My Cinema Shame – Macao (1952)

Macao

It’s obvious that, after 2 years on this site, I suck at the whole scheduling thing. I have hundreds and hundreds of movies in my collection, and I can put together numerous lists of them that I tell myself I’m going to watch, and it’s likely not going to happen. So this year I’m foregoing that aspect of the Shame. Instead, I’m simply going to pull unwatched movies from my stockpile when the mood hits me, watch them, and write about them. To kick off my writing this year, I finally cracked open the Robert Mitchum Signature Collection box set I bought a few months ago for $20.  The set includes 6 of Mitchum’s films, and I decided my first watch would be his 1952 film Macao.

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The movie opens with a man being chased through the Macao waterfront by a group of Chinese thugs. He gets knifed in the back and falls into the water dead.  The dead man was a NYC cop, and the thugs work for American casino owner Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter). Halloran is trapped on Macao because of international warrants for his arrest. His crew includes right hand man Itzumi (Philip Ahn) and moll Margie (Gloria Grahame). They’re all anxious because they’re expecting a runner to come back from Hong Kong with the money from the sale of some jewels. Halloran has someone down at the docks waiting for the ferry.

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Meanwhile, on the ferry, we’re introduced to Nick Cochran (Mitchum), a former Naval lieutenant who’s been bouncing around the world for the last 5 years because of some trouble in his past. He meets Julie Benson (Jane Russell) after she hits him with a high heeled shoe accidentally. They both then run into salesman Lawrence C. Trumble (William Bendix). When they arrive in Macao, they immediately attract the attention of Halloran’s man, police Lt. Sebastian (Thomas Gomez). Sebastian is convinced that Cochran is in fact a New York cop who has come to Macao to get Halloran beyond the three-mile territorial limit so he can be arrested.

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Everyone I’ve mentioned up to this point are central to the plot of Macao. The film is labelled a Film-Noir (and it does share some of the same features of a Noir), but it’s an exceedingly breezy affair. Clocking in at 81 minutes, the movie never lags, moving quickly towards the end. It’s also very light for a Noir, with some humour (largely due to William Bendix).  This may very well be the result of a change in directors, when producer Howard Hughes fired Josef von Sternberg and turned directing duties over to Nicholas Ray (though von Sternberg’s name remained as sole director in the credits). von Sternberg was, by all accounts, a harsh director, going so far as to ban eating on the set by everyone working on the film. Mitchum, however, ignored this, and always brought food to the set for everyone.

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There’s a lot to like about Macao. The performances of the cast are great, and they have an energy that helps the movie go by very quickly. It says something about the performances that you can’t tell that there was discord on the set. The story could have used a bit more polish, but the movie is very enjoyable, and the cast easily overcomes whatever shortcomings there are in the film. It’s definitely not your usual Film Noir, but that’s to its strength, I think. It well deserves a watch or two.

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