"Spy Ship" (1942) is a World War II espionage thriller is interesting because it reflects the anger and paranoia that overtook the US immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It takes a garden-variety gangster film and grafts onto it a variety of elements to play to the audience's passions of the moment. It would be easy to say that the story goes a little too far and becomes self-indulgent, but then, having seen again the types of passions that can be aroused after the September 11 terrorist attack, this film almost seems restrained for the early months of the war.
A spy ring is operating out of NYC under cover of an "America First" type of operation called America Above All ("AAA"). If this isn't obvious enough to show who the real target is, the main speaker for the AAA is a famous aviator - no, not Charles Lindbergh, but a woman, Pamela Mitchell, played flirtatiously by Irene Manning. Mitchell is using her broadcast speeches to send Allied ship coordinates to German submarines (even though she has a perfectly good radio to use back at spy central). She carefully notes during her pacifist speeches that the ships being sunk are not US, but only those of other nations - she would know, since she is the one targeting them! Mitchell apparently became involved because of her attraction to a German spy, Martin Oster, who it turns out has been cheating on her, and the lure of easy money. The remainder of the story involves the law's pursuit of the spies and an eventual climax on - you guessed it - a spy ship.
There aren't a whole lot of recognizable actors for today's audience in this B-movie. Craig Stevens, playing the reporter who figures out the spy ring, turned to television acting in the 1950s and never looked back. Irene Manning did the same and had retired completely from acting by the mid-1950s. Just about everybody else is eminently forgettable.
Probably the best reason to see the film is Keye Luke's brief appearance as a Japanese cultural envoy, Hiru (I believe he is introduced as "Hirushi" in the film, but he is listed as Hiru in the credits). Yes, you guessed it, Hiru also is a spy. The film is set in the days immediately before and during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Hiru knows all about it, though he won't spill the details even to his buddies. You know, those inscrutable Asians and all (yes, this film is playing to stereotypes, Hiru is immaculately dressed, smiles constantly and even wears glasses). Keye Luke was Chinese, of course, so showing the Japanese in a bad light probably wasn't an ordeal for him.
Anyway, the film does briefly show the Pearl Harbor attack for about 30 seconds - ironically, considering the time, perhaps the briefest such segment in Hollywood history. During this interlude, in a wildly amusing scene (to us, but likely not to the original audience) with blazing ships in the background, Hiru is shown smugly grinning, almost laughing, and saying (mimicing a waiter who has just spilled the soup in your lap, but with overarching sarcasm), "So sorry, so sorry please." I have to say this, the entire film is completely forgettable, but that one scene is worth sitting through it. "So sorry, so sorry please." Awesome stuff.
Anyway, at this point just about anyone watching the film could probably sit down and write out what they thought the ending would be like, and get it pretty close (and likely do a better job). In fact, the film reverts to its gangster origins and we get a blazing gunfight between about 5 Germans and 500 cops with machine guns that takes forever. There are no surprises, what, did you think they would get away with it? When Hiru is nabbed, they actually play a brief snippet of "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy." No, they DO NOT make them like this any more.
Not very well-remembered, probably because Manning's character is a bit weird even for those hysterical times early in the war. Worth it to see how riled up people were in mid-1942. And that unforgettable Keye Luke moment.