Plot: A burlesque dancer has been killed, struck down in the middle of the street and a pair of homicide detectives are assigned to investigate. Joe (James Shigeta) and his colleague Charlie (Glenn Corbett) land the case and while the two have a long history as partners on the police force, their relationship runs much deeper than that. The two bonded as soldiers on the Korean war, saving each other’s lives and remaining close once the conflict had ended. The case leads to Christine (Victoria Shaw), an artist who paints beautiful portraits and had created one for the doomed burlesque dancer just before her death. As the detectives delve deeper into the murder, both men find themselves drawn to Christine and not just as a key witness. The love triangle threatens to not only test the bond of their friendship, but it could also distract from the case itself and allow a killer to escape.
Entertainment Value: A progressive, stylish, and effective film noir inspired thriller, The Crimson Kimono was written and directed by Samuel Fuller, so the social depth should come as no surprise. A Japanese performer in a lead role wouldn’t turn heads now, but in the 50s, this was not common and even more rare was an Asian character presented free from stereotypical elements. Joe is a competent detective and his Japanese heritage is treated with respect and dignity, free from stereotypes and tropes. The movie overall is well crafted and weaves an interesting narrative, accented by the social and cultural explorations. These elements are direct, but never feel heavy handed and they serve the narrative, not vice versa. I also appreciate the characters here, as they are given such depth and development, which makes the love triangle all the more intense and effective. The movie also builds all this substance with a run time of barely over 80 minutes, so it is a brisk and economic creation. While not on par with Fuller’s greatest cinematic work, The Crimson Kimono is an excellent movie with some bold aspirations and deserves a high recommendation.
As I talked about before, this movie has some great characters and thankfully, a gifted cast was assembled to bring them to life. James Shigeta and Glenn Corbett are quite good and are able to convey the deep bond between the lead characters, which is important, as that bond is central to the film’s narrative. If the audience doesn’t buy into the friendship as genuine, the movie would struggle to reel them in, but the actors are more than up to that task. While both performers are good here, Shigeta’s role is likely to draw more attention, since as I mentioned above, a Japanese lead, especially a tasteful and respectful one like this, was rare at the time. Victoria Shaw is also in fine form and brings a lot to her performance, a more than believable center of the love triangle. But she is not just around as a love interest, as she is given depth and she makes use of the chances to shine. The cast also includes Anna Lee, Gloria Pall, Paul Dubov, and Neyle Morrow.
The Disc: Indicator Series has given us a wonderful visual treatment here, as the film’s stylish, stark visuals are clean and super clear. This yields impressive fine detail and given the film noir inspired visual design, fans should much appreciate that, as it lets the image really sparkle. The image is also free from debris or other age related woes, but still retains a natural texture. This is part of Indicator’s Samuel Fuller at Columbia box set, so while a couple audio/visual essays specific to this film are included, the collection also includes a wealth of Fuller related supplements, not to mention six other feature films from his resume.