot. It allows the always entertaining Roger Livesey to impersonate an army general looking into a fictitious complaint about inedible army food. In addition to Hawkins and Livesey, the fine cast includes Richard Attenborough, Nigel Patrick (delightful as the second-in-command), and Bryan Forbes (who co-wrote the screenplay with John Boland). My only quibble with The League of Gentlemen is its ending. It works well's just not what I wanted to happen (which is not a valid complaint at all).

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