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CALCUTTA (director: John Farrow; screenwriter: Seton Miller; cinematographer: John F. Seitz; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Victor Young; cast: Alan Ladd (Neale Gordon), Gail Russell (Virginia Moore), William Bendix (Pedro Blake), June Duprez (Marina Tanev), Lowell Gilmore (Eric Lasser), Edith King (Mrs. Smith), Gavin Muir (Inspector Kendricks), John Whitney (Bill Cunningham), Paul Singh (Mul Raj Malik), Charles Stevens (Strangler), Lee Tung Foo (Kim); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Seton Miller; Paramount; 1947)
“Entertaining potboiler.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

John Farrow’s Calcutta is a fast-paced old-fashioned adventure yarn, shot entirely in Paramount’s back lot. Seton Miller does the screenplay. It’s an entertaining potboiler, though a minor work.

Alan Ladd stars as Neale Gordon, a free-spirited American freight pilot working the Calcutta-Chungking air route. Neale, Pedro Blake (William Bendix), and Bill Cunningham (John Whitney) are close friends who work and play hard, all with a devil-may-care attitude. Bill surprises the others by announcing his upcoming marriage to Virginia Moore (Gail Russell), someone they never knew about. But soon after their bar meeting Bill is mysteriously strangled to death without being robbed. Neale doesn’t trust the police to investigate alone, so he searches with Pedro the hotels and marketplaces of Calcutta. Being distrustful of women, Neale suspects Virginia and grills her without concern about hurting her feelings.

Neale takes a scarab diamond given to Virginia by Bill and discovers it’s worth a fortune when the cigar smoking Mrs. Smith (Edith King) confirms she sold it to Bill and he paid for it with a check that didn’t bounce. The diamond was sold to her by a smarmy Indian smuggler (Paul Singh), who inadvertently leads Neale to the other smugglers involved in his friend’s death. While Neale’s regular squeeze is nightclub singer Merina Tanev (June Duprez), he messes around with the suspicious Virginia hoping to discover what she’s not telling him about the smuggling operation. In the process, Neale slaps Virginia around when he catches her in a lie.

Ladd gives an icy action-hero performance as someone who revels in his disdain for women as untrustworthy companions. By Ladd’s politically incorrect moves, he takes on the characteristics of the film noir protagonist–which gives this programmer its energy. Ladd quotes an ancient Hindu saying “Man who trust woman walk on duckweed over pond,” which tells us all we want to know about how he has stayed alive for so long while in the company of dangerous women, ones like Virginia, while Bill so easily succumbed to the beauty of the femme fatale.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”