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  • Slow-moving Cold War cheapo without the courage of its convictions. In '48 the Chinese Civil War was in full swing-- red Mao vs. nationalist Chiang, with an outcome still in doubt. The Soviets half-heartedly supported the rebel Mao while the US supplied the nationalists. With the Cold War heating up across Europe and Asia, Hollywood began celebrating government agencies in what many saw as a first line of defense against communist penetration. Here, it's the State Department getting the cosmetic treatment. Note, for example, the celebratory prologue.

    The impressively handsome Lundigan plays a Foreign Service officer sent to China to assist a besieged legation. There, while romancing colleague Bruce, he experiences the brutal machinations of a warlord (Loo) who's playing both warring sides against the middle. In short, the material implies a larger scale drama than what it receives from this indie production. At the same time, the script plays it safe, never once mentioning communists or Mao. Instead, they're referred to as rebels in the North, while the US maintains diplomatic ties with the government in the South. In short, the screenplay tries to clumsily finesse a critical issue of the day, while we read between the lines.

    As other reviewers point out, there's much too much talk dominating the latter half, most of it within the cheap confines of warlord Loo's trailer! The gab adds up to a downer despite the fiery upshot. On a similar note, Lundigan's spiffy gray suit remains unblemished no matter the grimy surroundings-- no doubt a concession to the Service's image. Too bad director Newfield adds nothing to the pedestrian script. Some atmosphere would have helped

    On the other hand, crowded scenes of the Chinese town are well done and fairly persuasive, even though the production never leaves greater LA (Iverson Ranch, and the studio). And what a neat burst of inspiration to couple the Chinese fire-eater with the American bubble-gum chewer. In my book, it may be the movie's highlight, an amusing pairing of East and West. At the same time, chubby little Michel just about steals the show from the stiffed-up adults.

    All in all, the 87-minutes unfortunately adds up to a bigger bite than the meagre budget could chew.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Events quickly caught up with State Department 649 as before the year was out this early 1949 release was already out of date as the Chinese Communists kicked out the Kuomintang government of Chiang Kai-Shek and exiled him to Formosa. Almost like poor William Lundigan died for nothing.

    Oddly enough Lundigan is just the kind of man that the Foreign Service had on its China desk. Like Lundigan many were brought up in the Far East, like Lundigan they may well be the children of missionaries. Unlike Lundigan they reported back that the Kuomintang government stank from the Shantung peninsula to the Tibet border and we'd better cut our losses. The kind that Joe McCarthy branded as traitors because they told uncomfortable truths.

    Lundigan is a Marine Corps veteran of the late World War who goes into the Foreign Service and given his background is sent to China and later specifically to Inner Mongolia. Has to be Inner Mongolia because Mongolia itself had gone Communist post World War I and was a Soviet Union protectorate at the time.

    In any event there is 'bandit' activity a euphemism for the Communists. Chiang himself referred to Mao's bunch as such many times. A local leader thought dead is very much alive. Richard Loo and Philip Ahn who got plenty of work during the second World War playing cruel Japanese now play Communists.

    Also in the film is Virginia Bruce who went to Foreign Service school and training with Lundigan and they get reunited in China. But things never really get kindled as the relationship is kind of stillborn.

    If the message of State Department 649 is that we've got to back up our ally Chiang Kai-Shek it sure was wasted here. Not even Secretary of State Dean Acheson wanted to do that and he got flayed but good by the rightwing of the GOP.

    This rather earnest but sad tribute to our Foreign Service in the State Department is properly left in the dustbin of history.
  • This is a difficult film to review. William Lundigan plays a nicely heroic Amercian with a warm, charismatic radio-trained voice; Richard Loo is great as the temper-tantrum-throwing villainous warlord marshal, with Philip Ahn as his civilized aide-de-camp; and Victor Sen Yung is splendid as a heroic Chinese-American radio operator. There are also cute turns by Milton Kibbee (Guy Kibbee's brother) as a pot-bellied fur trader, Barbara Wodell as a hysterical neurotic, and plug-ugly ex-pro wrestler Henry 'Bomber' Kulky as a Mongolian (in your wildest dreams) sergeant-at-arms, but despite these little highlights, the whole film is excessively talky, suffers from a patriotic narrative introduction, features muddled motivations (would the State Department actually send a female secret agent to Mongolia to deal with the emotional problems of a depressed, piano-playing secretary???), is rather set-bound (are those the "Republic Rocks" i see out back in Mongolia?), and ends on a weirdly sudden note, thus removing it from any consideration as an undiscovered classic.

