Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell in Macao (1952)


(director: Josef von Sternberg/Nicholas Ray-uncredited; screenwriters: from the story by Bob Williams/Stanley Crea Rubin/Bernard Schoenfeld; cinematographer: Harry J. Wild; editors: Samuel E. Beetley/Robert Golden; music: Anthony Collins; cast: Robert Mitchum (Nick Cochran), Jane Russell (Julie Benson), William Bendix (Lawrence Trumble), Thomas Gomez (Lt. Sebastian), Gloria Grahame (Margie), Brad Dexter (Vince Halloran), Edward Ashley (Martin Stewart), Don Zelaya (Gimpy); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alex Gottlieb; RKO; 1952)

If you are looking for an underrated film noir gem–that somehow got swept under the rug–this is it!

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A wonderfully tongue-in-cheek scripted RKO adventure story directed by Josef von Sternberg (“Shanghai Express”/”Morocco”/”The Shanghai Gesture”). Most of the action scenes were re-shot on studio orders (Howard Hughes and his lackeys) by Nicholas Ray–though it retains that unique Sternberg look and feel.

It’s based on a story by Bob Williams; the screenplay is by Stanley Crea Rubin and Bernard Schoenfeld. The story is set in the exotic port of Macao, located off the south coast of China, some 35 miles from Hong Kong. It’s an ancient Portuguese colony, considered by many as the “Monte Carlo of the Orient.”

Three Americans are on ferry boat that left Hong Kong for Macao, and all with different reasons for choosing to come here. Julie Benson (Jane Russell), a sexy lady with a chip on her shoulder, is an unemployed singer and world weary passenger, who had her passage paid for by a sleaze who forces himself on her as the implied payment for the ticket. Nick Cochran (Robert Mitchum) rescues the damsel-in-distress from her sexual attacker and as a reward Julie picks his pocket while giving him a kiss. He’s a former sailor, who’s on-the-lam over petty criminal charges he faces for a fight he got into back in New York five years ago over a redhead; and, the down-on-his-luck adventurer would rather keep drifting around the world than return home to face the music. Lawrence Trumble (William Bendix) poses as a traveling salesman, but the jolly traveler is really an undercover NYC policeman on assignment to arrest Macao underworld crime boss Vince Halloran (Brad Dexter) for having his Chinese knife to death a fellow NYC policeman because he was hot on the smuggler’s tail. Halloran, an American expatriate, runs most of Macao, including a gambling casino. The problem is Halloran can’t be arrested in Macao, only in international waters if he goes three miles outside of the protected area.

Halloran expects an undercover cop to arrest him (as was tried before), and has the crooked local police chief, Lt. Sebastian (Thomas Gomez), on the payroll to report all incoming passengers. Because Nick has no papers (his passport was lifted with his wallet), he’s suspected of being the cop and is unsuccessfully bribed by the crime boss to leave Macao. Julie is hired by Halloran to sing in his casino, which incurs the jealousy of Halloran’s girlfriend Margie (Gloria Grahame).

Taking advantage of the mix up, Trumble uses Nick to lure the gangster off Macao. He supplies Nick with a big diamond from a diamond necklace that the police recovered from a botched smuggling scheme of Halloran’s. The other diamonds, worth $100,00 but offered to Halloran for $40,000, are held in Hong Kong, and the gangster agrees to go there to consummate the deal. Instead, he has his Chinese jump Nick. But they mistakenly kill Trumble, not realizing he’s the real cop. Trumble, before he dies, tells Nick he cleared up with the NYC authorities the past criminal charges and he can return. But Nick decides to repay the favor, and cunningly gets Halloran to leave Macao and into the hands of the international police.

Jane Russell enthralls as she gets romanced by the laconic Mitchum, and they create movie magic together through their brilliant nuanced performances. The sultry actress was never better, as she belts out a few torch songs, tosses insults at Mitchum with natural ease, shows her romantic side and looks right through the leering bad guys of Macao as if they didn’t exist. She’s the good-bad girl, while he’s the hard-luck innocent who can’t even win when playing with loaded dice. They’re both film noir characters, who Jane sums up when she tells her man: “Everybody’s lonely, worried, and sorry. Everybody’s looking for something.” If you are looking for an underrated film noir gem–that somehow got swept under the rug–this is it!