25 April 2015 | gerdeen-1
A little atmosphere goes a long way
Fog was a frequently used device in the "B" thrillers of the 1930s and '40s. It was a way to disguise the cheap sets while adding an element of menace. In this low-budget tale of enemy agents on the dark, glistening streets of San Francisco, the fog is almost one of the stars.
Nina Foch plays a World War II military nurse whose dream about a murder allows her to anticipate the real-life actions of the bad guys. It was just a single dream -- never really explained -- and otherwise she has no psychic powers. (She can't detect a spy hiding a few feet from her.) She's also not particularly smart, though no dumber than the federal agents she helps.
The heroine's love interest, as well as the subject of her dream, is a a kind of G-Man played by William Wright. He and his boss, portrayed by Otto Kruger, are at work on a plan to boost the war effort against Japan. Unfortunately, Nazi agents have compromised U.S. security and are on the verge of foiling the plan and committing some mayhem. The dreamer comes in handy.
In some ways, this movie is less "patriotic" than you might expect. Unintentionally, it makes American home-front security in World War II look amateurish. Everybody seems awfully naive. Wright's character gets a lot of mileage out of the little badge he flashes to local authorities, but it looks like a prize out of a cereal box. Most people would probably ask for more ID, considering that the fate of the nation hangs on his being legit.
"Escape in the Fog" has its corny and improbable elements, like most such movies. But it's entertaining, and the cast is more than adequate. Foch is more vulnerable and appealing than in her later roles. Wright, who got his best breaks during the war years but died too young to make much of a career, does fine in a rather routine role. And it's nice to see Kruger, who often played icy Nazi sympathizers, as one of the good guys.
This movie came out very late in the war, when the Nazis were already done for and the Japanese were only weeks from defeat. It does seem odd that Germans instead of Japanese are shown working as spies for Tokyo. My wild guess is that Asian actors, many of whom were still getting parts in films about the Pacific War, were not available for the average inexpensive "B" mystery. In this picture, even "Chinatown" has very few non-Caucasians, which actually prompts a subtle quip from one of the villains.