Joseph Von Sternberg’s Macao (1952) is a rather turgid melodrama that rather loosely – and vainly - attempts to recapture some of the magic Clark Gable and Jean Harlow shared in the similarly themed China Seas (1935). The film reunites Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell who had managed to make the most out of their screen teaming in His Kind of Woman (1951) one year earlier.
On this outing, Mitchum is Nick Cochran, a no account knock about guy whose journey across the Orient gets interesting after a chance meeting with Julie Benson (Russell). She hits him in the head with one of her high heel shoes, thwarts his romantic advances and steals his wallet – oh yeah, quality gal! But Julie’s not all bad.
In fact, as time and the plot wear on, Julie develops her own yen for Nick while igniting the not so honorable intensions of local nightclub owner and crook, Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter). Halloran’s a genuine low life who mistakes Nick for the new FBI man come to take him into custody. The last guy that tried to ended up face down in the river with a knife in his back. But the guy Vin’ ought to fear is Lawrence C. Trumble (William Bendix), the real agent pretending to be a traveling salesman.
The film features Russell cooing and cavorting as Vin’s sultry chanteuse. But the story never quite comes together. Russell and Mitchum are like a road show Bogie and Bacall, playing off of one another’s insolence but without the sort of B&B star power required to sustain their temperamental foreplay.
The plot seems to be struggling for something to say and the tension – that ought to have been generated by the story – is just not there. As an audience, we’re never convinced Nick is in real danger – even after he’s taken hostage then inexplicably released from captivity by Vin’s girlfriend, Margie (Gloria Grahame). Macao is therefore a film that relies too heavily and all too obviously on the chemistry between its costars to sustain us through to the final fade out. To be certain, the chemistry’s there. There just isn’t enough of it to make the rest of these leaden plot points worth our effort.
Warner Home Video’s DVD of Macao is rather middle of the road. Though the image can be sharp at times, for the most part it is softly focused. Contrast levels appear a bit too high with fine detail in medium and long shots of faces practically disappearing into a white haze – save eyes and lips. Film grain is kept to a minimum and age related artifacts, while present, do not terribly distract. The audio is mono but nicely represented. An audio commentary is the only extra.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)