Nakano Spy School, and six more movies

Lots of good stuff here, and a couple of stinkers, but the one you really don't want to miss is Nakano Spy School.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Chase (1946) 

The Neverending
Film Festival

A good Samaritan (Robert Cummings) goes out of his way to return the wallet lost by a brutal and cruel crime lord. Amused by the man's honesty, the baddie offers him a job as his chauffeur. It's based on The Black Path of Fear by Cornell Woolrich, and I've never read it, but the author's name is usually attached to better material than this.

The problem is that the movie is focused way too much on the good guy, and he's boring as a glass of warm milk. Even as he's succumbing to temptation (Michele Morgan), there's nothing going on inside his head. Meanwhile, there's a frightful but fabulous bad guy (Steve Cochran) and Peter frickin' Lorre as his henchman, but they're both gone from the entire middle third of the movie. Probably they came back before the end, but I was asleep by then. Warm milk has that effect on me.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Fallguy (1962)

"This time, make sure they're all dead before you leave."

I've been watching a lot of 1940s and '50s noir lately, but soon as this movie opened you could tell we'd moved into the 1960s. The women have a couple inches more cleavage, the teenyboppers are dancing to primitive rock'n'roll, and even the clock on the wall says things have changed.

There's been a botched gangland killing, and the man who was supposed to be dead instead walks away, bloodied and looking for vengeance. The doctor he runs to is mob-connected, and kills him, so now the bad guys need to find an innocent man they can frame for the crime, or maybe an innocent teenager with a hot rod.

Yeah, this one has it all — crooked cops, a catfight between PG-rated hookers, xylophone jazz, a big bald psychotic killer, an electric razor you start with a pull-chain, and a bittersweet ending that made me say "Wow."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Genesis II (1973)

After the original Star Trek was canceled, its creator, Gene Roddenberry, spent several years trying to get other sci-fi shows off the ground. He made four pilots that didn't sell, and a fifth that morphed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. This is one of the unsold pilots, and it sucks.

No, it's not a sequel. The title is never explained. My guess is that it refers to Earthers starting over again, but when it's actually time to start over again, cripes, even Republicans could do better than this.

It's about some 1970s scientist who accidentally gets hibernated, and roused from his sleep 154 years later. Things have changed. We finally nuked the planet while he was snoring, and also unexplained space invaders took over, and enslaved the surviving humans.

The story is stupid, the leading man seems like molded plastic with a mustache, the whole thing looks cheap even for its era, and all through it nobody says anything remotely clever or lifelike. If you woke up tomorrow and it was 154 years from now, wouldn't you have some questions or comments or some human response, especially if everyone you met was as robotic as this cast?

Mariette Hartley is a featured player, and I always liked her way back when, because hubba hubba. Given such cardboard dialogue, though, even wearing a Star Trek-style skimpy outfit, she's as dull as everyone else in this mess.

I've long heard rumors that Roddenberry wasn't really the driving force behind Star Trek. He's credited as writer and producer for this, which makes those rumors seem plausible.

Verdict: BIG NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Nakano Spy School (1966)
a/k/a School of Spies

This is a drama of espionage, but not like you've seen in other spy movies. Japan has just emerged as a world power, it's at war with China, and World War II looms in the near future. One low-ranking officer in the Japanese military believes that his nation's spies are not as well-trained as the world's other spies, and with unofficial backing he's established Japan's first training program for cloak-and-dagger.

"My destiny changed forever upon meeting this strange lieutenant colonel from the Army General Staff."

Most of the film is about training the first recruits for Japan's spy program, with almost zen-like class sessions, working the students into a frenzy of loyalty, to their country, to the school, and to their professor.

"You will abandon your real names and adopt aliases immediately. You must break all contact with the outside world."

They're taught suave dancing and foreign languages, women's erogenous zones, and techniques of subterfuge and deception. To teach assassinations, a chemist lectures the class on how arsenic, mercury chloride, strychnine, and cyanide work. To teach safe-cracking, they bring a criminal on day-leave from prison. To teach torture techniques, of course, they call on the Chief of Police.

