Macao (film)

Macao is a 1952 black-and-white film noir adventure directed by Josef von Sternberg and Nicholas Ray. The drama features Robert Mitchum, Jane Russell, William Bendix, and Gloria Grahame.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byJosef von Sternberg
Nicholas Ray
Produced byHoward Hughes
Samuel Bischoff
Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay byStanley Rubin
Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Robert Mitchum
Story byRobert Creighton Williams
StarringRobert Mitchum
Jane Russell
William Bendix
Gloria Grahame
Music byAnthony Collins
Jule Styne
CinematographyHarry J. Wild
Edited bySamuel E. Beetley
Robert Golden
Distributed byRKO Pictures
Release date
  • April 30, 1952 (1952-04-30) (US)[1]
Running time
81 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.1 million (US rentals)[2]


Three strangers arrive at the port of Macao on the same ship: Nick Cochran (Robert Mitchum), a cynical-but-honest ex-serviceman, Julie Benson (Jane Russell), an equally cynical, sultry night club singer, and Lawrence Trumble (William Bendix), a traveling salesman who deals in both silk stockings and contraband.

Left: Vincent Holloran (Brad Dexter), Itzumi (Philip Ahn), Margie (Gloria Grahame)
Right: Nick Cochran (Robert Mitchum) and Margie (Gloria Grahame), Holloran's croupier, at the gambling den "Quick Reward"

Corrupt police lieutenant Sebastian (Thomas Gomez) notifies casino owner and underworld boss Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter) about the new arrivals. Halloran has been tipped off about an undercover New York City policeman out to lure him into international waters so he can be arrested. With only three strangers to choose from, Halloran assumes Nick is the cop. He tries to bribe a puzzled Nick to leave Macao, but Nick is interested in getting to know Julie better and turns him down. Halloran hires Julie as a singer, in part to find out what she knows about Nick.

Later, Trumble offers Nick a commission to help him sell a stolen diamond necklace. However, when Nick shows Halloran a diamond from the necklace, Halloran recognizes it; he had sent the jewelry to Hong Kong only a week earlier to be sold. Now sure of Nick's identity, he has the American taken prisoner for later questioning.

Nick is guarded by two thugs and Halloran's jealous girlfriend, Margie (Gloria Grahame). Worried that Halloran is planning to dump her for Julie, Margie lets Nick escape, with the two guards close behind. When Trumble happens on the late-night chase, he tries to help Nick and is killed, mistaken by the thugs for Nick. Before he dies, he tells Nick about the police boat waiting offshore.

When Nick tries to get Julie to go away with him, he learns that Halloran has invited her on a trip to Hong Kong (to retrieve his property). With this information, Nick is able to dispose of Halloran's murderous henchman, Itzumi (Philip Ahn), and take the helm of Halloran's boat. He steers for the waiting police and hands Halloran over to them.



Macao was the second feature that Josef von Sternberg filmed to fulfill a two-picture contract with RKO Pictures then owned by Howard Hughes. (Sternberg's first feature for Hughes was the color epic Jet Pilot). Shooting began in September 1950 and was released in April 1952.[3][4]

Sternberg's habit of handling actors "as mere details of décor" elicited strenuous objections from stars Jane Russell and Gloria Grahame such that "the shooting of Macao has become a minor legend." John Baxter reports that "fights on the set" were not uncommon, and were manifested in the "strained" performances of the cast.[5]

During the final stages of filming, director Nicholas Ray was enlisted for perform retakes on a critical fistfight scene between Robert Mitchum and Brad Dexter, because Sternberg's handling was deemed unsatisfactory by producer Alex Gottlieb. Although uncredited, Ray's contribution to the picture was recognized by Sternberg.[6][7]

Sternberg, who "despised the script and the close control" by the studio "disowned" responsibility for the production.[8]

Only stock footage was shot on location in Hong Kong and Macau. T.V. actor and host Truman Bradley narrated the film's opening.

Musical Direction –Constantin Bakaleinikoff

Art Direction – – Albert S. D'Agostino and Ralph Berger
Photography – Harry J. Wild
Scriptwriter – Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stanley Rubin
Set Decoration – Darrell Silvera and Harvey Miller
Costumes – Michael Woulfe
Editing – Samuel E. Beetley and Robert Golden[9]

Jane Russell sings the Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen song "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)",[10] and the Jule Styne and Leo Robin tune "You Kill Me" [11][12]


The film recorded a loss of $700,000.[13] Biographer Herman g. Weinberg called the film "a critical and box-office fiasco."[14]

Critical response

Even with a mechanically meaningless assignment like Macao, Sternberg's visual signature smiles through the veils and nets like the Cheshire Cat à la Chautard. That he chose to come to terms with an often uncongenial creative environment simply marks him as an artist who preferred lighting up a small shadow to cursing the darkness.

Film historian Andrew Sarris (1966)[15]

Critic Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times in 1952, lambasted the characters as "flimflam" and the story "pedestrian", despite some "well-placed direction by Josef von Sternberg in a couple of scenes."

Film historian Andrew Sarris in his appraisal of Sternberg's films for Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), deplores Macao as a series of "visual coups" assembled "to conceal the meaninglessness of the [on-screen] action ..." Whereas Sarris praises the majority of Sternberg's films "for their unity of form and function", Macao proves "how superficial mere style can be."[17]

Journalist and filmmaker John Baxter, writing for the International Film Guide Series, has a higher opinion of the film and lauds the "bravura passages" and the "atmosphere and décor that make the work definitively "Sternbergian".[18] Both Sarris and Baxter acknowledge Sternberg's stylistic signature in the deadly waterfront chase amid the docked fishing boat, as well as the amusing bedroom scene where an electric fan reduces a pillow to "a storm of feathers." [19][20]

In 2005, film critic Dennis Schwartz, writing for Ozus' World Movie Reviews, lauded the casting of Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum:

A wonderfully tongue-in-cheek scripted RKO adventure story directed by Josef von Sternberg ... Jane Russell enthralls as she gets romanced by the laconic Mitchum, and they create movie magic together through their brilliant nuanced performances ... She's the good-bad girl, while he's the hard-luck innocent who can't even win when playing with loaded dice ... If you are looking for an underrated film noir gem—that somehow got swept under the rug—this is it![21][22]

Baxter laments that Macao, though "not a classic work ... ill-deserves its present obscurity." [23]


  1. "Macao: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 31, 2014.
  2. 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  3. Baxter, 1971. P. 162, 166-167
  4. Weinberg, 1967. p. 73
  5. Baxter, 1971. P. 167
  6. Baxter, 1971. P. 168
  7. Sarris, 1966. P. 53
  8. Baxter, 1993. P. 111
  9. Sarris, 1966. p. 53
  10. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  11. Retrieved 29 June 2018
  12. Sarris, 1966. P. 52
  13. Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, University of California, 2016
  14. Weinberg, 1967. p. 73
  15. Sarris, 1966, p. 8
  16. Baxter, 1971. p. 167
  17. Sarris, 1966. P. 52-53
  18. Baxter, 1971. P. 167, 169
  19. Baxter, 1971. P. 168
  20. Sarris, 1966. P. 53
  21. Schwartz, 2005. Retrieved 20 June 2018.
  22. Baxter, 1971. p. 167: Baxter writes of "the crackling magnetism of the brilliantly well-cast stars."
  23. Baxter, 1971. P. 168


  • Baxter, John. 1971. The Cinema of Josef von Sternberg. The International Film Guide Series. A.S Barners & Company, New York.
  • Sarris, Andrew. 1966. The Films of Josef von Sternberg. Museum of Modern Art/Doubleday. New York, New York.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.