As fairly simple as it is, "Macao" does have one neat trick of misdirection to play which probably worked better when the movie was released. After that, all it can do is rely on a little suspense and its stars' chemistry which is a mixed bag to say the least. While Robert Mitchum is supremely relaxed, Jane Russell has much more sex appeal than actual talent.(Admittedly, she can carry a tune or two.) That leaves it to Gloria Grahame to steal the movie whenever she is kind enough to put in an appearance.
This is the second film which Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell made together; the previous year they had starred in "His Kind of Woman". The two films have much in common beyond the two leading actors. Both have an exotic setting and both feature gambling and a ruthless gangster. The two leads play similar types in both films, Mitchum a seedy, down-on-his-luck character, likable despite his shady past and occasionally cynical exterior, and Russell a sultry glamour girl. There is, however, an important difference between the two films. "His Kind of Woman" can be seen as a comic send-up of the crime thriller genre, starting off in the dark, menacing film noir style and then metamorphosing into a comedy action-thriller. "Macao" is the genuine article rather than a parody, being for the most part played seriously rather than for laughs, although it the atmosphere is perhaps lighter than in some other films noirs. The difference lies less in the look of the film- "Macao" has some striking black-and-white photography- than in the moral atmosphere. Films such as the Humphrey Bogart classics "The Maltese Falcon" and "The Big Sleep" were notable not only for their dark, gloomy look but also for their tone of moral darkness. The private eye characters played by Bogart struggle to maintain their private integrity in a world of corruption and deceit. In "Macao" there is something closer to a traditional morality, with good triumphing over the evil of the ruthless villains. The result is perhaps something of a hybrid between authentic noir and a more traditional adventure thriller, still highly watchable even today. 5 Stars Should have gotten 10 its that good. 2-5-13
Jane Russell died. Doubtless the majority reaction to this fact is divided between "Jane Russell was still alive?" and "Who?" Which I can understand; she hadn't acted in a movie since 1970 or on TV since 1986. At that, she didn't act in a lot of memorable stuff anyway. I've never even heard of several of her movies, and I haven't seen her most infamous. What's more, when I watched this last week, I didn't review it, because I couldn't quite come up with anything to say. It's several stars in a sweaty movie set in a sweaty place. (Per Wikipedia, the average humidity ranges from about 75% to as high as 90%.) It has the feel but not the quality of certain classics, and it's got sexually charged banter between Russell and Robert Mitchum. I wasn't sure I could build a review out of that. But I'm going to try today, because Jane Russell deserved a better shake than she got from the industry.
She is Julie Benson; Mitchum is Nick Cochran. They, like so many others, seem to have ended up where they are because they have nowhere else to go. She's a decent-but-not-great cabaret performer. He was in the army, in the War, and he's been drifting ever since. She only gets by through running cons, it seems, which includes talking someone into paying for her ticket with the promise that they'd "have a few laughs," then getting mad at him for inferring exactly what she was implying in the first place. She also steals Nick's wallet, including his passport, which means he attracts the attention of the police in the person of Lieutenant Sebastian (Thomas Gomez). Both Julie and Nick end up coming to the attention of Seedy Underworld Figure Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter), another American whose greatest concern is the three-mile limit--international waters. Halloran knows that the Americans would love to get him out there so they can arrest him. And so all sorts of Shady Dealings go on.
Part of my problem was that I didn't a hundred percent understand what was going on at any given moment. I mean, it was obvious that Nick was going for Julie. It was obvious that Julie was most concerned for herself. There were some stolen diamonds, and I think Lawrence C. Trumble (William Bendix), ostensibly a traveling salesman and smalltime smuggler, was also an undercover cop. However, I'm not sure I ever worked out why exactly the Americans were after Halloran. There was an implication that neither Nick nor Julie could return to the States, but I'm not sure why or even if that was true. Both Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum were playing the sort of characters Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum tended to play--she's streetwise and out for herself. He's world-weary and looking for a decent shot. With, of course, the prospect that there's something shady going on. As I've said before, though he played about as many good guys and bad, he's in my head as playing a lot more bad guys.
There is a certain appeal to the exotic location. This story could have taken place in a number of different places around the world, even with the three-mile limit taken into consideration. However, there's something about Macao. Indeed, most movies with places in the title are set in places which seem more exciting; that's only logic. Algiers, for example, is more appealing as the setting of a movie than Peoria. Casablanca has a very different feel to it than Albuquerque. (We may safely take [i]Fargo[/i] as the exception, especially given the prosaic nature of the city is half the point.) I don't think most people have the faintest idea where Macao even is. (For the record, it is an independent economic zone in China which was until a little over ten years ago a Portuguese colony. It's subtropical and averages about seventy-two degrees year 'round.) What we know is that it's different. Maybe dangerous. [i]Exotic.[/i] The place where a woman like Jane Russell may well be the only kind of American woman you'd meet. The place where you need to be a tough guy like Robert Mitchum.
If you're planning to watch a movie in tribute of Jane Russell, you would do a lot better to check out [i]Gentlemen Prefer Blondes[/i]. Netflix has it on Instant Play--along with the sequel, [i]Gentlemen Marry Brunettes[/i], which I've never seen. However, it does make me kind of sad. It's a long-standing joke that there were two reasons to see [i]The Outlaw[/i], but I really do think there was more to Jane Russell than that. Her voice wasn't great, but it was at least as good as Marilyn Monroe's. She managed to combine the sultry performance which started her on the road to fame with a dry wit, which was what made her such a great foil in [i]Blondes[/i] in the first place. Oh, I don't think she was a great actress, though my old California history teacher, Mrs. Nicholson, says she was a fairly nice person. But I don't think Howard Hughes did her such a service as all that by promoting her assets.
OK, it's loaded dice, not a rigged roulette wheel - it's a ticket for Mitchum, not his dame - it's a ship, not a plane - and it's Hong Kong's mid-Century gambling pit, not Morocco's. Big diff.
And there's a local lawman winking at the law, a casino-owner with a shady past - and plenty of other cinematic intellectual borrowing as well.
The plot/dialogue is a little too fluffy for true-noir (though there's some sharp/smart enough talk sprinkled about), still it's an entertaining 85 minutes - and a bit of a surprise that classic-noir fans have left this film this fairly unnoticed.
Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell ain't no Bogey and Bacall, but framed by this seedy Occidental den-of-sin filled with players playing both sides of the law, the duo is entertaining enough to watch. Mitchum always made for a good noir-gumshoe and there's just (barely) enough snooping here for him to hang his Fedora on.
Here, Russell was still well under Howard Hughes' thumb/eye, so the camera's obsessively driven to showcase her figure/endowment from every angle. As the smoky saloon songster, she belts out a couple o' forgettable numbers. Delivery-wise, Russell's interesting; at the mere turn of a word, she flips back-and-forth from hard-bit and hard-hearted to the little girl still dreaming of her Prince Charming, thereby proving a degree of acting ability. The rest of the cast plays fairly flat.
Save some establishing shots, this is all set-piece work, and it shows.
RECOMMENDATION: Not top-tier classic-noir, but still, really, fans of such should spin it up.