Three strangers arrive at the port of Macao on the same ship: Nick Cochran (Robert Mitchum), a cynical-but-honest ex-serviceman, Julie Benson (Jane Russell), an equally cynical, sultry night club singer, and Lawrence Trumble (William Bendix), a traveling salesman who deals in both silk stockings and contraband.
Corrupt police lieutenant Sebastian (Thomas Gomez) notifies casino owner and underworld boss Vincent Halloran (Brad Dexter) about the new arrivals. Halloran has been tipped off about an undercover New York City policeman out to lure him into international waters so he can be arrested. With only three strangers to choose from, Halloran assumes Nick is the cop. He tries to bribe a puzzled Nick to leave Macao, but Nick is interested in getting to know Julie better and turns him down. Halloran hires Julie as a singer, in part to find out what she knows about Nick.
Later, Trumble offers Nick a commission to help him sell a stolen diamond necklace. However, when Nick shows Halloran a diamond from the necklace, Halloran recognizes it; he had sent the jewelry to Hong Kong only a week earlier to be sold. Now sure of Nick's identity, he has the American taken prisoner for later questioning.
Nick is guarded by two thugs and Halloran's jealous girlfriend, Margie (Gloria Grahame). Worried that Halloran is planning to dump her for Julie, Margie lets Nick escape, with the two guards close behind. When Trumble happens on the late-night chase, he tries to help Nick and is killed, mistaken by the thugs for Nick. Before he dies, he tells Nick about the police boat waiting offshore.
When Nick tries to get Julie to go away with him, he learns that Halloran has invited her on a trip to Hong Kong (to retrieve his property). With this information, Nick is able to dispose of Halloran's murderous henchman, Itzumi (Philip Ahn), and take the helm of Halloran's boat. He steers for the waiting police and hands Halloran over to them.Robert Mitchum as Nick Cochran
Jane Russell as Julie Benson
William Bendix as Lawrence C. Trumble
Thomas Gomez as Lt. Sebastian
Gloria Grahame as Margie
Brad Dexter as Vincent Halloran
Edward Ashley as Martin Stewart
Philip Ahn as Itzumi
Vladimir Sokoloff as Kwan Sum Tang
When many of Von Sternberg's scenes made no sense dramatically, Ray asked Mitchum to write several bridging scenes. Cinematographer Harry J. Wild worked on the film and filming was completed in 1950 but the film was not released until 1952. Only stock footage was shot on location in Hong Kong and Macau. T.V. actor and host Truman Bradley narrated the film's opening.
The film recorded a loss of $700,000.
When the film was first released, Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, lambasted the drama.
All the other ingredients, including Miss Russell's famed physique, are pretty much the same as have been tumbled into previous cheesecakes with Jane and Bob...Macao is a flimflam and no more—a flimflam designed for but one purpose and that is to mesh the two stars. The story itself is pedestrian—a routine and standardized account of a guy getting caught in the middle of a cops-and-robbers thing. And except for some well-placed direction by Josef von Sternberg in a couple of scenes, especially in a "chase" among nets and rowboats, the job is conventional in style...'A fabulous speck on the Earth's surface'—that's Macao, the place and the film.
More recently, film critic Dennis Schwartz lauded the casting of Jane Russell and Robert Mitchum.
A wonderfully tongue-in-cheek scripted RKO adventure story directed by Josef von Sternberg...Jane Russell enthralls as she gets romanced by the laconic Mitchum, and they create movie magic together through their brilliant nuanced performances. The sultry actress was never better, as she belts out a few torch songs, tosses insults at Mitchum with natural ease, shows her romantic side and looks right through the leering bad guys of Macao as if they didn't exist. She's the good-bad girl, while he's the hard-luck innocent who can't even win when playing with loaded dice. They're both film noir characters, who Jane sums up when she tells her man: 'Everybody's lonely, worried, and sorry. Everybody's looking for something.' If you are looking for an underrated film noir gem—that somehow got swept under the rug—this is it!