Before their training is completed, three of these recruits are given their first assignment, to somehow steal a codebook from the British embassy. Meanwhile, having not heard from him for months because of the enforced seclusion, one rookie spy's fiancée is determined to find out where he is.

"Real espionage does not require knowledge or technical acumen, but the courage, reflexes, and ingenuity to overcome each and every obstacle!"

The truth or provenance of the story is unknown to me — maybe it's fiction, or maybe it's genuine Japanese history, but either way it's a grabber. The sweep and strength of this film is undeniable, the widescreen black-and-white photography is stunning, and the English subtitles are impeccable, at least in the version I saw, .

I don't think it was the moviemakers' intent, but in addition to the riveting story on the surface, it's also terrifying to see the power of patriotism and indoctrination, and how little a government values the lives of its people.

Verdict: BIG YES. Hell of a flick, and well worth watching.

♦ ♦ ♦

Parallels (2015)

Dad's gone missing, but before vanishing he left odd cryptic phone messages for both of his kids. In the trunk of his car they find a high-tech device that looks suspiciously like a croquet ball, wrapped in an old newspaper with a headline that never happened. Well, that's peculiar.

Dad's message mentioned a building downtown, so our three main characters — brother, sister, and annoying neighbor — decide to drive downtown and see what's at that address. And they shouldn't have done that. When they find the building, they enter it, and soon it's revealed that the building is a portal to parallel worlds. Whether there's a way back is uncertain, but in one of several other Earths they meet a gorgeous dame who knows the rules of traveling between the myriad random Earths she's been to.

I made the mistake of watching this in the evening, because it sounded like shit and I'd never heard of it, so I assumed it would be low-rent sci-fi and lull me to sleep. And I shouldn't have done that. Now the movie's over, it's almost midnight, and I'm wide awake. It moves along so fast that you might not notice the plot holes, but it ends with a twist I didn't understand, and the main mystery isn't solved.

Instead, our central characters seem poised to have further adventures on more and more parallel Earths, and then the credits roll, including "teleplay by Christopher Leone."

Nothing against Mr Leone (never heard of him) but — teleplay? Aw, crap. It was pretty good for a TV movie, but Googling confirms my suspicions: Parallels was the pilot for a TV series that was never made, so it intentionally leaves its mysteries unsolved.

Verdict: Still, MAYBE, damn it.

♦ ♦ ♦

Phantom Lady (1944)

A dapper gent (Franchot Tone) picks up a dour doll (Fay Helm) in a seedy bar, and she'll only go out with him if they don't reveal their names to each other. He says sure, and takes this anonymous dame to an old-style nightclub, and then she walks away into the night.

During their no-name date, though, dapper gent's wife is murdered, and of course he's the prime suspect. The anonymous woman would be his alibi and save his neck — gosh, if only he knew who she was.

Dapper is really no good at names; he calls his secretary 'Kansas' (Ella Raines) because she's from Wichita. Of course, Kansas is in love with him and knows he couldn't be a killer, so she starts investigating the case in her spare time.

All of this seems ever-so-slightly improbable, but wait, there's more — a cop who cares about evidence? Elisha Cook Jr as a frenzied drummer in a jazz band? What's most unbelievable, though, is that this flick is always watchable, bizarre but never boring. Directed by Richard Siodmak, of course. Dude could film my life and somehow make it interesting.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The World Gone Mad (1933)

Early talkies have tinny sound, and this one — at least this copy — also has an annoying crackle through most of the soundtrack, so it's hard to tell whether The World Gone Mad is good or merely unusual.

Without the sound issues it might be a crackling crime drama. It's pre-code, so some of the dialogue is more frank than you'd expect, and there's a long scene where two stoned characters smoke marijuana. Even more startling, there's a scene with a big-shot executive on the phone switching suppliers, not because one manufacturer beat a competitor's prices, but because the product is of superior quality.

What's most unusual is that the criminals we're going after are in the executive suite at a major corporation. And it's the local District Attorney who's going after them, which is something that never happens in real life, does it? In the so-rare-it's-basically-never case where there's prosecution of corporate execs, it's always the feds, never your local law enforcement, pressing charges.

Verdict: YES, especially if you can find a copy with a clean soundtrack.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.  


