Cast & Crew
Josef Von Sternberg
After a New York undercover detective is killed while conducting an investigation in the Portuguese protectorate of Macao, the police commission in Hong Kong notifies the New York police about the murder. Later, on a Macao-bound boat, American passenger Nick Cochran rescues pretty Julie Benton from a masher, but instead of expressing gratitude, she brushes him off and picks his pocket. Upon docking in Macao, Julie informs customs officials that she is an out-of-work singer, while fellow American Lawrence C. Trumble describes himself as a casino-loving salesman. Nick then admits to Lt. Sebastian of the Macao police that his passport and money were stolen and that his only identification is his Signal Corps discharge papers. Sebastian tells Nick not to worry, but later shows Vincent Halloran, the American owner of the Quick Reward casino, a photograph of Nick taken at customs. The crooked Sebastian and Halloran, a racketeer who is living in Macao to escape prosecution in the U.S., conclude that Nick is another New York undercover detective and determine to stop him. Halloran also sees a photo of Julie and is deeply smitten. Nick, meanwhile, deduces that Julie is the pickpocket and goes to her hotel room to confront her. Julie denies Nick's charge, but when Sebastian arrives, looking to deport Nick for vagrancy, she slips him some of his cash. Sebastian then suggests to Julie that she seek work at the Quick Reward. After Julie secures a singing job with Halloran, the unsuspecting Nick also asks the racketeer for work. Nick admits that he has been drifting since getting into a scrape in New York five years earlier, and Halloran refuses to hire him. Eager to be rid of Nick, whose attraction for Julie he senses, Halloran tries to help him win at craps, but cannot bribe him to leave Macao. Instead, Nick invites Julie for a romantic sampan ride and tells her that recently he was offered a job running a plantation but, fearing loneliness, turned it down. When Julie, who has been hardened by a series of bad love affairs, expresses interest in the plantation, Nick declares that he will accept the position but that she cannot join him until he has gotten settled. Julie interprets Nick's suggested delay as a brush-off and demands to be taken back to the hotel. The next day, Trumble shows Nick a large diamond taken from a necklace and asks him to sell Halloran the necklace, which is in a hotel safe in Hong Kong. After Trumble promises him $10,000 if he succeeds, Nick approaches Halloran, who agrees to cross the three-mile limit that legally protects him and go to Hong Kong with Nick. Nick then persuades Julie of the sincerity of his emotions and reveals to Trumble, the actual undercover detective, whose real name is Lt. Brian, that he fled New York after he shot a man in a jealous rage. That night, at the docks, Nick is kidnapped by Halloran and learns that the necklace was stolen by Halloran before Trumble stole it from Halloran's fence. After discovering Nick's disappearance, Trumble sends a Morse code message to the Hong Kong police, who unwittingly wire Sebastian the next day. Upset about the communication and the necklace, Halloran decides to risk sailing to Hong Kong to meet with his fence. Julie, meanwhile, is led by a sympathetic old blind man to the house where Nick is being held. As soon as Julie sees Nick in the company of Halloran's girl friend Margie, she storms off, unaware that Halloran's thugs are threatening Nick with their guns. Margie, in turn, is jealous of Halloran's interest in Julie and allows Nick to escape, but he is pursued across the docks by Halloran's henchmen. Trumble catches up with Nick and gives him a gun just as one of the thugs throws a knife into his back. With his last breath, Trumble tells Nick about a police boat that is waiting for him and advises him to "fix things" with the New York police. Nick then finds Julie and, after convincing her of his fidelity, suggests that she accept Halloran's invitation to go to Hong Kong in order to distract him. With Margie's and Julie's help, Nick sneaks aboard Halloran's yacht and steers it toward the police boat, which is just outside the three-mile limit. As the boat crosses the limit, Nick fights with Halloran and knocks him overboard. After delivering the unconscious Halloran to the police, Nick swims back to Julie and proposes.
