Cast & Crew
In 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, John Royer, an ex-newspaper correspondent, is summoned home by his publisher, John Manchester, after serving four years in the Far East. When Manchester asks Royer to help in a nation-wide drive to salvage rubber, the reporter scoffs and proposes a daring scheme to smuggle large quantities of rubber out of Japanese-occupied Malaya. After returning to his hotel room, Royer is contacted by a federal agent named Kellar, who reveals that he has thoroughly investigated Royer's past and has learned that Royer's story about smuggling resulted in the imprisonment of his friend Carnahan. Later, Kellar escorts Royer to a railroad car where Manchester is waiting with a panel of men, who intend to question him about his plans. Royer explains that he requires gold to buy the rubber, men needed to steal it and a camouflaged Navy ship to transport it from Malaya. Royer also insists that Carnahan be freed from Alcatraz to work on the mission. Carnahan is still angry at Royer for writing the expose that led to his imprisonment, but agrees to cooperate in return for his freedom. As Royer and Carnahan set sail for Malaya, Royer explains that he is risking his own life because his brother was killed by the Japanese. The cynical adventurer Carnahan responds that his only interest is in the gold. Upon reaching the Malay city of Penang, Carnahan and Royer pose as Irish seamen and visit the saloon owned by the Dutchman, an old friend of Carnahan's. There, Carnahan is warmly embraced by his former lover, the opportunistic singer Luana. The Dutchman also introduces them to Col. Genichi Tomura, the corrupt Japanese commandant with a penchant for gambling. After hearing their plans, the Dutchman agrees to recruit twelve men for the operation. While alone with Carnahan later that night, Luana recalls their past relationship and begs him to get her out of Malaya. The next morning, the Dutchman puts Carnahan and Royer in touch with three of the biggest planters in the district. Although all three agree to cooperate, Carnahan and Royer are wary of the third, Bruno Gruber, a German planter. That evening, while Carnahan distracts the Japanese by getting himself arrested, Royer, aided by Romano and the other guerillas, delivers the rubber from the first two plantations to a U.S. ship camouflaged as a small island. Afterward, the Dutchman convinces Tomura to release Carnahan into his custody. Afraid to trust the German, Carnahan refuses to participate in the last shipment but Royer, out of revenge for his brother's death, insists on completing the mission. Carnahan relents and joins Royer, then beats Gruber into revealing that the Japanese are waiting downstream to ambush them. Determined to secure the last of the rubber, Royer continues on alone and is brutally killed by Tomura's men. Hearing the sound of gunfire that signals the death of his friend, Carnahan shoots Gruber, prompting the Dutchman to observe that at least Royer died for his beliefs. The following day, Tomura visits the Dutchman and offers to allow the remaining rubber to be shipped out for a price. Although he suspects a trap, Carnahan resolves to complete Royer's mission. While Romano and his men deliver the rubber, Carnahan decoys Tomura with his boat. When Luana insists upon joining him, he pushes her overboard to safety. As Carnahan nears the U.S. ship, Tomura stops his boat, takes him captive, then signals the Japanese flotilla to attack the ship. Just then, two American PT boats suddenly appear and sink the flotilla with torpedoes. In the fracas, Carnahan is wounded but manages to kill Tomura. Some time after the end of the war, Kellar comes to Malaya to award a medal to Carnahan, who is now living on an island with Luana. Refusing the medal, the cynical Carnahan tells Kellar to pin it on the Dutchman instead.
Anna Q. Nilsson
Leon A. Stewart
A. Arnold Gillespie
Henry W. Grace
Edwin H. Knopf
Dr. Paul Singh
Edwin B. Willis
Malaya (1949), which, along with Tracy and Stewart, features a surprisingly strong supporting cast, qualifies as one of those movies. Though based on a true story, you may find yourself rolling your eyes over the script. But it's worth watching for the rare teaming of two great, casually commanding actors. As a reviewer for The New York Times put it back in 1950: "Succeeding developments put a heavy strain on continuing belief in this film as a reliable document, but that should not dim its luster as a slambang melodrama."
