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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: February 13th, 2024 Movie Release Year: 1945

Blood on the Sun

Overview -

Blu-ray Review By: David Krauss
An oft-forgotten World War II movie that explores the roots of Japanese aggression, Blood on the Sun features a blistering performance by James Cagney as a journalist embroiled in intrigue in pre-war Tokyo. Sylvia Sidney provides stellar support in this action-packed drama that's been remastered in high definition from a 4K scan of the 35mm nitrate materials. Robust audio and an informative commentary track enhance KLSC's Blu-ray presentation of a Cagney classic that deserves more attention than it's gotten over the years. Recommended.

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
NEW 4K RESTORATION BY PARAMOUNT PICTURES.
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
94
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.37:1
Audio Formats:
English: DTS-HD MA 2.0
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Special Features:
Audio Commentary by film historian/writer Julie Kirgo and writer/filmmaker Peter Hankoff, Theatrical Trailer
Release Date:
February 13th, 2024

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

"Forgive your enemies. But first, get even."

That's the terrific last line of Blood on the Sun, which takes place a dozen years before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and dragged America into World War II. Produced just before the war ended in 1945, director Frank Lloyd's high-octane film noir focuses on a key warning sign that might have tipped off the U.S. to Japan's nefarious intentions. The final kiss-off, delivered with defiance by the movie's star, James Cagney, signals America's willingness to make peace with its enemy but emphasizes its resolve to finish the job at hand.

It's 1929 and cocky newspaper editor Nick Condon (Cagney) publishes a controversial article in the Tokyo Chronicle about the existence of a secret document called the Tanaka Memorial. Penned by Baron Giichi Tanaka (John Emery), who the film calls "the Oriental Hitler" in its prologue, the explosive memo outlines Japan's plan for total world domination, beginning with takeovers of China and the United States. Condon's colleague Ollie Miller (Wallace Ford) has been paid a substantial fee to take the missive out of the country and publicize it, but before he can make his escape, he and his wife (Rosemary DeCamp) are murdered.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse game between Condon, Japanese operatives, and Iris Hilliard (Sylvia Sidney), a mysterious half-Chinese woman who may or may not be working for the Japanese. All of them covet the document and will risk everything to secure it. As the intrigue mounts, Condon falls for Iris, but is she playing him for a sap or aiding his cause by helping him foil his adversaries and alert the world to the dire Japanese threat?

The Tanaka Memorial has long been the subject of scrutiny because the original document has never been found. Most historians now believe it to be a hoax perpetrated by either the Chinese, Soviets, or British, but it sure makes for a good story and Blood on the Sun milks it for all it's worth. The screenplay by Lester Cole (who would gain notoriety as part of the left-leaning Hollywood Ten targeted by the House UnAmerican Committee) immerses us in Asian culture while delivering an action-packed tale that blends political skullduggery with violence and romance. Cole even throws some feminism into the mix.

Lloyd, whose most famous film is the original Mutiny on the Bounty (he also won Oscars for The Divine Lady and Cavalcade), brings an exotic noir flavor to Blood on the Sun that's accented by the Oscar-winning art direction and rousing music score by Miklós Rósza. All of that almost makes up for the shameful but common practice of casting Caucasian actors in the major Asian parts. Though Emery, Robert Armstrong (of King Kong fame), John Halloran, Leonard Strong, and others assert themselves well as Japanese characters, their obvious western heritage and cheesy makeup strike sour notes that degrade an otherwise fine film. (Sidney gets a pass, because her character is half-Chinese.)

Cagney laces his typically pugnacious performance with some effective tender nuances that add depth and heighten emotional involvement. He also learned jujitsu for this film and though most of his rough-and-tumble moves are executed by a double, Cagney looks darn authentic when the spotlight is on him. He and Sidney, who might seem like an odd couple on paper, create marvelous chemistry that makes us wish they could have co-starred in more pictures. It's too bad Sidney, who uncannily resembles Bette Davis during much of Blood on the Sun, was largely absent from Hollywood during the 1940s, because she would have made a fantastic femme fatale if given the chance, as her duplicitous portrayal here proves.

It's historical accuracy may be suspect, but Blood on the Sun provides plenty of thrills and colorfully tackles a little-known yet fascinating subject. Some rough edges and narrative hiccups prevent the film from scaling lofty heights, but Cagney and company keep its engine humming and help transmit the rousing message of courage in the face of evil.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Blood on the Sun arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.

Video Review

Ranking:

The packaging states Blood on the Sun, which languished for years in the public domain, was "remastered in HD by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan of the 35mm nitrate materials." The resulting 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer looks quite nice - probably better than it ever has since its premiere almost 80 years ago - but the ravages of time still remain. Plenty of print damage in the form of nicks and scratches continually crop up and several scenes exhibit noticeable softness. A pleasing grain structure preserves the feel of celluloid and long stretches of the movie flaunt excellent clarity and contrast. Rich blacks, vibrant whites, and varied grays enhance the film's noirish feel, as does the strong shadow delineation that keeps crush at bay much of the time. Many lovely close-ups showcase Sidney's exotic allure and the creases on Cagney's weathered face, but they also draw undue attention to the Asian makeup on the non-Asian actors. All in all, this is a fine effort that will thrill fans of Blood on the Sun, especially those all too familiar with the picture's ragged history, but it lacks the wow factor of other restorations.

Audio Review

Ranking:

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono track pumps out robust audio that thrusts us into the thick of the action. A wide dynamic scale handles everything Miklós Rósza's sweeping score throws at it without any distortion, and sonic accents like gunfire, fisticuffs, sirens, and shattering glass are wonderfully crisp. All the dialogue is clear and easy to comprehend and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle mar the mix. 

Special Features

Ranking:

A couple of extras enhance the disc.

  • Audio Commentary - Film historian/writer Julie Kirgo and writer/filmmaker Peter Hankoff sit down for a highly informative commentary that sets the record straight about much of the history portrayed in the film. The duo calls Blood on the Sun "a lesser gem" and praises the movie's sets, costumes, score, cinematography, and Cagney's colorful performance. They also discuss the importance of newspapers during the film's time period, indict the "yellow face" casting that put American actors in Asian roles, and address the various theories swirling around the Tanaka Memorial. In addition, they point out some plot holes and criticize the story's historical inaccuracies. Kirgo and Hankoff enjoy a nice rapport and their cogent comments make this track worthwhile.

  • Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview promises "the inside story of history's most diabolical plot" and "Cagney at his two-fisted best."

Final Thoughts

Blood on the Sun may not rank up there with Cagney's best, but it delivers an action-packed story, fine performances, and plenty of exotic atmosphere. KLSC's remastered video and audio transfers bring this forgotten film back to life and the informative commentary track provides essential historical perspective. If you're a Cagney fan (and who isn't?), you'll definitely want to grab this disc. Recommended

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