Macao (1952): Von Sternberg’s Romantic Adventure, Starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell (Film Noir)

Robert Mitchum, the king of cool, and Jane Russell, the queen of sex, team in the foreign adventure Macao, largely directed by the legendary Josef Von Sternberg, and finished by Nicholas Ray.

This was the second appearance together of Mitchum and Russell, who had previously made His Kind of Woman.

Mitchum displays his good ol’ masculinity with his broad shoulders, hooded eyes and laconic wit. For her part, Jane Russells is well cast as the incendiary female–voluptuous curves, lushly lipsticked mouth and sardonic lines.

Together they’re two dead-on talented and drop-dead gorgeous stars who brought out the best in each other in several films.

Macao was the second feature that Josef von Sternberg filmed to fulfill a two-picture contract with RKO Pictures then owned by Howard Hughes. (Sternberg’s first feature for Hughes was the color epic Jet Pilot).

Sternberg’s habit of handling actors “as mere details of décor” elicited strenuous objections from stars Jane Russell and Gloria Grahame such that “the shooting of Macao has become a minor legend.” Fights on the set” were not uncommon, and were manifested in the “strained” performances of the cast.

During the final stages of filming, director Nicholas Ray was enlisted for retakes on a critical fistfight scene between Mitchum and Brad Dexter, because Sternberg’s handling was deemed unsatisfactory by producer Alex Gottlieb.

Although uncredited, Ray’s contribution to the picture was recognized by Sternberg, who “despised the script and the close control” by the studio “disowned” responsibility for the production.

Only stock footage was shot on location in Hong Kong and Macau.

Actor and host Truman Bradley narrated the film’s opening.

Three strangers arrive at the port of Macao on the same ship: Nick Cochran (Robert Mitchum), a cynical-but-honest ex-serviceman, Julie Benson (Jane Russell), an equally cynical, sultry night club singer, and Lawrence Trumble (William Bendix), a traveling salesman who deals in silk stockings and contraband.

Corrupt police lieutenant Sebastian (Thomas Gomez) notifies casino owner and underworld boss Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter) about the new arrivals. Halloran has been tipped off about an undercover New York City policeman out to lure him into international waters so he can be arrested.

With only three strangers to choose from, Halloran assumes Nick is the cop. He tries to bribe a puzzled Nick to leave Macao, but Nick is interested in getting to know Julie better and turns him down. Halloran hires Julie as a singer, in part to find out what she knows about Nick.

Trumble then offers Nick a commission to help him sell a stolen diamond necklace. However, when Nick shows Halloran a diamond from the necklace, Halloran recognizes it; he had sent the jewelry to Hong Kong only a week earlier to be sold. Now sure of Nick’s identity, he has the American taken prisoner for later questioning.

Nick is guarded by two thugs and Halloran’s jealous girlfriend, Margie (Gloria Grahame). Worried that Halloran is planning to dump her for Julie, Margie lets Nick escape, with the two guards close behind. When Trumble happens on the late-night chase, he tries to help Nick and is killed, mistaken by the thugs for Nick. Before he dies, he tells Nick about the police boat waiting offshore.

When Nick tries to get Julie to go away with him, he learns that Halloran has invited her on a trip to Hong Kong. With this information, Nick is able to dispose of Halloran’s murderous henchman, Itzumi (Philip Ahn), and take the helm of Halloran’s boat.

In the end, he steers for the waiting police and hands Halloran over to them.

Credits:

Directed by Josef von Sternberg; Nicholas Ray
Produced by Howard Hughes, Samuel Bischoff, Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay by Stanley Rubin and Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Story by Robert Creighton Williams
Music by Anthony Collins and Jule Styne
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Edited by Samuel E. Beetley and Robert Golden
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release date: April 30, 1952
Running time: 81 minutes

Note
TCM showed Macao as part of tribute to Jane Russell on April 13, 2020.