  1. Hi Doug,

    I was scrolling through Maynard’s website (don’t tell him he’ll get a big head) and came upon your interview. I’m kind of surprised that we never crossed paths. I guess we both were involved with our jobs, wives, etc… I was sorry to read about Stephanie. I would have liked to have met her.

    I liked the photos of iconic Madison sites. I personally love the arboretum and Olin-Turville park. For the past 20 years I’ve lived in Eken Park which is the neighborhood across Packers Ave from the old Oscar Meyer plant.

    I’m happy to see that you are still writing. I can’t seem to get motivated to do it other than the occasional lame attempt. I’m getting old so it’s not a big deal in my life.

    I thought I’d mention that I just saw Dishwasher Pete a month ago. I’ve been going to Amsterdam over the past 5 years to apartment sit for him. He is doing well and it’s always a joy to see him.

    Anyway, I’ll be reading your site. I’m old, retired and have nothing better to do. Just kidding. Take care and all the best.

    Jeff Kelly
    Former Temp Slave guy

    1. Well, shitfuck, man. Eken Park was my neighborhood, too. You were three blocks from the apartment where I lived for almost twenty years, and we never bumped into each other. Or maybe we did -- maybe I was an asshole who yelled at you in Demetral Park that one time, or shouted at you on the bus. Sorry about that. Small world, though.

      Meeting me would've been awkward anyway. I make it awkward whenever I meet anyone, probably more so when it's someone I like/respect etc. If you ever stop by Seattle, maybe we can avoid meeting each other again.

      Amsterdam. Cripes, I named myself after that place.

      Tell Pete I said hello.

      Tell Jeff I said you should be writing. Hate being a nag but the world is full of young jerkoffs who think they can write, and a few of them can but most of them can't. Old guys like you need to show 'em how it's done.

    2. I’m completely gobsmacked. Ive been reading your site all day and realized one minute before I read your reply that you probably lived close by because of the [restaurant] references.

      I’m kinda of a loner too. I don’t mind interacting with people but I eventually find a way out. So yes it would have been awkward but I’m sad I didn’t get to meet you. Another spooky thing is: I visited Seattle for the first time last September.

      I have a question(s) for you. The Diner section, was that about [restaurant]? The reason I ask is because my late father-in-law was a regular there. He was what they called one of the “oatmeal boys.” My brother in-law goes there all the time too. He’s a skinny nerdy looking guy. At one time I even lived a block away and my wife’s grandmother lived in that neighborhood.

      I’ve always been more of a Fair Oaks Diner guy. You probably know where that is too.

      Another similarity. My wife is younger than me. Smarter than me by leaps and bounds and she works at a thankless state civil service job. She also graduated from the UW.

      I retired at 57. I did so based on my family history of early mortality. I believed it was best that I quit and enjoy life before disease gets me. So far so good.

      Listen, if you ever come to Madison please let me know. I won’t dominate your time.

      This is so crazy. Ha! Get back to me when you can.

    3. You live over by where the church used to be before it got torn down (yay!) and became an apartment building? Yeah, that's only three blocks from where we lived. And we never met.

      Did you know that Bob's Diner used to own Fair Oaks Diner? Ha, Kirstin told me that a few years ago. Yeah, you guessed the real Bob's, but please don't tell anyone there. Our little secret, and anyway, I made fun of some of the regulars.

      The Fair Oaks was closer to our house, but we had crap service every time we went there, so we stuck with Bob's.

      I loved having a younger, smarter wife. :) Bet my wife would've liked your wife. They could've compared notes on their thankless civil servant jobs. Steph was a *little* more sociable and outgoing than me... Do you have kids?

      Glad you were able to retire. Enjoy it and enjoy Madison. It's a beautiful place. I'd love to still be there but actuarily I'm due to die soon and I'd rather die around people who know me and maybe give a damn.

      Wish the world wasn't such a fucked up place, man, but I've given up on saving it.

  2. Wow, I just watched Nakano Spy School and it was mindblown, heartbroken, exellent. Thank You Doug.

    1. If you enjoyed it half as much as me, then I enjoyed it twice as much as you.


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