Josef Von Sternberg
Philip Van Zandt
James B. Leong
Lee Tung Foo
Maria Sen Young
W. T. Chang
Samuel E. Beetley
Albert S. D'agostino
James B. Leong
Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Harry J. Wild
Mitchum stars as Nick Cochran, a WWII vet traveling to the Far East to escape prosecution for a crime he didn't commit, while Russell is Julie Benson, a cynical lounge singer. She lifts his wallet on a steamer to Macao, and a romantic bond inevitably forms. Also on the voyage is a wisecracking salesman (William Bendix), who is traveling with a secret agenda of his own. They are all drawn into the gambling den of Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter) who is the kingpin of a diamond theft/smuggling operation. When Halloran begins making passes at Julie, his newest lounge singer, it causes friction with his current flame, Margie (Gloria Grahame), who levels her gaze at Nick. A series of romantic and criminal cat-and-mouse games ensue, reaching a climax in the lawless international waters off the coast of Hong Kong.
Macao was shot almost exclusively on the RKO backlots, with a hefty supply of stock footage and rear projection to give the film the proper tone of exotica. Cameraman Dick Davol was sent to the actual locations to secure such footage, and found himself caught up in as much intrigue as the film's fictional characters. Davol was confronted with a host of petty and major officials who expected monetary compensation for permission to film. His distressed cable to the studio (warning them of the surge in expense) listed bribes paid to customs officials, immigration officials, police of various nations and even the pilots of the picturesque sampans and junks in the crowded waterways.
The degree to which Howard Hughes oversaw the costuming of his female stars is legend, and Macao was the occasion for one of his most notorious memos, in which he discussed every aspect of Russell's cleavage in excruciating detail. "It would be extremely valuable if the dress incorporated some kind of a point at the nipple because I know this does not ever occur naturally in the case of Jane Russell. Her breasts always appear to be round, or flat, at that point so something artificial here would be extremely desirable if it could be incorporated without destroying the contour of the rest of her breasts." In several scenes, Russell wears dresses that are low-cut, with a square-neck and halter straps, a look that Hughes found particularly suitable to her figure.
In choosing a director, RKO Studio Head Howard Hughes wanted someone with a gift for romance, glamour and foreign intrigue. He chose Josef von Sternberg, who had recently signed on at the studio following a decade-long exile from the film industry. Writer Herman G. Weinberg asked Sternberg in 1948 why he had stopped making films; the director replied, "My films were protests against other films of the time...Frequently they were attempts to investigate techniques which might broaden their appeal." A gifted stylist, but perhaps not the cinematic innovator he imagined himself to be, Sternberg demanded loyalty among his cast and crew, and ran his productions with the authority of a von Stroheim.
Sternberg may have been a great artist, but a Mitchum/Russell potboiler was really no place for an artistic temperament. Mitchum quickly shot holes in Sternberg's demanding, Teutonic demeanor. "Where did you get that [German] accent, Joe?" Mitchum needled the director, "You're from Weehawken, New Jersey." The man who discovered Marlene Dietrich and directed the legendary German film The Blue Angel (1930), was in fact Viennese by birth but had spent much of his life in New York, before getting his start in the silent film community of Fort Lee, New Jersey. Surely no amount of correction would have caused Mitchum to relent, for teasing, pranks and lazy stubbornness were the actor's tools for dealing with highly attitudinal directors.
According to Lee Server's 2001 bio, Robert Mitchum: Baby I Don't Care, the director placed his script upon a lectern and forbade anyone to touch it. To spite Sternberg, "Mitchum began having his lunch there, leaving half-eaten pickles and greasy wax paper all over the director's pages."
Russell remembered, Sternberg "wouldn't talk to any of the crew...according to Sternberg, we were not supposed to eat or drink on the set." Mitchum responded by doling out coffee, soft drinks and sack lunches to anyone bold enough to take them.
. Mitchum was comfortable in his knowledge that he was the more important commodity in the project. "If anyone gets fired," he reportedly told Sternberg, "it'll be you."
Macao was one of those products of the studio factory in which no single person was a guiding creative force. Hughes knew what he wanted but expected the work to be performed by his team of engineers. The script was written by no less than seven screenwriters -- eight if one counts Mitchum, who did some impromptu rewrites in the final days of the shoot, when the rest of the studio personnel had run out of ideas.
