Movies these days are apparently gravitating toward non-fiction. At any rate, almost on top of the recent "Call Northside 777" comes another documentary film, taken bodily from the files of the U.S. Narcotics Bureau. What is more, it carries through it a Moral Principle, hidden by the plot, to be sure, as cleverly as the smuggled opium is hidden from Customs, but which still serves to elevate the movie above the level of common melodrama.
"To the Ends of the Earth" could not be a more appropriate title. Inspector Dick Powell starts off in hot pursuit of a narcotics ring, gets shot at and clubbed on the head at every turn, and winds up victorious a week later with a feather in his hat and a lamp on his noggin, having completely encircled the globe. In Shanghai, Powell crosses paths with Signe Hasso, in company with a young Chinese girl who later turns out to be older than she looks and ringleader of the entire dope chain. After a quick hop to Egypt and a climb up a precipitous Red Sea cliff, he discovers what he is looking for, a freshly harvested poppy field disguised as a rose plantation. And from there he follows the raw opium across the Atlantic, finally closing in on the whole racket in a tense battle outside New York harbor.
The story by itself is nothing. What makes the movie is its splendid portrayal of the narcotics agents who help Powell along the way--agents in Shanghai, Cairo, Beirut, Havana, each of whom is caught up for a moment as the great stream of pursuit sweeps by, and then slips away again into the quiet backwaters of his own little world. "To the Ends of the Earth" is, in fact, a story of human cooperation against a common enemy. It knows no international boundaries. And above all, it is true.
Hung on the framework of a real case which could not be more exciting, the picture presents a wealth of argument towards "One World." Yet this is not the painfully obvious propaganda that Hollywood is so prone to wallow in. The moral is not forced down our throats, but contained naturally in a factual document, and thereby carries all the more weight. As a matter of fact, the film had its premiere before the UN at Lake Success. Movies like this are what make the condition of the American moving picture industry seem not so hopeless after all.