    Also working against this film's revival or renewal of popularity is the plot line's firm tie to then current events. How many modern viewers will understand the backdrop of what the script refers to as "the present crisis" -- the fact that, in 1949, this meant the Communist take-over of China, with Mao Tse-Tung wresting control from the pro-American Generalisimo Chiang Kai Shek?

    Communism might have made a credible opposing force to the heroic American men and women of the State department, but the film-makers apparently wanted to play it safe and, not knowing which way the cats were gonna jump in old Peiping, they inserted a stereotypical "Mongolian Warlord" figure as the opponent to America's interests, a "Yellow Peril" threat that was dated at the time and hasn't aged well since. There was an attempt to cover this anachronism in the screenplay by stating that the marshal's father had been a local "prince" and that he himself -- despite the fact that his followers are dressed in Maoist People's Army type uniforms -- are actually out of favour with the "central government" -- but the effect comes across as a fairly transparent screenwriter's ruse, because if the marshal was a Mongolian prince, educated at Oxford, then why were his foot soldiers wearing Maoist style clothing?

    Campiest line in the story, delivered by Philip Ahn, after Richard Loo goes ape on Victor Sen Yung's communications set-up:

    "The marshal is very angry. He has broken your radio."

    Spoken in the voice of Monty Python's Michael Palin as Cardinal Ximenez, that would have been a classic! As it is, it's just weird.
  • Bill Lundgren is forced to be the "army, navy, and marines" all rolled into one as he infiltrates the underground in communist China.

    After learning how to be a good spy, Lundy literally bumps into pretty Virginia Bruce, whom also is a trainee in Washington. Our heroes part, but re-emerge in one another's company when serving in Peking. Frank Ferguson tags along as Lundy's boss. Fine veteran actor Joe Crehan plays a U.S. government official.

    Fun at the start with some interesting narrative background concerning the Department of State, though things slow down a bit as the film progresses to the eastern hemisphere.

    Worth a look as a period piece from the prime of the Cold War.
  • William Lundigan is appointed to the Foreign Service. Because his parents were missionaries in Mongolia, he speaks the language and is quickly assigned to a listening post in Inner Mongolia. Soon after he arrives, however, renegades warlord Richard Loo siezes the town and the consulate in his plan to establish his independent principality.

    It's a very old-fashioned movie directed by Sam Newfield, now gone from the remnants of PRC, but still chugging along with his brother Sigmund Neufeld as producer. This one is even a color production, although it's shot in Cinecolor and the print I looked at was dark and the color values a bit faded.

    There's no direct mention of current events in China; the Civil War was proceeding apace and eight months after this movie was released, the National government would be expelled from the mainland. In the meantime, several talented but out-of-favor performers try to make the lines sound good, actors like virginia Bruce, Jonathan Hale and Philip Ahn; and the easily recognized Iverson ranch pretends to be Inner Mongolia.
  • JohnSeal1 July 2005
    Warning: Spoilers
    William Lundigan stars in this indie docudrama about a state department attaché in China who gets mixed up in the Chinese Civil War. Fresh-faced Ken Seeley (Lundigan) arrives ready to work with Consul-General Reither (skeletal Frank Ferguson) at a remote American embassy, but finds all is not well when a Mongolian warlord (a sneering Richard Loo, clearly enjoying himself) occupies the grounds in an effort to evade the central government. Seeley attempts to outsmart the warlord, but in a surprisingly bittersweet and ominous finale, ends up his hostage instead. Shot on the cheap by indie Film Classics, State Department File 649 is a fascinating glimpse at American attitudes toward China circa 1949, but really isn't much of a movie. Though the Asian characters are depicted by Asian actors, they are laden with racist baggage, and the film looks horrible thanks to the earth-tone saturated Cinecolor. An odd little film for hardcore film buffs only.
  • Ultra-cheap so-called thriller directed by the prolific (but not particularly talented) Sam Newfield under the pseudonym of Peter Stewart. A lot of talk and very little action makes for a dull experience.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    STATE DEPARTMENT: FILE 649 has to be one of the dullest titles in existence for a movie, although watching this low budget production you soon realise that the quality of the film matches said title. The story involves some heroic American types in Mongolia, crossing swords with a ruthless Chinese warlord who threatens them with execution. It sounds like a good premise, but this is simple stuff indeed, full of long-winded exposition and needless dialogue and little in the way of excitement. The climax is the only time it gets interesting, while the rest is a sea of yellowface make up and po-faced seriousness.
  • "State Department" is a strange film because it's about politics in China but never mentions the communists--who assumed power the same year this film debuted! It's also a rather cheap and insignificant film.

