Black Dragons (March 6, 1942)
Released on March 6, 1942: Japan attacked Pearl Harbor three months ago, and now horror actor Bela Lugosi acts in his only 'spy' movie as he uses his powers of horror against fifth columnists.
Directed by William Nigh
Written by Harvey Gates and Robert Kehoe.
The Actors: Bela Lugosi (Dr. Melcher / Monsieur Colomb), Martha Vickers (Valerie Bancroft), Joan Barclay (Alice Saunders), George Pembroke (Dr. Bill Saunders), Clayton Moore (FBI Agent Dick Martin), Robert Frazer (Amos Hanlin), Edward Peil Sr. (Philip Wallace), Robert Fiske (Ryder), Irving Mitchell (John Van Dyke), Kenneth Harlan (FBI Chief Colton), Max Hoffman Jr. (Kearney), Frank Melton (FBI agent), Joseph Eggenton (Stevens the butler), I. Stanford Jolley (the Dragon), Jack Cheatham (policeman), Bernard Gorcey (taxi driver), Jack Holmes (industrialist).
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December 6, 1941 the U.S. was at peace, and in the middle of a great debate about whether we should send our men and weapons to Europe to help them fight the Nazis. December 7, 1941 Japanese war planes bombed Pearl Harbor in the Pacific, and the U.S. immediately went to war against Japan, and then joined the European war effort against the Germans. On March 6, 1942, about 90 days later this movie was released, one of the first in a long line of films designed to keep Americans alert and interested in the fight. There are 'fifth columnists' in Washington secretly trying to sabotage the U.S. war effort. What are fifth columnists? Well, I'll tell you. In the early 1800's Spain was in the midst of a civil war, and army General Emilio Mola Vidal was ready to march on Madrid. As the attack on Madrid was about to begin, he made a radio address saying that he had four columns of soldiers ready to march on the city, and he also had a secret 'fifth column' of fighters inside the city operating clandestinely to help during the battle. Ever since, the world has used the phrase 'fifth colum' to mean secret spies inside a country trying to help an outside enemy.
So we have a motion picture with horror king Bela Lugosi, and in this story he is to be feared, but with a twist. He is the only man who knows the identities of five wealthy industrialists who are actually Japanese men that had plastic surgery so that they appear to be Americans. He begins killing them one by one and leaving their dead bodies on the Japanese Embassy steps in Washington, as the FBI investigates, trying to figure out what is going on. Now take a good look at the FBI investigator that is one of the central characters in this movie. Do you recognize him? No? Pretend that he is wearing a black mask over his eyes and has an American Indian named 'Tonto' standing next to him. Yup, he is Clayton Moore, who later starred in the television series, The Lone Ranger. I didn't recognize him at all, but his voice gave him away. If you close your eyes and just listen to him, you can hear the voice of The Lone Ranger.
So pop some white kernel popcorn, grab a beverage of choice, and watch one of the first movies designed to get America off it's ass and into the fight against both Japan and Germany in World War II.