I don't know how much of 1952's Macao
was directed by Josef von Sternberg before Howard Hughes replaced him with Nicholas Ray, but I'm inclined to credit Sternberg with making Jane Russell look the best she ever looked.
The movie otherwise is mostly a nice, lightweight romantic adventure. As producer interference goes, Howard Hughes is certainly a better choice than the people who turned a movie like Affair in Trinidad
into a dull exercise in rote morality. When Howard Hughes steps in, it's to add more sex and violence, more, sometimes corny, innuendo laden dialogue--the film's closing line is, "You'd better start getting used to me fresh out of the shower!"
Robert Mitchum stars as Nick Cochran, a man who roams the world to escape a potential assault charge from years ago in New York when he got in a fight with a guy over a woman. That's all the detail we get, but Robert Mitchum gives us enough with his usual easy, slightly melancholy, amused demeanour.
He meets Julie Benson (Jane Russell) on the boat to Macao when he rescues her from a guy trying to molest her. For his troubles, she steals his wallet. Later, she's upset when he looks up to see her changing into some new stockings on the deck above for no apparent reason.
Once in Macao, a place woven onscreen with stock footage and decent sets, they get mixed up with the most powerful gangster in town and covert attempts by the law to lure the gangster past the three mile limit so they can arrest him.
This gangster, Halloran, runs a casino where Julie gets a job singing. She has two musical numbers in the movie, the second being the Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen song "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)". Russell, despite also singing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
, was never much of a singer but she looks fantastic performing here--certainly better than in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
with no Marilyn Monroe to upstage her.
Gloria Grahame's in the film as a dealer with loaded dice at Halloran's craps table. She's later also, as Nick observes pleasantly, Nick's "warden dolled up in a negligee" after Halloran imprisons him in an upstairs room after mistaking him for a cop.
Nick and Julie have a romantic scene together on a boat where he tells her his dream to have his own farm on a little island and how he has a friend who'll sell him just that if can get the money together. She seems into it at first before suddenly turning cold. She gives him the cold shoulder again the next day and when he asks her again to tell him what he did, she says he, "suddenly registered." She has trouble trusting him, the dream's too big, though she admits being tired of keeping her guard up all the time. It is one nice, if unoriginal, little moment of insight that actually feels like it reflects the minds of the sorts of people who live their lives on the run.