Macao is an entertaining exotic-noir. Nice pacing, simple, but interesting plot, cool atmosphere, and some convincing performances help it overcome some tone issues. Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell are great as the thrown-together couple Nick and Julie. Wiilliam Bendix makes a good partner for Nick as the mysterious salesman Trumble. Their gangster nemesis, Halloran, is underplayed by the unfortunately rather passive Brad Dexter. Gloria Grahame plays the foil to Russell as Halloran’s girl Margie. A whole lot of nuance comes from Grahame’s moon-faced stares and Russell’s snarly upper lip. Not to mention shards of crisp dialogue.
I’d rather have seen someone like Raymond Burr or Robert Ryan play the gangster; Dexter just doesn’t have the presence of the other principle characters. And Thomas Gomez’s Lt. Sebastian borders on the buffoonish. In fact, the first part of Macao threatens to slip us into a slightly classier Bob Hope/Bing Crosby Road Movie. There’s too much “Chop!Chop!” pidgin Chinese. Things get a lot better once the gambling gets going. Still, how do Julie, Nick, and Trumble afford the fairly swanky hotel when they’re all pretty much broke? And it doesn’t add up that Julie would be jealous of Margie, who’s obviously under Halloran’s thumb, and, at most, only a reluctant witness to his plot against Nick. Two plot aspects keep our interest: the Nick/Julie/Halloran triangle (sometimes including Margie’s corner too), and the jewel heist, which drags Trumble in, along with the authorities.
Nick is the wild card, as he’s assumed to have an agenda, but really doesn’t. Trumble’s sacrifice in the quest to capture Halloran is artfully done, as he’s mistaken for Nick. The chase scene leading up to that takes full advantage of the exotic flair of the waterfront. Not to mention the requisite noirish rooftops, alleyways, and streets. And, the climactic fight scene wraps up this whirlwind of action in the last sequences.
The opening narration isn’t objectionable; I’d rather have that sort of introduction than just a haphazardly transplanted L.A./N.Y.C. crime drama. As others have noted, however, there’s not enough Asian characters to completely sustain our suspension of disbelief. The blind guy actually has a meaningful role, even though his character is arguably stereotypical as a loyal, selfless, ‘wise peasant.’
Some of Macao’s goofy scenes work: the shoe fight near the beginning, as we’re introduced to Nick and Julie; and, near the end, a bizarre fight as Julie goes after Nick with an electric fan. This is a fairly slick movie that occasionally gets too clever, but it’s well worth a watch, especially for Mitchum and Russell’s performances. 8/10.