13 January 2002 | Mozjoukine
Splendid example of the 'thirties exotic melodrama.
When "Macao" was made, the movies where discovering Asia, and China in particular, as a source of preposterous, richly decorated melodrama - "The Blue Express" from Russia, "The Bitter Tea of General Yen, The Shanghai Express" and "The General Died at Dawn" from the U.S. and Items like "Drame de Shanghai" and "La Bataille" from France. This is one of the most stylish and enjoyable and, if they could have come up with a more satisfying finish, it would have been in there with the best. An English dubbed version re-cutting it so that all ends happily didn't help.
Von Stroheim's cropped headed, white uniformed, officer type is the hero for once, battling Hayakawa's sinister oriental casino magnate. The opening where the Von rescues itinerant entertainer Balin from a Chinese firing squad and finds a her glamorous evening dress, that's just her size, in his yacht's sail locker is to be treasured.
Director Delannoy went on to do the Michele Morgan "Pastoral Symphony" and was one of the pillars of French film for decades and that haunting score is by Auric who did the films of Jean Cocteau. These are heavy weights, who aren't normally associated with stories about European adventuresses offering their beautiful white bodies to lecherous Asians to save their gun runner lovers - nothing P.C. here. The colorful support and jokey gambling hell detail, along with some marvelous images (the body floating among the bank notes.) combine to shows that they could make escapist hooey with the best.
The film craft is beyond reproach.