17 February 2003 | bmacv
Indochinese intrigue a pretext for Ladd/Lake team to bid the screen a chilly farewell
Like Singapore, Calcutta and Macao, Saigon sets off to an Asian port of intrigue. Demobbed in Shanghai after action in the Pacific Theater, three flyboys postpone their return to the States because one of them, Douglas Dick, has only a month or two to live. The catch is that he doesn't know it; his pals Alan Ladd and Wally Cassell guard the secret, having decided, under cover of operating lucrative commercial flights, to pack `a whole lifetime' of excitement and pleasure into his brief span left.
Their first assignment, however, proves their last. Shady war profiteer Morris Carnovsky pays them a suspiciously large sum to take him to Saigon, the `Paris of the Orient.' But, detained by police and gunshots, he doesn't show for the punctual flight; instead, they carry his `secretary,' Veronica Lake, carting along a briefcase crammed with half a million. The crate they're flying has to crash-land, and they make the rest of the journey by boat to Saigon, giving a romantic triangle time to form: Both Dick (avidly) and Ladd (reluctantly) fall for Lake. But a police inspector (Luther Adler) just happens to be aboard as well....
Yet another romantic adventure in subtropical heat, Saigon owes much to John F. Seitz' solid camerawork (which deserves special mention for avoiding ceiling fans). It's pretty by-the-book, but not nearly so embarrassing as Ladd's Calcutta of the previous year.
The movie marks the last screen pairing of Ladd and Lake, an emblematic couple in the noir cycle noteworthy for their chilly emotional temperature. Whatever cryogenic chemistry they generated in This Gun For Hire and The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia had by this time, alas, gone inert; few sparks get struck this close to absolute zero. Only the perfunctory conventions of the genre insist that their future together will be either a long or a happy one. Even that pretense is belied by the movie's final shot in a cemetery.