B-movies have acquired a poor reputation. For many, the term has become synonymous with bad movies and no-budget MS3K fodder. Originally the "B" designated films made on a lower budget that supported the expensive big pictures, both by appearing on the same bill and by providing the studios with returns on a small investment. In fact, many of the old B films were well-crafted and turned a limited budget into opportunity. Several of the better examples went where their more famous fare would not dare.
The Crimson Kimono, a 1959 noir written and directed by the prolific Samuel Fuller, is well-acted, effectively directed, and quite progressive for its time. A pair of cops, former Korean War buddies Joe Kajaku (James Shigeta) and Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett), investigate the murder of a stripper in Los Angeles's J-Town while falling for the same white female witness (Victoria Shaw). The whodunnit remains the focus, but we also see cracks in the detectives' relationship. Charlie and Joe always regarded their close friendship as transcending the racism of their culture. Now, they and we aren't so sure. Will the tensions scupper the investigation? And which of her protectors will the young woman choose? Shot on location, the film also gives viewers a street-level view of 1950s LA.
In a Hollywood that, two years later, would show no compunction about inserting an irrelevant and deeply offensive racist caricature into the otherwise strong A-pic Breakfast at Tiffany's, it's refreshing to see that a film like The Crimson Kimono could also find a place.