Sunday, February 08, 2015

Macao (1952)

8/10 - More Robert Mitchum noir. Mitch teams up again with Jane Russell in this 1952 film about American ex-pats who get entangled in a web of crime in Macao. Josef von Sternberg is credited as director, and it certainly bears some of his hallmark mysterious Asian exotica. I kept waiting (hoping) for Marlene Dietrich to show up, but no such luck. We do get Gloria Grahame, however, so at least there’s that. But Sternberg was fired by producer Howard Hughes during production and Nicholas Ray (Grahame’s husband at the time) finished directing the film, with Mitchum actually writing sections of the movie in an effort to string everything together. Despite some unevenness here and there, it’s a solid noir, with excellent camera work again by Harry J. Wild (who was also shot the previous Mitchum-Russell movie His Kind of Woman.) There’s a gorgeous chase scene at night through sampans docked in the harbor, so you have Mitchum and others maneuvering through lots of fishing nets while precariously balanced on dark water. Mitchum, Russell and the always reliable William Bendix disembark in Macao and immediately become involved with another American who runs the biggest casino on the island. As it turns out, someone’s a cop working undercover, and the plot twists around as different characters try to figure out who is who and who’s helping who and who’s going to wind up with who. (Okay, that last one is never really a mystery.) Mitchum and Russell once again have great chemistry – I wish they had done more films together. Macao was Sternberg’s first film since 1941’s interesting The Shanghai Gesture, and it would be his last Hollywood project. No one will mistake it for his early masterpieces with Marlene, nor will Macao ever be ranked among the greatest noirs, but it has a lot going for it.

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