23 November 2016 | tomsview
Noir amongst the papadums
It's the stars that make this film watchable: Alan Ladd and Gail Russell.
The story is OK but these days with all the brilliant crime/mystery movies and series on TV and cable, "Calcutta" comes across as pretty lightweight.
A couple of pilots, Neale Gordon and Pedro Blake played by Alan Ladd and William Bendix, who fly cargo over the mountains between Burma and India just after WW2, investigate the murder of fellow pilot Bill Cunningham.
Neale Gordon is suspicious of the motives of women young and old, but falls for his dead friend's fiancé, Virginia Moore (Gail Russell), while keeping his former romantic interest, Marina Tanev (June Duprez), on hold. After a lot of punching and some surprising slapping around of Miss Moore, things get sorted out.
The film was set in a fairly convincing backlot Calcutta, but it could have been set just about anywhere. The strongest influence on the film seems to be "The Maltese Falcon", especially the ending. In fact, Edith King as Jewellery dealer Mrs King is somewhat of a Sydney Greenstreet character.
I must admit I am still an Alan Ladd fan dating from many a Saturday matinée back in the 1950s. He had a quiet confidence that projected strength, and although this film is a bit blah, he carries the picture. Apparently he was one of the genuine nice guys and loyal; more than a couple of people always got work on his films, but he was also a tragic figure - gone too early aged 50.
But there is an even more tragic star in this film, Gail Russell, who died aged only 36. This was fairly early in her career and critics at the time thought she was miscast. However that sense of hesitancy and innocence was fine for the role even though her performance was pieced together from short takes; she was so nervous she could hardly get her lines out. In a recent biography by Steven Glenn Ochoa, "Fallen Star", he tells how she had a nervous habit of ringing her hands, which directors tried to stop, but it's obvious in one of her early scenes in the film. Ladd was very good with her on set but not everyone was like that in her career.
It's these two charismatic stars and their unique screen presence that still makes "Calcutta" worth a look.