In his autobiography, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, Sternberg recalls "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. Their names do not appear in the list of credits." One person he is alluding to (and was most scornful of) is director Nicholas Ray. After mixed responses at test screenings, Hughes hired Ray (In a Lonely Place ) to direct retakes and additional scenes. Ray was married to co-star Grahame, who was so dissatisfied with her role in Macao that she sent a telegram to Hughes, "You were misinformed that I liked a part designated for me in a picture called Macao...As described by one of your representatives, the part itself varied in interpretation from Eurasian to White Russian to 'Marge' in a mere fifteen minutes of laborious discussion. In the meantime, all I asked for was a release [from my contract] or a good part." She received neither. Ray was supervising the editing of the new footage while his divorce from Grahame was being processed. She told him, "If you can cut me out of the picture entirely, you won't have to pay me alimony."
Macao would prove to be the straw that broke Sternberg's back. After leaving the project, he retired from Hollywood (for the second time) and independently made a film in Japan (Anatahan ). He never made another film in the U.S.
In spite of the conflicts and challenges of its production, Macao is a stylish and deliciously tawdry melodrama that is certainly more enjoyable to watch than it was (by all accounts) to film.
Director: Josef von Sternberg
Producer: Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay: Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stanley Rubin, based on a story by Bob Williams
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Production Design: Albert S. D'Agostino and Ralph Berger
Music: Anthony Collins
Cast: Robert Mitchum (Nick Cochran), Jane Russell (Julie Benson), William Bendix (Lawrence Trumble), Gloria Grahame (Margie), Thomas Gomez (Lt. Sebastian), Brad Dexter (Vincent Halloran).
BW-81m. Closed captioning.
by Bret Wood
Macao - Robert Mitchum & Jane Russell in Josef von Sternberg's MACAO on DVD
Macao, now available on DVD, stars Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, who had just appeared together in another Hughes production, His Kind of Woman (1951). Macao is not as good a movie, but it's still somewhat mysterious and provides another enjoyable pairing of the two stars, who do make a great team. As commentator Eddie Muller says on his audio track, Russell is "the female equivalent of Mitchum" with her wisecracks and "tough-dame" demeanor.
Things start off on a tasty note with Mitchum happening by the ship cabin where Russell is being manhandled by a lecherous oaf. Mitchum rescues her and knocks the guy out, only to be pickpocketed by Russell. From then on, they and another passenger, William Bendix, become caught up in a plot involving stolen diamonds and mistaken identities in the East Asian port of Macao, whose underworld is run by gambling house owner Brad Dexter. Gloria Grahame is on hand as Dexter's girlfriend, and she is positively stunning; unfortunately she isn't given much to do.
Josef von Sternberg was working infrequently at this point in his career but still imposed his usual dictatorial rules on his cast and crew, such as positively no eating or drinking on set. Mitchum finally brought in a picnic basket one day and handed out food to everyone. "Do you want to get fired?" Sternberg threatened. "No," said Mitchum, "you'll get fired."
Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward, in their book Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference, say that Nicholas Ray was hired to re-shoot almost the entire movie, while Andrew Sarris, in his book The Films of Josef von Sternberg, writes that Ray merely took over "in the last stages of production," shooting scenes like the climactic fistfight between Mitchum and Dexter. ("This sort of thing was never Sternberg's cup of tea," Sarris notes.) For his part, Sternberg later wrote that the picture "was made under the supervision of six different men in charge... Instead of fingers in that pie, half a dozen clowns immersed various parts of their anatomy in it. Their names do not appear in the list of credits."
In any event, Sternberg was indeed replaced at some point by Ray, and all that remains of Sternberg's presence are glimmers of his old trademark visual style. One can see it in the scenes at the docks, with shots made through netting or veils; in a few shots on the street crammed with extras in a Far East setting; and in shots of a gambling house with baskets dropped down from above to pick up money, a la The Shanghai Gesture (1929). But these are mere sporadic moments, and Macao really is not a major Sternberg film in any way, shape or form.
On the DVD's very worthwhile commentary track, film noir authority Eddie Muller discusses the movie with its writer, Stanley Rubin; occasional and welcome comments by Jane Russell are edited in. The commentary is not scene-specific, with the men instead going over the movie in general and touching on a host of tangential subjects such as Howard Hughes, stories about the stars (that lucky devil Rubin briefly dated Gloria Grahame), and Rubin's career.
