Ann Dvorak, Gene Evans, and Richard Loo in I Was an American Spy (1951)


(director: Lesley Selander; screenwriters: Sam Roeca/based on a series of autobiographical Reader’s Digest articles by Claire Phillips in collaboration with Myron B. Goldsmith; cinematographer: Harry Neumann; editor: Philip Cahn; music: Edward J. Kay; cast: Ann Dvorak (Mrs. Claire ‘High Pockets’ Phillips), Gene Evans (Cpl. John Boone), Douglas Kennedy (Sgt. John Phillips), Richard Loo (Col. Masamato), Leon Lontoc (Pacio), Chabing (Lolita), Philip Ahn (Capt. Arito), Marya Marco (Fely), Nadine Ashdown (Dian), Lisa Ferraday (Dorothy Fuentes); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Diamond; Warner Bros.(Allied Artists); 1951)

“Emotionally powerful low-budget war story.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Prolific B-film filmmaker Lesley Selander (“War Paint”/”Arrow in the Dust”/”Shotgun”) directed this emotionally powerful low-budget war story. Sam Roeca wrote the screenplay, and fictionalizes a few items to make the story more sympathetic for the American audience (she’s single and not divorced) . It was shot in b/w at Iverson Ranch in the Simi Hills in Chatsworth, California.

The true war story was based on a series of 1945 autobiographical Reader’s Digest articles by Claire Phillip (Ann Dvorak) in collaboration with Myron B. Goldsmith. Claire was a divorced mother from Portland, Oregon, living in the Philippines, when she met and fell in love with the American soldier Sgt. John Phillips (Douglas Kennedy) and chose to stay behind to be near her new hubby when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in 1941 and became occupiers.

After the fall of Bataan and the capture of her husband, whom she married at the onset of the invasion, Claire abandons common sense to become a spy. She dangerously poses as a slinky Manila nightclub hostess in a swanky club she owns through American intelligence money and takes the code name of High Pockets. Spying on the high ranking soldiers and the dignitaries who frequented the club, brings much info. Any info she collected was passed onto American intelligence agents fighting a guerrilla war in the woods. Permission to operate the club was granted to her by the occupying commander Col. Masamato (Richard Loo, Asian-American actor).

Lisa Fuentes plays Claire’s loyal maid, who cares for her adopted girl Dian (Nadine Ashdown). Leon Lontoc is the trusted Philippine go-between, engaged by Claire’s husband to watch over her. Gene Evans is an intelligence agent in exile in the Philippines, who Claire meets in the woods. He suggested that she become a spy. Claire is eventually discovered and is tortured while imprisoned. However, before shot by the colonel, Evans leads a guerrilla raid that frees her.

Though I can applaud Claire’s patriotism and heroics, as General Mark W. Clark stated in the opening, but I cannot applaud such an underwhelming movie about her deeds.