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After living abroad for several years, journalist John Royer returns to the United States just after the U.S. enters World War II. His boast that he could easily smuggle rubber, a key wartime natural resource, out of Malaya has him tasked with doing just that. He manages to get someone from his past, Carnaghan, sprung from Alactraz and together they head off to South East Asia posing as Irishmen. Once there, Carnaghan lines up some of his old cronies and with Royer and a few plantation owners plans to smuggle the rubber out from under the Japanese army's watchful eye. Written by
Spencer Tracy and James Stewart preside over a terrific cast in "Malaya," a 1949 film also starring Valentina Cortese, Sydney Greenstreet, John Hodiak, Lionel Barrymore, Roland Winters and Gilbert Roland.
This is a fictional account of a very real situation involving the shortage of rubber during World War II. Japan really dominated the countries that had the rubber, and there was smuggling of rubber to the U.S. The situation involving Tracy and Stewart, however, never happened.
Tracy plays a con named Carnahan, whom the government releases from Alcatraz in order to spearhead this project, and Stewart plays John Royer, a former reporter with a shady enough past that the government (represented by John Hodiak) thinks he's a good bet to go into Malaya and smuggle tons of rubber out of that country and pay with gold. Carnahan knows the country like the back of his hand and has the connections. He and Royer pose as Irish sailors looking for work in order to get around a suspicious Colonel Tomura (Richard Loo) while they are helped by an old friend of Carnahan's, The Dutchman (Sydney Greenstreet). Cortese has the Dietrich role, that of a singer in love with Carnahan.
There are some exciting scenes in this film, and it holds one's attention. One of the best performances comes from Gilbert Roland, who leads the smugglers handpicked by The Dutchmen. He's very convincing.
As for Tracy and Stewart, well, although Tracy started out in tough guy Wallace Beery roles, 1949 was a little late for him to be taking them up again. Actually Hodiak would have been good, or Bogart, or John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, someone along those lines. I thought Stewart was very good and that the two of them made an effective team. Someone said he came off as a nice guy. I thought he did cynic and hardboiled well. You can be cynical and hardboiled and averse to physical violence.
All in all, pretty good.
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