Macao (1952): “You’re up early for a loser”

Macao (1952)

It was made under the supervision of six different men in charge… and instead of fingers in that pie, half a dozen clowns immersed various parts of their anatomy into it. ”
– Director Josef Von Sternberg in his autobiography Fun in a Chinese Laundry

What a pastiche! A boring stupid movie that has the fingerprints of RKO studio boss Howard Hughes all over it. Hughes didn’t like Von Sternberg’s first cut and had Nicholas Ray direct retakes and additional scenes.  Obviously neither man had any real interest in the project.  How anyone can include it in the noir canon has me beat.

The whole debacle is an excuse to get Mitchum and Russell on screen together, for some rather lame he loves me she loves me not antics in a preposterous mistaken identity cum gambling racket story set in of all places, Macao.  The two plodding chase scenes are about as thrilling as it gets.  Who’s to blame? Von Sternberg or Ray?  Let’s say both.

Though I think a tawdry tantrum scene with Russell exposing a full leg is most certainly a Von Sternberg touch.

Macao (1952)

Gloria Grahame does add a touch of class in a small role as a gangster’s mole, but even she begged her then divorcing husband Ray, to cut her out of the picture completely.

Try it only after too much cheap rye…

4 Comments

  1. Hi! Tony,
    A “pretty honest” review (Why did I just use the word “pretty?”) about a film that author Spencer Selby, added to his list of 500+ of “usual suspect(s)” in his book “DarkCity:The Film Noir” methink, that I’am going to have to “rethink” whether this film should be added to my list of films that belong in my list of “Film Noir: Hall of Fame” or “Film Noir: Hall of Shame.”
    (Film Noir: Hall of Shame Definition:It may be considered a film noir, but it’s almost a “shame” that it’s considered a film noir.)Your readership, can just imagine my definition for the “Film Noir:Hall of Fame.”)
    Tks,
    DCD ;)

  2. Leslie Halliwell dismisses this one with “A few flashy decorative touches show the director’s hand, otherwise this is routine, murky thick ear.”

    I once owned the RKO laserdisc of this, but acquired it without having seen it. Your summary judgement, Tony, like Halliwell’s is dead-on; this is tedious and forgettable, and yes, it does not belong in the noir pantheon. I had long forgotten this film.

    Indeed Dark City Dame, what you say there is quite right, methinks.

  3. I’ll be the first to admit this is a fundamentally lousy movie, but, somehow, I find it strangely, bizarrely watchable. Perhaps like you, I try to guess which scenes were von Sternberg’s or Ray’s–and I agree with you that the Russell leg scene seems very von Sternberg. It’s definitely nothing to write home about–instantly forgettable. Maybe that is why I am forgetting how bad it is, haha.

  4. Thanks Dcd, Sam, and Alexander.

    Dcd, the standard reference ‘Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference’ (Silver & Ward) describes Macao as a ” brutal and competent noir thriller”. So Selby is not alone.

    Even Borde and Chaumeton in their seminal A Panorama of Film Noir (1955), who were seemingly unaware of the involvement of Nicholas Ray, devote over a page in the book analysing the contribution of “the old meastro”, Von Sternberg.

    Bret Wood at TCM calls it “a deliciously tawdry melodrama”.

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