Stewart plays a former newspaper reporter who's recruited by the government to smuggle rubber out of Japanese-occupied Malaya. Tracy is a professional smuggler who's released from Alcatraz when he agrees to help Stewart with the dangerous mission. Before it's over, one of the stars will make the ultimate sacrifice for his country, one will profit from his experience, and the American military will be up to its neck in rubber.
The story's origins hardly scream "major motion picture". During the war, a patriotic newspaperman named Manchester Boddy wrote a letter to Franklin Roosevelt, suggesting a scheme in which rubber could be readily smuggled out of occupied territory. Roosevelt responded to Boddy, saying that the U.S. was already moving in that direction. Later, Boddy sold his story to RKO production chief, Dore Schary, who thought he could turn it into an adventure story. When Schary left RKO for MGM, he made sure to take Frank Fenton's script with him.
In retrospect, Schary's enduring faith in Fenton's work seems a tad misguided. But he still managed to lure a crew of terrific actors to the project, at a time when the industry , due to the newfangled pressures of television, was shying away from big budgets. Stewart signed up simply because he wanted another chance to work with Tracy, who was in Stewart's very first film, The Murder Man (1935). With heavyweights like Stewart and Tracy on board, other notables such as Sydney Greenstreet, Lionel Barrymore, and Gilbert Roland also signed onto the project.
But director Richard Thorpe was hardly the type to rescue a weak storyline, since he was well-known within the industry for printing the first take of virtually every scene he shot. Actors were openly leery of him. He did, however, bring all of his pictures in under budget, which endeared him to MGM management like Dore Schary.
Stewart, for his part, did his best to keep Tracy's legendary drinking binges at bay during filming. In order to keep Tracy on the set and away from the bottle, Stewart concocted a plan in which the two of them would take a trip around the world when the shoot was finished. Every day, he bombarded Tracy with brochures describing the exotic locales that they could visit. "He'd pore over the brochures and talk with great excitement about Greece and Rome and the Taj Mahal," Stewart said. "Anyway, the strategy seemed to work, and Spence showed up every day and did his usual fine job."
But, like so many other people, Stewart couldn't catch Tracy acting. When filming wrapped, Stewart asked his co-star if he had his passport ready. "What passport?" Tracy asked. "For our trip to Europe and Asia," Stewart replied. "Europe and Asia?" Tracy said. "Why, I wouldn't go across the street with you, you son-of-a-bitch."
Producer: Edwin H. Knopf
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: Frank Fenton (based on an original story by Manchester Boddy)
Cinematography: George Folsey
Editing: Ben Lewis
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons and Malcolm Brown
Music: Bronislau Kaper
Music Conductor: Andre Previn
Sound: Douglas Shearer
Cast: Spencer Tracy (Carnahan), James Stewart (John Royer), Valentina Cortese (Luana), Sydney Greenstreet (The Dutchman), John Hodiak (Kellar), Lionel Barrymore (John Manchester), Gilbert Roland (Romano).
BW-95m. Closed captioning.
by Paul Tatara
The working title of this film was Operation Malaya. It opens with the voice-over narration of "John Manchester" reading a letter written by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Manchester Boddy, the basis for the character of Manchester. According to a 1944 article in Los Angeles Daily News, of which Boddy was the publisher, in 1941, a disastrous fire and explosion at Fall River, MA destroyed the government's stockpile of rubber, thus necessitating rubber drives to collect scrap. Boddy was on the air every night for more than four months, appealing to the public to collect and turn in their scrap rubber. In a memo to President Roosevelt, Boddy outlined a plan to get rubber out of Malaya. Three weeks after he had written the memo, Boddy received a letter from the President thanking him for the idea and telling him that the operation was under way. According to a January 1949 Daily Variety news item, Boddy's story was bought by Dore Schary, then head of production of RKO, who took the property with him when he moved over to M-G-M and purchased it from RKO. Although onscreen credits and the Variety review list Tom Helmore in the role of "Mattison," the CBCS credits Lester Matthews in that role. Valentina Cortesa was borrowed from Twentieth Century-Fox, and Sydney Greenstreet was borrowed from Warner Bros. to appear in this film.