Macao (1952)

Macao (1952)

“Everybody’s lonely and worried and sorry — and everybody’s looking for something.”

A falsely accused veteran (Robert Mitchum) meets a beautiful lounge singer (Jane Russell) and a pushy salesman (William Bendix) while travelling to Macao, where he encounters a shady gambling hall owner (Brad Dexter) and his moll (Gloria Grahame), and is soon caught up in an international smuggling intrigue.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Gloria Grahame Films
  • Jane Russell Films
  • Josef von Sternberg Films
  • Robert Mitchum Films
  • Thieves and Criminals
  • Undercover Cops
  • William Bendix Films

Josef von Sternberg’s final American film before heading to Japan to make his last movie, Anatahan (1953), was this Howard Hughes-produced romantic adventure with no less than seven screenwriters (plus Mitchum himself) and three additional directors (including Nicholas Ray, who was married to but divorcing from Grahame at the time). With these credentials, one would expect it to be a complete mess, but it’s actually surprisingly diverting as long as one simply gives in to the atmospheric sets, the (sometimes confusing) intrigue, and the beautiful super-stars. Mitchum and Russell are an authentically steamy couple:

… and Grahame is a realistic romantic foe, though it’s too bad the scope of her supporting role here was such a notch down after co-starring in In a Lonely Place (1950):

I certainly don’t agree with DVD Savant’s assessment that the film “klunks along… but doesn’t really deliver,” or that “the heavy hand of Howard Hughes manages a completely anonymous look” with “the presence of von Sternberg… nigh undetectable.” Interestingly, most stories about the film’s troubled production center directly on von Sternberg, who was a consternation for all involved — especially Mitchum, who refused to put up with von Sternberg’s demands and rightfully reminded him at one point that if anyone would be fired, it wouldn’t be the star.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gloria Grahame as Margie
  • Jane Russell singing “One For the Road”
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s a fun yarn and I’m glad I saw it once.


One thought on “Macao (1952)

  1. Not must-see. As per my 8/14/18 post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Y’know, you remind me of an old Egyptian girlfriend of mine – the Sphinx.”

    ‘Macao’ (1952): Hadn’t seen this before – but it’s in keeping with its reputation as a minor Josef von Sternberg flick. He hated the script but he made it to fulfill a contract with Howard Hughes. (Nicholas Ray was called in at the end for a few re-takes.) Hughes apparently saw an opportunity to cash in on the winning combo of Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, who had just co-starred in the successful, Hughes-produced ‘His Kind of Woman’ (a much, much better movie). This exotic-setting tale of cops, jewels and mistaken identity is ultimately lackluster, though it does get a little better as it reaches its conclusion. Jane gets to sing a few nice tunes (‘You Kill Me’ and ‘One For My Baby’). Mitchum is standard Mitchum. Gloria Grahame co-stars but gets little chance to do what she does best. Monotone Brad Dexter is appropriately slimy. The director gets some points for maintaining the evocative atmosphere. There was potential here – and it’s not downright boring – but it’s mostly meh.

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