Noir City 12, Castro Theatre, San Francisco
Noir City was mostly a foreign affair this year with films by Akira Kurosawa and other international directors taking center stage. An exception was the last day when Hollywood had its chance to shine with two studio films set in exotic locales, Singapore (1947) and Macao (1952). Directed by John Brahm, Singapore has Fred MacMurray as Matt Gordon, a decorated veteran who planned a heist before the war. That went awry when the Japanese invaded but now he’s back. And there’s that other problem. Matt thought fiancé Linda Grahame (Ava Gardner) was dead. Ann Van Leyden, the wife of a planter (Roland Culver) resembles her greatly. This is yet another variation on the film noir “amnesia” story. In this case, it isn’t the vet who can’t remember but his girl. Or can she? For those of us who grew up watching My Three Sons and MacMurray’s work for Walt Disney, it’s a surprise to see him romancing Ava Gardner. He was a leading man, however, with solid noir credentials including the classic, Double Indemnity (1944) with Barbara Stanwyck. Even here in a dramatic role, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Good thing, because the plot about pearl smuggling and switched identities becomes increasingly convoluted. The film finds Singapore in transition after the Japanese defeat. Old colonials are reasserting themselves in the postwar. That the island nation has an ethnic Chinese majority is only hinted at. The single name Maylia plays Linda’s servant girl, Ming Ling. The heavy in more ways than one, Thomas Gomez is Mr. Maribus, the crooked gem merchant. George Lloyd is his underling, Sascha, who delights in beating up Matt. Michael Woulfe did the costumes for Ava Gardner’s two identities, the Linda that Matt falls in love with and the wealthy woman with a different name who looks at him blankly .
Bosley Crowther wrote in his September 1947 New York Times review: “Ava Gardner is sultry and empty-headed as the script demands . . . Singapore is a pretty poor excuse for an entertainment, even as minor league jewel smuggling fare.” Since The Killers with Burt Lancaster came out the year before, Crowther should have known Gardner was on the verge of stardom. When historian Alan K. Rode introduced the film, he mentioned strings of pearls given away to female patrons when Singapore premiered in New York. That’s one way to counter a bad review!