James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Sydney Greenstreet, Valentina Cortese, and John Hodiak in Malaya (1949)


(director: Richard Thorpe; screenwriters: Frank Fenton/story by Manchester Boddy; Spencer Tracy (Carnahan), James Stewart (John Royer), Sydney Greenstreet (Dutchman), John Hodiak (Kellar), Valentina Cortesa (Luana), Roland Winters (Gruber), Richard Loo (Col. Tomura), Gilbert Roland (Romano), Lionel Barrymore (Manchester), DeForest Kelly (Lt. Glenson); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edwin H. Knopf; MGM; 1949)
“Unsatisfying pulp-fiction adventurous flag-waver melodrama from WW2.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Middling but economical director Richard Thorpe (“Tarzan Escaped”/”Above Suspicion”/”The Thin Man Goes Home”), known for bringing in all his films under budget, helms an unsatisfying pulp-fiction adventurous flag-waver melodrama from WW2, set in the Pacific, that sinks to B-film level despite the heavyweight Hollywood icons, Spencer Tracy and James Stewart, doing their best to try to overcome the corny and poorly written screenplay by Frank Fenton that’s based on the original story by Manchester Boddy. It’s worth seeing only because of the presence of the two stars and to see a film that has not been seen that often despite its big-budget and well-known cast. The pic is based on a true incident.

John Royer (James Stewart) is a former reporter recruited by his former American editor, Manchester (Lionel Barrymore), in 1942, to smuggle rubber out of Japanese-occupied Malaya, for the American war effort. The patriotic editor got FDR’s permission to go forward with his daring scheme of ” securing the rubber in an informal manner.” FBI agent Kellar (John Hodiak) investigates Royer and helps him get government clearance, the government-backed gold needed to complete the smuggling operation, cover as an Irish seaman to land in Malaya and the co-operation of the US Navy for this dangerous mission.

Since Royer can’t do the smuggling in Malaya without help, the incarcerated lengthy sentenced Alcatraz prisoner, the professional smuggler Carnahan (Spencer Tracy), is paroled by the FBI. In Malaya, Carnahan contacts the slick bar owner, the Dutchman (Sydney Greenstreet), who puts him in contact with 12 trusted locals, including resistance fighter Romano (Gilbert Roland). All are ready to risk their lives to steal the rubber from the international planters under the Japanese watch of Colonel Tomura (Richard Loo). The sultry Luana (Valentina Cortesa) is the bar singer who romances bad boy Carnahan. After succeeding in smuggling most of the rubber to America, a patriotic Royer goes on a suicide mission to show he’s a true believer in the cause and is prepared to avenge his brother’s death on Wake Island by getting all the rubber on Malaya smuggled out. When Royer gets ambushed in a double-cross, Carnahan catches the patriotic fever and takes over Royer’s suicide mission and must match wits with the cunning Col. Tomura.

It might very well be based on a true incident, but as presented it strains credibility and made for a sullen watch.