The story of Howard Hughes and his meddling with films at RKO Pictures is legendary. Many very good films were made though in the time that Hughes was in charge and some stars were born. Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum were two key RKO players and they teamed up in Macao.
Like many of the films made at RKO during that time Macao had an interesting backstory. One that included Robert Mitchum and director Josef von Sternberg butting heads to the point where von Sternberg was removed from the picture, and Nicolas Ray was brought in to finish and re-shoot scenes for the picture. Josef still gets the dirceting credit, and Nicolas Ray's name is nowhere to be seen on the opening credits. Many who are more familiar with the work of both directors will go back to this film and analyze which director shot which scene. Until I see more of both of their works, my efforts at this would be futile.
Macao is an entertaining, if very frustrating film. Much like anither RKO Mitchum/Russell pic, His Kind of Woman it's a noirish film shot almost entirely in a sunny locale. Jane Russell's Julie get's a job singing at a nightclub owned by Vince Halloran (played by Brad Dexter). Halloran is a bigshot criminal in Macao and makes money at his casino and by selling stolen jewels in Hong Kong. Halloran thinks that Nick Cochran (Mitchum) is a undercover cop out to expose him. Halloran and Cochran both have eyes for Julie. Halloran has the money and power, Mitchum is just a loner on the run from a crime he committed in America.
At only 82 minutes the film moves very briskly. Mitchum and Russell have some very snappy dialogue as can be expected. Russell, as in His Kind of Woman is a perfect lady to put aside Mitchum here. In both body proportions and wit she stands up as Mitchum's equal and their chemistry is undeniable. But, my goodness, has Gloria Grahame ever been more unerutilized. Grahame plays Margie, Halloran's mistress and aside from one crack at Mitchum and a scene in the casino has nothing to work with. It's a shame as she is definitely an actress that deserves better. There are solid performances all around in this film, and I have yet to see a performance from Mitchum in this era that did not entertain me, but overall the film never quite reaches the level that other RKO pics from that era did. Though it is watchable and entertaining, it never seems to be a classic.
On the DVD though there is a great commentary track from film noir expert Eddie Muller, and screenwriter Stanley Rubin. For me this was more entertaining even than the movie. Muller's admiration for Runin is evident throughout the commentary, and vice versa. They may even spend more time talking about RKO and other films and actors of the era as they do talking about Macao. It's a highly informative and entertaining gossip session of a past era. I laughed out loud numerous times throughout.
More on Macao can be found here at the always terrific Noir of the Week.