Sony // 1959 // 82 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // March 6th, 2014
YES, this is a beautiful American girl in the arms of a Japanese boy!
That line is the first of three taglines on the poster for The Crimson Kimono, which is featured on the DVD cover. The second one isn't particularly racist: "A motion picture of startling frankness...vivid emotion!" The other one, though, reads "What was his strange appeal for American girls?" Having never heard of it, I thought I was in store for some kind of crazy racist drama about post-war miscegenation. Then I learned it was written and directed by Sam Fuller (The Naked Kiss), a really weird guy, but no bigot. I was confused then, but soon discovered that it, in fact, was the exact opposite of what the poster lead me to believe.
Detectives Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett, Chisum) and Joe Kojaku (James Shigeta, Die Hard) were partners during the Korean War and have remained partners in the police force. They're even roommates, and the fact that Kojaku is Japanese has never been a problem for either of them. Their friendship is rock solid, but a wrench gets thrown in when the murder of a stripper brings them into the Japanese sections of San Francisco. The investigation leads them to a beautiful young artist named Christine Downs (Victoria Shaw, Westworld), the one person who can identify the killer. They stick close by her for her protection, but both detectives quickly find their hearts taken by Christine and, soon, their new rivalry takes on a heavy racial tone.
By opposite, I mean that The Crimson Kimono is, arguably, one of the most progressive movies of its day, at least in terms of race relations. Of course, there are no black people in the movie, but on the Japanese end of things, it does pretty well. The fact of Kojaku's race isn't even brought up until the trouble starts toward the end and Fuller does a very interesting thing in the obvious reveal. Instead of having deep-seeded racist views welling up from Bancroft, it's that Kojaku views Bancroft's anger as being racially-based. This sets up a really interesting dynamic where Bancroft tries desperately to convince him otherwise, only sinking his case in Kojaku's eyes.
Sam Fuller was never the most polished director, but his frantic, often surreal style full of jump cuts and extreme close ups is always exciting to watch. Pulpy and progressive, his movies were never elegant, but always a hoot, and often with an interesting message, to boot. The Crimson Kimono comes before his big works, but the same unique talent is on display here. The three lead actors aren't necessarily anything to write home about, but they get the job done well enough. Little mistakes are everywhere, both in the direction and the performances, but that's part of Sam Fuller's charm in the first place, so it's okay by me.
The Crimson Kimono comes to DVD via the Sony Pictures Choice Collection in a completely bare bones disc. Not even a menu, just the movie. The 1.33:1 image is decent for what it is, but it's nothing to write home about. There is a bit of damage to the print and some softness, but nothing too distracting. The mono sound is perfectly average, with decent audio and music and little background noise. No extras on the disc.
The Crimson Kimono may be the ultimate example of not judging a movie by its poster. In 1959, maybe that thing doesn't actually come off as disgusting, but it's pretty hard to swallow today. Anyway, no matter, as Sam Fuller once again delivers a wild ride through the tough streets, with his crazy style and pulpy action ratcheted all the up. Great fun stuff.
The Crimson Kimono stands wrongly accused. Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated