Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Black Dragons (1942)

It didn't take long for Hollywood's poverty row film makers to respond to the changed political landscape after Pearl Harbor.  This film - and I doubt it was the first - appeared on screens less than three months later.

Because make no mistake, despite being in a "Horror Classics" set, this is a war time spy thriller (for certain very loose definitions of "thriller"), without a hint of actual horror to be seen.  Mill Creek's attention to detail remains as good as ever.

A group of American businessmen are having a convivial meeting in which they discuss their mutual efforts to sabotage the war effort: engineering strikes at their factories, producing faulty parts, misspending research grants, and so forth.

Why do these men hate their country so much?  Why, because they are not who they appear to be!  They are Japanese agents, surgically altered by a Nazi plastic surgeon to exactly resemble murdered American businessmen.  This nefarious plan is the work of the Black Dragon Society, hence the movie's title.

The Society got a little too clever for their own good, though.  They double-crossed the plastic surgeon and threw him in their dungeon.  This is a poor way to treat one's allies, but the film waves this off with the claim that the best way to keep the mission secret is to kill everyone who knows of it.  But they don't kill him outright: first they throw him in a dungeon with another prisoner, who they just happen to mention will soon be released.

Magically, the plastic surgeon then switches appearances with the other prisoner, and makes his escape.  He then travels to the US to wreak his revenge by murdering all the Japanese agents.

That synopsis might make the Nazi sound like the protagonist, but that would not have been a smart idea in 1942 (or now, for that matter).  The structure of the film ensures that this isn't the case - all that info I gave you is basically exposition we get in the last five minutes, after he's done a-murderin'.  To be honest, the film really doesn't have a protagonist.  Stuff just kind of happens on screen, and then we get exposition to explain it (or explain the motivations, anyway - how the plastic surgeon can perform surgery in a prison cell, or disappear at a moment's notice whenever the script requires it, is never explained).

This is very much a product of its time, and a second-rate product at that.  You can safely skip it.

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