Scripters W.H. Davis and Vickie Patik, adapting “Guests of the Emperor” by Janice Young Brooks, indicate that, despite dreadful conditions inflicted on prisoners, the Japanese were either trying to be friendly, suffering from paralysis or unaware of what was going on. Vidpic should disconcert those still alive who endured the torments; otherwise, “Silent Cries” is most likely to evoke silent yawns.
Gena Rowlands limns Peggy Sutherland, American in Singapore when it falls to the Japanese in 1942. An anti-Japanese writer in the Far East working on a bio of Mme. Chaing Kai-Shek, Sutherland incredibly has to explain to one of the other women who Mme. Chaing is.
The Japanese herd the British and American women into an internment camp, with various character types to fill out the menu. Disciplined Gail Strickland plays the gin-sipping lady who can’t believe all this is happening.
Clyde Kusatsu’s the sadistic officer running the camp, and Stan Egi’s a compassionate guard. Sab Shimono is the commandant who doesn’t know what’s going on. Only Natsuko Ohama’s role as a disciplinarian teaching the prisoners how to bow shows true meanness.
Filmed in Louisiana, “Silent Cries” exudes no feel of Malay’s luxuriant vegetation or the oppressive atmosphere. The terrible trek by foot to the camp looks staged, and shots of Nippon soldiers riding in trucks or searching the barracks come off as playacting.
One scene in which Rowlands’ leg wound is cut open has the look of the real thing — gruesome, painful and horrifying.
Director Anthony Page gives the Davis-Patik script little help. The actors are knocked down, look bruised, tired and disgruntled, and some even die — but Page’s scenes suggest they’ll all leap up at the call of the catering truck.
The 1956 Brit film and the Aussie 1981 miniseries versions of “A Town Called Alice” covered much of the same material, but with grimmer portrayal of what foreigners endured. The other versions left indelible tracks, but the current account of the ordeal leaves little impression except that war is heck.