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During the 1950s an American journalist disappears in China. His wife, Jane Hoyt, arrives in Honk Kong, determined to find him. There are rumors that Louis Hoyt might be held by the Communist Chinese as spy. Jane Hoyt asks shady shipping magnate Hank Lee for his help but Hank tries to dissuade her from venturing into Red China. Desperate, Jane asks another local, Fernand Rocha, for his help and pays him money. When dishonest and sleazy charlatan Rocha spends her money and forcibly confines her Hank Lee finally takes pity on her and decides to go searching for her husband himself. Illegally entering Red China Hank finds plenty of trouble.Written by
Fiery Jane Hoyt, played by Susan Hayward of the blazing red hair, arrives in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong in search of her husband, Louis, a photographer who disappeared while on a shoot in Mainland China. Louis, played by Gene Barry, entered China illegally without a visa and has been detained by the Communist authorities. Hayward enlists the aid of a shipping magnate with connections, Clark Gable, to locate her husband and bring him out. While the chemistry between Hayward and Gable is lukewarm at best, an on-screen romance ensues, which undercuts the credibility of Hayward's portrayal of a loving faithful wife in search of her missing husband. The gruff mature Gable, who incongruously has adopted three Asian children, makes the moves on Hayward, who stoically receives his kisses and allows him to hold her hand across a table. Actually, the coolness between Gable and Hayward is a torrid fire compared to the freeze between Barry and Hayward. Thus, both the motivation for Hayward's journey to Hong Kong in search of her missing husband and her attraction to Gable are undercut by the lack of warmth between the actors; what the script says and what the performers suggest are miles apart. When not being pursued by Gable or other wolves on the prowl, Hayward searches the city for information on her husband. The search brings her into contact with a number of supporting players, including Michael Rennie, Alex D'Arcy, and Tom Tully, and several distracting subplots, which only serve to remind viewers that the film was adapted from a novel by Ernest K Gann, who also wrote the script.
Director Edward Dmytryk keeps the action scenes going at a decent pace, and Hayward's search is initially intriguing. However, even Dmytryk can do little with the unconvincing love affair or the lack of chemistry between his three stars, who acquit themselves professionally, but no more. Leo Tover's colorful cinematography captures an exotic, but now bygone, Hong Kong of junks, sampans, and stunning vistas of mountains and bays. Set in the 1950's, "Soldier of Fortune" would make an ideal double bill with "Love is a Many Splendored Thing," a more successful romantic film that shares both location and period with the Gable-Hayward vehicle. The Dmytryk film has much in its favor: an exotic locale, fine cinematography, two top stars, an able supporting cast, and a fairly good story. Unfortunately, "Soldier of Fortune" is one of those movies that is worth seeing, but less than the sum of its parts.
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