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Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection

Of all the pantheon directors, Josef von Sternberg is the most under-represented on DVD. There is his iconic, landmark German film, Blue Angel and the ridiculous Howard Hughes film, Jet Pilot. There's The Scarlet Empress, which is part of The Criterion Collection, three of his delirious Dietrich films in Universal's "Marlene Dietrich: The Glamor Collection" (Morocco, Blonde Venus, and The Devil is a Woman), and finally another odd bit of exoticism called Shanghai Gesture — only these, out of some 30 feature films that span cinema history from the silent era to sound. Now there is Macao (1952), issued as part of Warner Home Video's auteur-rich "Robert Mitchum Signature Collection," but not one of Sternberg's stellar moments. In fact, though Sternberg is the credited director, Nicholas Ray, at producer Howard Hughes's request, stepped in to finish the film. And indeed Macao bears little of the classic Sternberg signatures, such as ornate and surrealistic sets, except for the occasional use of netting. And Russell and co-star Gloria Graham (Ray's ex-wife) either fail to inspire or are unable to enjoy Sternberg's hagiographic approach to Woman. The plot concerns Mitchum as Nick Cochran and Russell as Julie Benson, who happen upon Macao at the same time, he on the run from the law, she a cheap hustler and singer. When they first meet, Benson is grappling with a lustful guy with cabin fever, whose sweaty face and popped out eyes make him look like someone out of a Russ Meyer film. Cochran saves her, and she steals his wallet. While Benson gets a job in Macao's gambling joint (where she sings the Sinatra standard "One for My Baby"), Cochran is mistaken for an undercover cop sent in to expose crime king Vincent Halloran (a young Brad Dexter). The real cop, however, is the supposed traveling salesman Lawrence C. Trumble (William Bendix), and after a series of flirtations with Benson, Cochran unites with Trumble to bring down Halloran. It's all nonsense, but it isn't campy, exotic, erotic, or surrealistic nonsense, as we expect from Sternberg, and as found in Shanghai Gesture. Partly due to Sternberg's being out of it, the film's pallor is also partially due to the mundane low-brow tone of Hughes's version of RKO. Warner offers Macao in a slightly soft but otherwise defect-free full-frame transfer (1.33:1) with a monaural Dolby Digital English track and English subtitles. The main supplement is a very entertaining, wide-ranging audio commentary by noir-track regular Eddie Muller, along with the film's screenwriter Stanley Rubin, and with interpolated edited comments from Russell. Rubin brings out the boyish enthusiast in Muller. Next is a 30-minute episode of TCM's "Private Screenings" with Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell. An aged Mitchum sits with Russell and goes over his career with Turner Movie Classics host Robert Osborne in this show from 1996 (one year before Mitchum's death). Mitchum describes Sternberg as a "divide and conquer" personality who wouldn't allow food on the set, and who was fired when Mitchum brought in some lunch for the cast and crew to provoke him. New director Nick Ray handed Mitchum some legal yellow pads and some pencils and told him to rewrite the rest of the script. He and Russell also discuss Marilyn Monroe and her supposed agoraphobia and why Mitchum turned down Patton. The supplements make this disc a must-have. Keep-case, or slimcase in the box-set.
—D.K. Holm

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