Macao (1952)

“Macao” (1952)


Grey, not noir

This time my intuition failed. I usually predict somethings about the films i’m about to see based on pure preconceptions, somethings i got from previews viewings of films from the producers/actors/directors i’m about to watch, the title of the film (it usually suggests a lot to me just to know the title) or pure intuition. This was this last case.

What we have here is a noir made in the beginning of a decade of interesting aspects for American cinema: it was not experimental as the 30′ (which were exploring the possibilities of a renewed medium, which had gained the possibilities of synchronized sound/image) nor as established in a genre and a sense of style as the 40′. So, in a way, it was rather undefined. But films like this one tell me that it was no longer a period for noir as the 40′ (and to that matter, John Huston) defined it. The Maltese falcon changed (or maybe summarized) some conventions and introduced new possibilities in film narrative devices, and that legacy went on to be developed and still has new steps being taken today. But that style, the very appreciated hats, detectives, shadow/light which were the more visible face (and to many viewers incorrectly regarded as the essence of noir) don’t work here anymore. I’m still trying to find a film noir post Sunset Boulevard that really works. This is not it.

Start with Macao. It was in theory a good city to place a story of this kind. Even if the reality described in the introduction of the film is probably a tremendous exaggeration (and invention) over what really happened in Macao those days, that is an exaggeration one is willing to accept, for cinematic richness. A side complaint is the portrayal of the Portuguese policeman. The fat moustache corrupt guy is a preconception i suppose many Europeans had (some may still have it today) regarding the Portuguese. I don’t know the ideas American had on this, but this stylizations upsets today, but probably in 20 years from now there preconceptions we see on today’s films that will be noted. Anyway, i get in many many American films with more than 30 years a lot of situations like this (the Japanese from Breakfast at Tiffany’s comes to my mind right now). Anyway Macao starts as a promise in the voice off, but ends as a dull slightly oriental slightly generic studio set, with no great interest beyond what was described of it.

Behind this there was the controlling and charismatic (rich) H.Hughes. He was probably very controlling regarding his productions (he was himself someone who had got into the delicate work of directing). He places two of his fetishes here: Mitchum and Russell. So, we had Hughes, wanting to create a classic noir picture. In order to do that he calls a competent (more than competent) director, who precisely been able to bring out some very competent work in placing stories in strange exotic sceneries; Hughes, knowing that, searches a typical noir scenario, not fresh, not interesting (or at least not interestingly explored). The plot is not even near anything interesting from the previous decade. Is there any doubt somewhere in the plot? What don’t we know? Don’t we know who is controlling the story? Is there any ambiguity regarding any character? Grahame was the woman in the story who might have brought some ambiguity regarding the “god” in the story, the puppeteer controlling actions on the viewers back, but is totally misused. The scene with Mitchum and Russell in the boat too much near the beginning throws away any ambiguity or game there might occur between both. Mitchum is just about walking around in white suit, portraying his “americanhood”. Russell might have been seductive and mysterious to Hughes eyes, but here she was an ordinary woman, fully out passed by Grahame in the much less scenes where she performed. Russell had better moments in films.

So this is nostalgic, i had interesting in watching it, but it didn’t live up to my expectations.

My opinion: 2/5

This comment on IMDb


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