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Friday, April 3, 2015

MALAYA (1949)

You can all but hear the cast & crew dutifully punching the studio timeclock on this half-baked WWII adventure yarn, woven out of tablescraps & tropes from CASABLANCA/’42 and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT/’44. Spencer Tracy & James Stewart split the Humphrey Bogart roles while a bewildered Valentina Cortesa does double-duty in the Ingrid Bergman/Lauren Bacall slot. Not much rapport between her & Spence, and the boys don’t seem especially happy with things either, though Tracy looks uncommonly mean & lean for the period. (On the wagon? Ill?) The trick to the thing is rubber: Uncle Sam needs it for the war effort, newsguy Stewart, fresh out of the Pacific war zone knows where it’s stockpiled (Malaya) and knows a shady operator (Tracy) who can slip it past the isle’s skimpy Japanese occupation force. Sounds like a plan. Yeah, sounds like a plan, but the script can’t be bothered with even the slightest bit of logistical effort. Instead, our boys just seem to waltz in, wave at the bad guys; chat up café owner Sydney Greenstreet to get the local lowdown; then float the stuff out to meet a camouflaged US freighter with the help of eternally handsome Gilbert Roland leading a gang of mercenaries. Ah, war, just one big, inconvenient portage thru the tropics. On the plus side, it’s smoothly put together and megger Richard Thorpe flexes his considerable action chops in tight corners. But that breeze at your back isn’t the seasonal monsoon, it’s the winds of change in post-war Hollywood.*

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *A change Stewart would help lead on his very next pic, WINCHESTER ‘73 which rewrote the book for star contracts in 1950 with a profit participation.

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