Movie: Singapore (1947)

As soon as I saw the title card for 1947’s Singapore, I had the same-titled opening track from the Tom Waits album Raindogs in my head.  I’ve always hoped I will someday see a noir with a vibe like that astounding track, but I only see ones that have traces of its greatness. 

Unfortunately, what we get here is seemingly the hundredth attempt to try to capture the particular magic that was Casablanca.  It doesn’t succeed at that, but it is an incredibly solid feature, just the same. 

Fred MacMurray plays the laid-back rogue he was typecast as before becoming the befuddled dad in every other live-action Disney picture of the 60’s.  In Singapore, he has returned to the titular country after fleeing it years before.  The law isn’t happy to see him back, as he used to be the mastermind for a pearl-smuggling operation.

I like the scene where MacMurray is pulled from the line at customs in order to receive a personal audience with law enforcement.  A typical “ugly American” tourist couple sees this and ask if they could get preferential treatment like that.  Yeaaah…like getting pulled out of the customs line has ever been a good thing.  If these people were still alive today, I bet they would be holding up the line by pitching endless fits over having to take off their shoes.

In that meeting, MacMurray learns the penalty for smuggling pearls out of British territory has increased from eight to ten years.  “I guess it went up, like everything else after the war,” he wryly observes.

Once allowed through customs, he settles into the hotel he used to live out of.  In the café, the image quality degraded sharply after a cut.  Odd that I have seen so many movies of this kind, and of this vintage, that I knew exactly what was going to happen: a cross-dissolve to a flashback–an especially looong one.

In this flashback, we see him conducting his shady business dealings while romancing Ava Gardner on the side.  Her character is seemingly honest and down-to-earth, and she is also willing to cover for him when the law is closing in.  Nothing says love more than helping your partner evade justice.

One thing that surprised me is they couldn’t legally marry until three months elapse.  I couldn’t help but think of that old “something old/new/borrowed/blue”, and his balls probably fulfilled the last part of that.

Of course, the night before they are finally tie the knot, the Japanese bomb the shit out of the town.  MacMurray, believing Gardner had to have been killed in the air raid, sails away with a ship full of refugees.

Cross-fading back out of this flashback, it isn’t long before he runs into Gardner in the present day, except now she answers to a different name, is married and professes to have no idea who MacMurray is. While he tries to figure out what happened to her, he also has to avoid the police as well as thugs who are after pearls MacMurray may still have stashed away.

Every performance is solid here.  It helps that so much of the dialogue has a real snap to it.  “That’s the problem with history—it leaves no room for sentiment.”  “I like troubled times.  They keep the police occupied.”  I especially like this exchange between the police captain and Gardner: “You’ll forgive me if check that”  “No, I won’t.  But I won’t hold it against you.”

Singapore may not be Casablanca but, then again, what is?  I’m just pleased this is an above-average noir programmer, raised above its peers by the quality of dialogue and performances.  Recommended.

Dir: John Brahm

Starring Fred MacMurray, Ava Gardner, Ronald Culver

Watched as part of Kino Lorber’s Film Noir: The Dark Side of Cinema VI blu-ray box set