Monday, May 02, 2022

Tonight's Movie: Singapore (1947) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The latest Dark Side of Cinema Collection from Kino Lorber, Volume VI, consists of three interesting lesser-known titles: SINGAPORE (1947) with Fred MacMurray and Ava Gardner, JOHNNY STOOL PIGEON (1949) with Howard Duff, Shelley Winters, and Dan Duryea, and THE RAGING TIDE (1951) with Richard Conte, Shelley Winters, and Stephen McNally.

To my knowledge none of these films has had a U.S. DVD release. Indeed, when I reviewed SINGAPORE back in 2011, I watched it thanks to a used VHS tape purchased via Amazon.

SINGAPORE is a combination crime film and romantic melodrama directed by John Brahm, and like Brahm's movie the preceding year, THE LOCKET (1946), it features a flashback sequence -- though far less convoluted than in THE LOCKET.

Pearl smuggler Matt Gordon (MacMurray) returns to Singapore after an absence of several years fighting in World War II. Deputy Commissioner Hewitt (Richard Haydn) believes Matt has returned to retrieve a hidden fortune in pearls. Evil Mr. Mauribus (Thomas Gomez) also expects Matt to pick up his stash of pearls, and both men are watching him closely.

Matt, however, is initially caught up in memories of his lost love Linda (Gardner), who died in the Japanese bombing of the mission church where they were planning to be married.

One evening at the hotel he's astounded to see Linda...but she claims her name is Ann Van Leyden and genuinely seems to have no idea who Matt is. What's more, she's married, and her husband Michael (Roland Culver) would just as soon that Matt keep his distance.

As I noted over a decade ago, some of the early romantic scenes are awkward; the stilted, hokey dialogue shared by MacMurray and Gardner almost seems like a spoof, akin to something out of DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID (1982). The film quickly settles down, however, into quite an enjoyable and breezy 79 minutes. In the end, it's a film I like very much.

MacMurray's character walks an interesting line between sympathetic romantic lead and unethical criminal; indeed, the writers almost, but not quite, write themselves into a corner as the viewer realizes Linda/Ann's husband is in many ways the better man. Why should she leave a caring man with a lovely home for, in essence, a crook?

The script by Seton I. Miller and Robert Thoeren, based on a story by Miller, mostly works its way out of that dilemma, thanks to a confession by Michael along with Matt making a critical decision about his future lifestyle. The movie is also careful to play up Matt's valor during the war in an early scene to offset his criminality.

The best relationship in the movie might be not so much MacMurray and Gardner but MacMurray and Haydn, who have an ongoing sparring relationship which is simultaneously respectful and wary. Haydn's line deliveries, in particular, are pitch perfect, which makes some of the early stilted MacMurray-Gardner scenes all the more curious.

Despite its studio-bound filming, the movie has great style, with a nice sense of the exotic, somewhat akin to Gardner's later studio-filmed movie THE BRIBE (1949). The sets, costumes, and musical score by Daniele Amfitheatrof are all top notch, as is the black and white filming by Maury Gertsman.

Watching the movie, I was also struck by how a more recent film, Liam Neeson's UNKNOWN (2011), shares the theme of the wife (fiancee, in the case of SINGAPORE) who doesn't recognize the hero. The plots ultimately veer off in different directions, but it's fun to recognize bits and pieces of movies past in more current titles.

Speaking of later films, SINGAPORE was actually remade as ISTANBUL (1957), starring Errol Flynn and directed by Joseph Pevney. Most intriguingly, ISTANBUL features Nat King Cole in an acting role.

The supporting cast of SINGAPORE includes Spring Byington, Porter Hall, Maylia, George Lloyd, Edith Evanson, Frederick Worlock, Philip Ahn, and Patrick Aherne.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is from a new 2K master, and it looks excellent. Extras include the movie trailer; two additional trailers for other films available from Kino Lorber; and a commentary track by Kat Ellinger and Lee Gambin.

Remarkably, Kino Lorber has at least four more Dark Side of Cinema sets coming out over the next few months, filled with interesting titles, including the Deanna Durbin favorite LADY ON A TRAIN (1945). Stay tuned for more on those releases, and in the meantime I'll be reviewing more films from Volumes V and VI.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray collection.


Blogger Vienna said...

I haven’t seen this one but will do at some point. I do like the remake “Instanbul”, with the lovely Cornell Borchers.

10:33 PM  
Blogger dfordoom said...

SINGAPORE is a particular favourite of mine. I love slightly noir-tinged melodramas in exotic locales, I like Fred MacMurray and I adore Ava Gardner so this is obviously my kind of movie. I've never understood why it doesn't get more attention.

8:28 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, Cornell Borchers is a new name to me. I've put ISTANBUL on my "to find" list. I'm glad to know you liked it!

DforDoom, glad you also enjoyed SINGAPORE. The mood reminded me a lot of Gardner's THE BRIBE, another noirish film in an exotic (studio-bound) locale. CALCUTTA is another of the type, but with Gail Russell.

Best wishes,

7:03 PM  

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