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The fantasy of radical transformation through plastic surgery has spawned countless fictions, including that of "Black Dragons." In this 1942 film, Bela Legosi play a plastic surgeon betrayed by the Black Dragons – Japanese secret agents empowered by his surgical magic to infiltrate and sabotage the United States' defense industry. To exact revenge, the surgeon turns his art upon himself to become unrecognizable as Dr. Melcher Colomb who tracks the Black Dragons with murder on his mind.
The plot unfolds as Colomb uses the power of hypnosis to control Black Dragons leader Dr. William Saunders, whose face he transforms yet again, but this time into that of a monster. Joan Barclay plays Saunders' winsome niece, Alice, who begins to suspect something might be a touch strange about her uncle's houseguest; she's joined by Detective Dick Martin (Clayton Moore) who investigates the deaths of Saunders' associates. As we might expect, the truth isn't discovered until Colomb has stealthily picked off five of the six Black Dragons, leaving just one – the disfigured Saunders – to tell the tale.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, American popular culture responded with a wave of movies, comic books, and other materials vilifying the Japanese. Many of these depicted The Black Dragons as a powerful threat to the United States but, according to Hugh Burleson of the North American Post, the actual Kokuryu Kai (meaning "Black Dragon River" in Chinese) limited its ambitions for the Japanese Empire to Asia in general and Korea in particular. Additionally, evidence strongly suggests that the group had been subsumed within the Imperial Rule Assistance Association (IRAA) in 1940 and no longer existed by the time American attention fell on it. This did not seem to deter the House Un-American Affairs Committee from claiming that the Black Dragon Society was one of several powerful secret political groups and was at work "wherever there are Japanese." It seems that the fear of a widespread network of Japanese spies rather than evidence was the basis for the arrests of numerous first-generation Japanese immigrants (Issei) in March, 1942, one month after the Justice Department's Special Defense Unit identified The Black Dragon Society as a suspect organization.
Grant R. FairbanksPlastic surgeon Grant R. Fairbanks discusses reconstructive surgery and the film “The Black Dragons.”
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