(director: Jack Conway; screenwriter: Ben Hecht; cinematographer: George Folsey; editor: Elmo Veron; music: Franz Waxman; cast: Robert Taylor (Bill Carey), Hedy Lamarr (Manon De Vargnes), Joseph Schildkraut (Pierre Delaroch), Cecil Cunningham (Coutess Berichi) , Gloria Franklin (Nina), Ernest Cossart (Father Antione), Charles Trowbridge (Alfred Z. Harrison), Mary Taylor (Dolly Harrison); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Zimbalist; MGM; 1939)

“Ridiculous and unbearable romantic melodrama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Jack Conway (“A Tale of Two Cities”/”Boom Town”) stiffly directs this ridiculous and unbearable romantic melodrama, that tries in a crude way to say that bias against half-castes in French occupied Vietnam is stupid. This is not one of Ben Hecht’s better screenplays. Despite stars Robert Taylor and MGM’s beautiful new contract actress Hedy Lamarr, the film flopped at the box office. The impoverished American playboy Bill Carey (Robert Taylor) arrives in Saigon on the yacht of wealthy American industrialist Alfred Z. Harrison (Charles Trowbridge). Bill is engaged to his heiress daughter Dolly (Mary Taylor). The tourists are welcomed at the dock by Father Antione (Ernest Cossart), who fills them in about local customs and that half-castes are called in derision “flying fish.” Later at the ritzy nightclub they meet the film’s heavy, the French rubber plantation owner, Pierre Delaroch (Joseph Schildkraut), the richest guy in town, and the gorgeous half-caste he’s with De Vargnes (Hedy Lamarr). Pierre wants Manon, but she doesn’t want him. She wants to go to Paris but is denied a passport because she’s half-French and half-Vietnamese. Before you can say that’s a beautiful dancer’s hat, Bill woos Manon and dumps his fiancee by not leaving with the yacht. Then Bill stops Manon from an arranged loveless marriage to Asian royalty in Singapore, and marries her with no means of support. The nasty Pierre makes sure Manon can’t get a passport, but Bill won’t leave without her despite running out of money. It builds to a weepie climax, except the tragic events of the operatic narrative seem artificial and hardly moving.