    The movie begins with a prologue about various workers in the foreign service who have given their lives for their country. One of these people is the subject of this film. Ken (William Lundigan) is the new vice-consul of a remote consulate in northern China. However, he just arrives at his new posting when a local warlord arrives and begins menacing everyone. This sort of stuff did happen in the 1920s and 30--and I assume that this is the time period in which the movie is based.

    The film is decent but a bit dull. While it's not a bad film, it never rises to anything more than just barely average. Lundigan and the rest are pretty good--it's just that the story never seems too interesting.
  • "State Department: File 649" is a film that is supposedly set in China. The film bebuted in February, 1949...and by October of the same year, the country had fallen to Mao and the Chinese Communists. This means that only a few months after the film was released, it was already obsolete.

    As far as the film goes, it was produced by Sam Neufeld. This means that even with Cinecolor, the movie is a cheap affair--with none of the polish you'd find in a film from a major studio. Neufeld was known for cheap B-movies...and this one is as cheap as they come!

    Something is up in China. The local American Consul knows something isn't right...but isn't exactly sure what. So, agent 649, Ken Seely (William Lundigan), is sent to Peking (before it was renamed Beijing) to investigate. Like Batman, Ken's parents were murdered long ago--though this was in Mongolia, not Gotham City.

    So is this any good? No especially. Lundigan has little charisma and the quality of the production isn't great--with some sloppy edits and little to make it stand out in a positive way. Now I am not saying it's bad....just that it isn't very good. At best, an odd time-passer.

    By the way, the copy I saw of this film was posted on one of the Roku channels. The copy they have is very poor--often extremely dark and grainy. This combined with the general shabbiness of the story make it a tough film for most viewers to watch and enjoy.
  • You wouldn't expect a cold war drama with a title like that to be in colour, but here it is...! (Soviet propaganda films of the period were also often in colour believe it or not.) Art director Edward Jewell also otherwise manages to suggest fairly lavish production values on a limited budget and the film was presumably waved through by the Breen Office as being politically useful in the grim new postwar climate (people get their tongues cut out and arms cut off - mercifully off camera - presumably to remind audiences just how dangerous the world still was outside the good old U.S. of A.)

    Unfortunately, for all it's up to the minute, Torn-from-Today's-Headlines veneer Russia exploded its first atom bomb and China fell to the communists within months of the film's release in early 1949, rendering its storyline about a dastardly Chinese warlord even more irrelevant to current events; and it fell through a fissure in history that makes it interesting today for so precisely preserving a moment of faltering uncertainty and indecision as the tectonic plates of the United States' relations with the East began shifting in ways that still haven't settled yet.
  • dbborroughs6 January 2009
    Warning: Spoilers
    Odd ball film about a foreign service agent dispatched to China to deal with the "present Crisis" (aka the Communist revolution). Actually the plot has to do with a Mongolian warlord causing trouble in Northern China. Its more a blind to keep the story topical rather than to do with the revolution. Well acted in a purely Hollywood sort of way. The plot twists are completely unbelievable and the sort of thing of thing that only happen in bad Hollywood movies. I'm guessing the involvement with the government helped to make everything so sweetly saccharine. Enjoyable in a bad movie sort of way, its worth a look if you want a melodrama with no connection to reality.