It's hard not to like Bogart and Greenstreet, and it's easy to fall for Mary Astor
Jun 23, 2011
Across the Pacific is like that aging uncle, a little scruffy in well-tailored but out-of-date clothes, who comes to visit every now and then. He's not quite embarrassing but he spins such interesting stories you're always happy to welcome him back home. However, he has a tendency to stay too long.
This aging movie, made right after The Maltese Falcon, was probably seen as a lark by John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor and Sydney Greenstreet. Peter Lorre must have had a bad cold not to make it. Unlike The Maltese Falcon, which has not dated in any significant way, Across the Pacific creaks and groans like the Genoa Maru, the old Japanese steamer the gang finds itself on for two-thirds of the movie. The journey is supposed to take them from Halifax to Yokohama, by way of New York, the Panama Canal and Honolulu. The date, however, is just a week or so after November 17, 1941. That's the date Captain Rick Leland (Bogart) was court marshaled and kicked out of the Army. He tries to join the Canadian Army but no dice. On what seems to be a whim he buys passage on the Genoa Maru. Also on board will be Alberta Marlowe (Astor), a young woman who says she's from a small town on her first ocean trip, and Dr. Lorenz (Greenstreet), a professor of sociology at a university in the Philippines. Dr. Lorenz has an affinity for things Japanese. The Genoa Maru finally arrives at the Panama Canal, but is forced by new rules to debark its passengers. It now is December 6, 1941. And we still have half an hour of the movie to go.
For those who either don't know this movie or who can't guess the obvious, don't count on seeing the cast wearing leis in Hawaii or eating sushi in Japan. Remember that Captain Rick will have a mission to perform. This is a wartime propaganda movie put together by some talented pros. It plays the chauvinistic fife and drums for us.
But Across the Pacific also is great fun on the steamer watching Huston's work with the camera and the assured and captivating acting by Bogart, Astor and Greenstreet. The dialogue, particularly between Bogart and Astor and Bogart and Greenstreet, is sharp and often sly. Greenstreet does his enjoyable cross between a wheeze and a chortle. The American actors playing Japanese, however, are stuck with the dregs. Judo is explained as being tricky compared to an honest right hook. One actor gets to wear immensely thick eyeglasses. The Nisei are shown to be disloyal, and then there's the pidgin English. The story line at the Canal is B movie material. John Huston manages it well enough except for the conclusion, which is so hokey, with a little toy model airplane and Bogey behind a machine gun, that you'll wince. Supposedly, Huston didn't shoot this part.
Bogart and Greenstreet give the movie energy, and to see Mary Astor, if you have any sense, is to fall in love with her. She's smart, funny and has hidden depths. She was also a first-class actress. In Across the Pacific she's a feisty match for Bogart. Was any woman more sympathetic, warm and understanding, as well as desirable, as Astor as Edith Cortright in Dodsworth, as tragically loyal as Antoinette de Mauban in The Prisoner of Zenda, or as lethally unreliable as Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon? Two years after Across the Pacific, at 38, she began playing mothers. I would have volunteered to sell cookies at her PTA fund raisers any time.