Rubin was attached to produce Macao as his first such effort, but when Mitchum and Russell came on board, the studio decided it was too big a picture for an inexperienced producer. Ultimately Rubin agreed to produce The Narrow Margin (1952), a B film, instead -- a good transaction, for The Narrow Margin is one of the finest noirs ever made, a movie that moves like lightning from beginning to end. It also singlehandedly got Rubin a new contract at Fox when Darryl Zanuck saw it and was impressed. That was fortuitous for at around this same time, Rubin had a creative falling-out with Howard Hughes over another picture, The Whip Hand. (Rubin ended up taking his name off that film altogether.) Rubin is eminently clear and lucid while relating all these tales, and Muller also knows his stuff. Strangely, however, there is no discussion of Sternberg being replaced by Nicholas Ray until Jane Russell refers to it in her closing comment.
Also included on the DVD are a trailer and an episode of TCM's "Private Screenings," with Mitchum and Russell interviewed by Robert Osbourne. Mitchum recalls how he rewrote a few scenes for Macao after Nick Ray took over the directing reigns. Mitchum and Russell remained great friends right up to Mitchum's death.
Macao is available individually or as part of Warner Home Video's Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection, which also includes Home From the Hill (1960), The Sundowners (1960), The Good Guys and the Bad Guys (1969), The Yakuza (1975), and the masterful film noir Angel Face (1952), a true must-see directed by Otto Preminger. A number of commentaries and featurettes abound. Technical quality and artwork are tops.
For more information about Macao, visit Warner Video. To order Macao, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Macao - Robert Mitchum & Jane Russell in Josef von Sternberg's MACAO on DVD
You don't want that junk. Diamonds would only cheapen you.- Halloran
Yeah. But what a way to be cheapened.- Margie
You know, you remind me of an old Egyptian girlfriend of mine. The Sphinx.- Nick Cochran
Are you partial to females made of stone?- Margie
Producer Hughes fired director Josef von Sternberg about a third of the way through and shot the rest with Nicholas Ray.
Following the onscreen credits, voice-over narration, describing Macao as the "Monte Carlo of the Orient," is heard over footage of the island. According to RKO production files contained at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, background shots were filmed in Macao and Hong Kong. In May 1948, Hollywood Reporter announced that Universal-International had purchased the screen rights to a story entitled "Macao," which was described as a "post-war story, localed off the China coast." It has not been determined if the Universal story is related to the RKO picture. RKO purchased Bob Williams' story in August 1949, according to a Hollywood Reporter item. Although the same item noted that Williams' story was "headed for early publication," no information about the story's publication has been found.
Production files and Hollywood Reporter news items add the following information about the picture: Sid Rogell was the film's original executive producer. Lisa Faraday and Joyce McKenzie tested for the role played by Gloria Grahame, which according to modern sources was originally conceived as a Eurasian. William Tallman tested for the role of "Halloran," according to production files. George Macready tested for a role, but was not in the final film. In early August 1950, actor Keye Luke was hired to create four murals for the film's casino scenes, and Ed Vorkapich, the son of montage editor Slavko Vorkapich, did sketches for director Josef von Sternberg. Location shooting took place in San Pedro and the Malibu pier.
Macao was von Sternberg's first credited feature release since the 1942 United Artists picture The Shanghai Gesture (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). In 1950, Von Sternberg directed RKO's Jet Pilot but it was not released until 1957. According to modern sources, following two screenings of a rough cut of the film and a preview screening in Pasadena, Bischoff ordered extensive rewrites and retakes. Von Sternberg, who had a two-picture contract with RKO, declined to direct the retakes. Robert Stevenson directed retakes in February 1951 and Nicholas Ray directed retakes in July 1951, according to production files. The following writers were listed in production files as contributors to the revised script: Edward Chadosov, Norman Katkov, Walter Newman, George Bricker and Frank Moss. The extent of their contribution to the final film has not been determined, however. Producer Jerry Wald supervised retakes shot by Ray, according to production files. In July 1951, actor-director Mel Ferrer directed one day of retakes. Ray and Grahame, who married in 1948, separated during the retake shooting and later divorced.