G-Men vs. The Black Dragon/Black Dragon of Manzanar (film)
Theatrical release poster. Republic Pictures
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A war-era movie serial produced by Republic Pictures in 1943 that pits Los Angeles-based American Special Investigator Rex Bennett against the Black Dragon Society (BDS), a Japanese led organization that is attempting to aid the Axis-war effort. There is a brief intersection of the BDS with the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.
As the story begins, Rex (Rod Cameron) is joined by Chinese Secret Service Agent Chang Singer (Roland Got) and British Secret Agent Vivian Marsh (Constance Worth). In the first episode, BDS leader Oyama Haruchi (Nino Pipitone) is smuggled into the U.S. disguised as a mummy bound for a museum. Two U.S.-based henchmen, Ranga (Noel Cravat) and Lugo (George Lewis), pretend to be museum curators to bring him in. Much of the series sees the three Allied "good guys" tangling and matching wits with the three "bad guys," as various supporting characters are introduced and killed off. In typical serial style, each of the fifteen episodes (except the last) ends with a cliffhanger that sees Rex or one of his allies in an apparently insurmountable jam. The next episode reprises the climax of the last and reveals how Rex, Chang, or Vivian escape death before moving on to the next storyline. The introductory episode runs about 25-1/2 minutes; each of the succeeding chapters runs about 15-1/2.
In the first episode, Rex describes the BDS as having been "organized in Japan for the purposes of terrorism, assassination and espionage. For years, they've been building up an undercover organization here in America; behind it are all the cunning and treachery of the keenest Oriental minds." Over the course of the fifteen episodes, the BDS, as led by Haruchi has a seemingly endless supply of sympathizers in the U.S.—nearly all of them white—and engages in a variety of schemes, some successful and some not. These include:
• sabotaging and sinking American ships by infiltrating a paint company and producing paint that causes ships to catch fire at sea
• sabotaging an American remote control plane
• attempting to blow up the Boulder Dam and take out power along the West Coast
• blowing up bridges
• trying to steal secret "television plans"
Haruchi and the BDS also are in regular communication with Japanese submarines operating off the coast.
Cast and Background
Italian-born actor Nino Pipitone plays Haruchi in "yellow face" and speaks in what sounds more like a French accent than a Japanese one. His secret headquarters is decorated with a variety of exotic Oriental paraphernalia and is equipped with a trap door that he uses to dispose of confederates he has no more use for. He employs a trained raven, Blackie (he calls her his "dark omen of death") to do much of the killing. Despite their utter ineffectuality, he relies heavily on Ranga and Lugo—whose ethnicity is unclear—to do all of his field work.
Chinese American actor Roland Got is the only Asian American in the cast with a major role and is portrayed as a brave, competent, and loyal sidekick to Rex. Though Vivian is often relegated to waiting in cars or guarding already captured suspects, she is also highly competent and saves the men's bacon on a couple of occasions.
William Witney, who directed many serials over the course of his long Hollywood career, directed G-Men .
Connection to Japanese Americans
Perhaps because Japanese Americans had all been rounded up and forcibly removed from the West Coast by the time G-Men was being produced, there is little mention of Japanese Americans in the plot. But there is one major exception. In the second episode, "Japanese Inquisition," Chang is dispatched to Manzanar where he is to free a Japanese spy and BDS member named Fuji, the idea being that Fuji could then help Chang infiltrate the BDS. Chang quickly springs Fuji—we are not told or shown how—though Haruchi quickly nixes the idea that Chang join the BDS and instead has Fuji try to kill him, since he has served his purpose. Fuji—which Pipitone's Haruchi pronounces "Few-ji"—is killed off later in the episode. Fuji is played by Allen Jung, another Chinese American actor. The only other apparent Asian American actors in the series are a pair of Japanese submarine pilots with small roles in later chapters.
Released early in 1943, the Black Dragon/Manzanar connection no doubt drew on news reports of the Manzanar riot/uprising of December 1942 and sensationalist media accounts of Black Dragon Society members in Manzanar. 
In 1966, the films were re-edited into a 100 minute version under the title Black Dragon of Manzanar for television, this despite only the passing reference to Manzanar in the actual series.
|Starring||Rod Cameron (Rex Bennett), Roland Got (Chang Singer), Constance Worth (Vivian Marsh), Nino Pipitone (Oyama Haruchi), Noel Cravat (Ranga), George Lewis (Lugo)|
For More Information
Kinnard, Roy. Fifty Years of Serial Thrills . Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1983.
Stedman, Raymond William. The Serials: Suspense and Drama by Installment . Second Edition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.