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After living abroad for several years, journalist John Royer returns to the United States just after the U.S. enters World War II. His boast that he could easily smuggle rubber, a key wartime natural resource, out of Malaya has him tasked with doing just that. He manages to get someone from his past, Carnaghan, sprung from Alactraz and together they head off to South East Asia posing as Irishmen. Once there, Carnaghan lines up some of his old cronies and with Royer and a few plantation owners plans to smuggle the rubber out from under the Japanese army's watchful eye.Written by
WW II adventure with, er, action heroes James Stewart and Spencer Tracy
(Version reviewed is the 90-minute German-language showing on ARD on July 5, 2001.)
There are two rather unbecoming aspects about this movie, one being its blunt nationalism, the other one its odd casting. Where you would have expected, say, William Holden as the daring journalist and, well, Humphrey Bogart as the cynical hotshot, you get Jimmy and Spence. It's not that they don't act well, but the rôles just don't seem to fit. What a difference with handsome Mexican Gilbert Roland who is chosen perfectly (as Romano).
Journalist Royer (Stewart) gets his rival/friend Carnaghan (Tracy) out of prison with help from official sides (fine thesping by John Hodiak) for the good of the nation, that is, to haul all possible rubber out of British, but Jap-occupied, Malaya for the United States. Of course, the European land-owners give all assistance possible to support the sacred case, including a voluntary beating that Ian MacDonald gets from Tracy. America's raw nationalism was curiously carried right into the German translation: dubious Bruno Gruber (played by "Charlie Chan" Roland Winters) is named Marty Robber (or so) in German dubbing version of 1955, because a badman just couldn't have a German name to German audiences... This should be worth a correction, although the forgery effect is not as high as in the original 1952 dubbing of "Casablanca", that was corrected in a new version as late as in 1968. (Stewart, by the way, is synchronized well by Eckart Dux this time, not by regular Siegmar Schneider.)
Although film's humour is well-measured, it cannot conceal, but rather contributes to, the dare-devil chauvinism, four years after the war ended. Tracy played something of a contrary rôle in "Bad Day at Black Rock", as regards the U.S. relationship to the Japanese.
There's a lot of epigonism of "Casablanca", though not as much as in its immediate successors, in "Malaya". We have Richard Loo's Col. Tomura marching into the bar like Maj. Strasser; Italy's Cortese in the European female part (the story might have done without her, were there not some nice dialogues with Tracy); and the wonderful Sydney Greenstreet, who somewhat resumes his Senor Ferrari rôle (that parrot of his is a blue one, I suppose).
Despite this emulation, Frank Fenton's screenplay has something interesting about it that makes this movie agreeable after all. But it wouldn't have taken the famous leading players, close to miscasts, for something that appears like an MGM "B" production to me. - Worst thing is, I couldn't spot DeForest "Bones" Kelley anywhere around, although he is said to be there.
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