Tokyo Joe (1949)

Tokyo Joe (1949) is a post-war returning veteran smuggler film noir crime film directed by Stuart Heisler and starring Humphrey Bogart. This was Heisler's first of two features starring Bogart, the other was Chain Lightning that also wrapped in 1949 but was held up in release until 1950.

The returning veteran noir never had a better twist as the return is made to the defeated country, which is Japan. After spending World War II in the Air Force, ex-Colonel Joe Barrett returns to Tokyo to see if there is anything left of his pre-war bar and gambling joint, Tokyo Joe's.

Amazingly, it is more or less intact and being run by his old friend Ito. Joe is shocked to learn from Ito that his wife Trina, whom he thought had died in the war, is still alive. She has divorced Joe and is married to Mark Landis, a lawyer working in the American occupation of Japan. She has a seven-year-old child named Anya.

Tokyo Joe feels its way towards a passing resemblance to Casablanca, but being a small company, Santana Productions did not make big films or hire actors equal to Bogart, so the effect here is not total.

Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Florence Marly is a film noir curiosity, impossible to place. Alexander Knox and Sessue Hayakawa are very good. If there was a couples-separated-by-the-war strand to film noir, then Tokyo Joe is redolent of the best of these, being Casablanca and the ever-interesting Singapore with Fred MacMurray and Ava Gardner pulling on the same chain.

Florence Marly in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Santana Pictures Corporation was a film production company founded in 1948 by Humphrey Bogart. It was named after his yacht — and the cabin cruiser in Key Largo. The company released its films, known for its film noir in fact, through Columbia Pictures, but the majority of its motion pictures lost money at the box office, ultimately forcing the sale of Santana.

Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Humphrey Bogart could have wondered during the shooting of Tokyo Joe why he was doing the same thing he had been doing a few years before at Warner Bros.

Santana Pictures did offer some of our fonder lesser film noir, and the odd stinker, in total producing:

1949 Knock on Any Door  
Robert Lord, Nicholas Ray, Humphrey Bogart & John Derek

1949 Tokyo Joe
Robert Lord, Stuart Heisler, Humphrey Bogart & Alexander Knox

1949 And Baby Makes Three
Robert Lord, Henry Levin, Robert Young & Barbara Hale

1950 In a Lonely Place
Robert Lord, Nicholas Ray, Humphrey Bogart & Gloria Grahame
Added to the National Film Registry in 2007

1951 Sirocco
Robert Lord, Curtis Bernhardt,
Humphrey Bogart & Lee J. Cobb

1951 The Family Secret
Robert Lord, Henry Levin, John Derek & Lee J. Cobb

1953 Beat the Devil
United Artists
John Huston, John Huston, Humphrey Bogart & Jennifer Jones
Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Alexander Knox and Florence Marly in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Japan was occupied and administered by the victorious Allies of World War II from 1945 at the end of the Second World War until the Treaty of San Francisco took effect on April 28, 1952. The occupation, led by the American military with support from the British Commonwealth and under the supervision of the Far Eastern Commission, involved a total of nearly one million Allied soldiers.

Florence Marly in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Display elements common to it appears everything in this decade the 1940s. The occupation was overseen by the U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, who was appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers by the U.S. President Harry S. Truman; MacArthur was succeeded as supreme commander by General Matthew Ridgway in 1951. 

Florence Marly and Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Unlike in the occupation of Germany and the occupation of Austria, the Soviet Union had little to no influence over the occupation of Japan, declining to participate because it did not want to place Soviet troops under MacArthur's direct command.

However, unlike in Germany the Allies never assumed direct control over Japan's civil administration. In the immediate aftermath of Japan's military surrender, the country's government continued to formally operate under the provisions of the Meiji Constitution. 

Teru Shamada in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Furthermore, at General MacArthur's insistence Emperor Hirohito remained on the imperial throne and was effectively granted full immunity from prosecution for war crimes after he agreed to replace the wartime cabinet with a ministry acceptable to the Allies and committed to implementing the terms of the Potsdam Declaration, which among other things called for the country to become a parliamentary democracy. 

Humphrey Bogart in Tokyo Joe (1949)

Under MacArthur's guidance, the Japanese government introduced social reforms and implemented economic reforms that recalled American "New Deal" priorities of the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

In 1947, an amendment to the Meiji Constitution was passed that effectively repealed it in its entirety and replaced it with a new and American-written constitution and the Emperor's theoretically vast powers, which for many centuries had been constrained only by conventions that had evolved over time, became strictly limited by law as a constitutional monarchy.

The film was Sessue Hayakawa's first post-war project and served as a revitalization of his career. From 1937 to 1949, Hayakawa had been in France, first as an actor and then was caught up in the German occupation, living ostensibly as an artist, selling watercolours. 

After joining the French Resistance, he aided Allied flyers during the war. When Humphrey Bogart's production company tracked him down to offer him a role in Tokyo Joe, the American Consulate investigated Hayakawa's activities during the war before issuing a work permit


Director: Stuart Heisler

Producer: Robert Lord

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Alexander Knox, Florence Marley

Release date: November 1949

Genre: Melodrama

Production Company: Santana Pictures, Inc.

Tokyo Joe on Wikipedia

Tokyo Joe functions as an action melodrama with little noir to chew on. To stay in Japan after his visitor's permit expires in 60 days, Joe wants to set up an airline freight franchise, but he needs financial backing. 

Through Ito, Joe meets Baron Kimura, former head of the Japanese secret police. Kimura offers to finance a small airline business that will carry frozen frogs for export to North and South America, even though Joe believes Kimura is going to use the airline as a front, carrying penicillin, saccharine, and pearls. 

But as the army hesitates in giving Joe permission to open the business, Kimura shows him proof from the Japanese secret police files that Trina worked broadcasting propaganda for the Japanese, a treasonable offense since she was a naturalised American citizen married to an American citizen. 

When Joe confronts Trina with this evidence, she explains that she made the broadcasts only to protect her newborn baby whom the Japanese took away from her when she was in Oyama prison camp. 

She reveals that she was pregnant when Joe deserted her, and that Anya is his daughter. There are not a great amount of children in film noir and possibly for a style with its grounds in free fantasy and crime, children might only generally get in the way. And it is not often that a noir block even in the heights of his paranoiac panic and dreadful fall finds out he has a child.

It's a big moment but it isn't a noir moment at best it is melodrama noir. For the subject of children in film noir see the excellent Cries In The Night by Robert Storm. Robert made over fifty interviews for this book, which was inspired by Bobby Driscoll's appearance in The Window (1949).

Joe wants to back out of the airline deal, but Kimura demands that he go through with it. Joe then discovers through American occupation authorities that Kimura actually intends to smuggle in fugitive war criminals-former senior officers of the Imperial Japanese Army and the leader of the Black Dragon Society-to start a secret anti-American movement. 

The authorities plan to apprehend them when they land at Haneda Airfield. The US Army intercepts the Japanese before they can be driven away, as they have every airstrip on Honshu covered.

Back at the bar, Joe finds out from mortally wounded Ito that Anya is being held in a basement at the old hotel next door. Joe enters the dark cavern and finds Anya, but he is shot by Kimura as he carries Anya to safety. Arriving American soldiers kill Kimura. Joe, seriously wounded, is carried out on a stretcher.

The complications of melodrama do yet feed into the night of noir, it's lines and angles and the convincing desperation of everyone, it works. 

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