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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
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A middling movie a little late in the game...fun, but not intense
It would be nice to love this movie—with a strong theme of wartime ingenuity and bravery, and with three stellar actors—but by the end I was thinking everyone involved was just going through the motions. That's probably enough in many ways with people this naturally gifted on screen, and the movie is enjoyable, no question. With all the borrowings or references to earlier classics (Sydney Greenstreet even has a big bird as a pet, as in "Casablanca"), it makes for a fun time.
The premise starts with some very compact storytelling—a somewhat disreputable man (James Stewart) is overheard saying he could smuggle rubber out of British Malaya (now Malaysia). It's WWII and the Army likes the idea enough to send him off with an ex-con (Spencer Tracy) who knows the area well. (This is all arranged with the help of Lionel Barrymore in a small role.)
Then the adventure begins as they penetrate with surprising ease the rubber plantations and arrange with the generally friendly locals and ex-pats to get their hidden stockpiles. The Japanese do eventually catch on and there is fun there, but not before a couple of torch songs and some humorous excess as usual from the likable Greenstreet.
Frankly, things never get exciting or even suspenseful, though interesting all along. One huge problem (for me) was a complete lack of details. The two men would say, okay, let's go get this rubber here, and they meet the plantation owner and there is some talk and then suddenly they are going down the river with some little barges. The Japanese have no suspicions, and the local smugglers are all these cheerful Resistance Fighter types who really like to help a lot.
It would be fun to know if a young viewer finds this exotic and fun or laughable. It's somewhere between in all. And what honestly holds it together for anyone who likes the actors is just watching familiar faces in new roles. That is one of the endless interests of the movies.
See it? Sure, if you already like older films or WWII films. It's not bad. The director Richard Thorpe is quite unknown these days, but the cinematographer is a standard bearer of he period, George Folsey, and that makes every scenes look terrific. Yeah, it's not at all bad. But it ain't great, either.
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