Edited by Solomon on 8/14/2017, 6:29 am
"Macao, l'enfer du jeu" (1942) aka "Gambling Hell" is a noir, mostly set in exotic Macao after a tumultuous opening on the war torn China mainland. Level-headed woman of the world Mireille Balin, maintaining her poise among bombs dropping, is rounded up with others. She could be shot but Erich von Stroheim, a gun runner, rescues her; and his yacht takes them down to Macao where he hopes to buy a store of munitions from Sessue Hayakara, secret manager of a gambling casino and a power in Macao. Rounding out the story are the yacht's captain and crew, Hayakara's daughter (Louise Carletti) from a French mother, a young newsman (Roland Toutain) who hits it off with Carletti, and a snitch (Henri Guisol) who sells information to anyone for $50 a shot.
I watched the original version with von Stroheim, and it runs 91 minutes. The story develops gradually, developing character, and then it takes firm hold. The settings feel Oriental. The interior sets are marvelous. Director Jean Delannoy obtained really good performances from all concerned. Von Stroheim shows a lot of range in his character, being at times gracious, solicitous, tense, relaxed, playful, and confident amid troubles. Hayakara's character likewise gives him a chance to show a wide range. He can be wily, firm, a father with a soft spot for his daughter, arrogant, commanding respect, violent, and a man used to taking what he wants, even Balin. Balin is very strong in her part too, completely convincing, mature and yet with the light of girlishness not extinguished.
The story gets darker as it proceeds. At first it seems like any number of adventure stories set in the Orient. Give it a chance. It builds up, leading especially to a highly melodramatic climax or two. Although the gun deal frames the plot throughout, Balin is central to the story through her relationships with Stroheim and Hayakara; and Carletti's role is crucial, along with Guisol's. This is good plotting.