It's the height of the Second World War and Japanese spies are sabotaging the American war effort by blowing up strategic shipyards and munitions factories. Who could be behind this, with the specialised knowledge necessary to pinpoint the most damaging targets? It appears to be a group of five American businessmen who just happen to be sympathisers with the Axis forces and tonight they are gathered in the house of Dr Saunders (George Pembroke) to celebrate and draw up new plans. However, a mysterious stranger arrives at the door that night, a man calling himself Monsieur Colomb (Bela Lugosi) demanding to speak with the Doctor...
One of many propaganda films churned out by Hollywood studios during World War II, this example was offered up by Monogram, one of the cheapest outfits around. Looking less like a sincere attempt to bring down the armies threatening democracy and more like an attempt to cash in on the situation, Black Dragons was scripted by Harvey Gates and is a lot stranger than, say, Casablanca. Certainly nowadays the film looks quaint, best described as a mystery because it's a mystery what shape the plot takes until the last half hour, and although it features stock footage of explosions no footage of any battles is used.
Lugosi was now accepting any work he could find, a long way from his Dracula heyday, and here he takes the role of the villain - or he could be the hero, as he sets about bumping off the treacherous industrialists. First he hypnotises Dr Saunders and convinces him to let him stay in his mansion, sending the Doctor to his bedroom where he stays for most of the rest of the film, asking anyone who goes to his door to leave him be. Then he murders one of the spies and dumps his body on the steps of the now closed (for obvious reasons) Japanese embassy, the corpse's hand gripping an Oriental dagger as the newspaper headlines helpfully inform us.
And who should arrive in the middle of all this but Saunders' daughter Alice (Joan Barclay, our heroine) who does her best to find out what's going on, altough in a slightly comical development, whenever she goes to investigate the sound of say, Colomb strangling someone in the room below, there's nothing to be found. Everything about Black Dragons is cheap, from the plotting which has little regard for logic, to the way the cast (including future Lone Ranger Clayton Moore as a flippant hero) stumble over their lines; a shot of a plane flying from Washington is reversed to show it flying the other way - complete with backwards writing along its side. That said, it is amusing to witness its highly unlikely revelations as to what the plotting is actually about, and at least its heart is in the right place. If not much else is.