Malaya - Embedded In My HeadFriday, November 18, 2011
A couple of days ago I noticed that TCM was about to screen Malaya. I had not seen the film since 1950 when I had accompanied my parents for the viewing. I told Rosemary that the film was worth watching as it had Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Sydney Greenstreet, John Hodiak, Lionel Barrymore, Gilbert Roland and the Chinese American actor Richard Loo who played (this was a perennial role for him ) the scary and ruthless Japanese officer.
|Richard Loo, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart|
I began to think about Malaya, I would call it war noir, which was directed (1949) by Richard Thorpe and I was amazed that there were many immediate images of the film that came to mind. The overall ones involved men wearing hats and all of them were dressed in white. I remembered that these men would go up and down with their hands on the wooden blinds of a hotel to get attention. I remembered a white cockatoo that was always laughing at Sydney Greenstreet who was constantly mopping his brow with a large handkerchief (Tracy’s character describes him as: He looks like the moon in a pail o' beer.) I remembered Mexican actor Gilbert Roland, not wearing white but a horizontally striped T-shirt. I remembered that the theme song of the film was Blue Moon. I remembered that a hot Italian, Valentina Cortesa (real name Cortese) sang it and that she was faithful to Tracy and followed him to a certain death except for an extraordinary action by Tracy, a most romantic one, that I will not reveal here. I remember that the film was about smuggling rubber out of Malaya and that there was one very oily villain, Bruno Gruber, a German ("I have not been in Germany for so many years that I cannot possibly be a Nazi," he says to Tracy) played by a mustachioed Roland Winters.
|Sydney Greenstreet, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy|
Where possible I did not tell Rosemary what was going to happen and yet I knew the film very much like Tracy said he knew Malaya, like the palm of my hand.
Malaya, like one of Len Deighton’s embedded moles has been in my head all these 61 years ready to spring when needed. Rosemary says it is a sign of my old age that I can remember something in detail from my youth yet I will miss a doctor’s appointment on any given day unless she reminds me.
|Spencer Tracy, Valentina Cortesa & Gilbert Roland|
I wonder how Malaya, unknown to me might have affected how I dealt with people in my life. The nasty Japanese, in the end does not betray Tracy for money but for love of country. The only real villain is Gruber. The rest, including the apparently soulless Stewart, all somehow become whole again and even the Dutchman, Sydney Greenstreet, as cynical a man as ever appeared in film,
You'd better let me do the talking. Probably the only thing standing between you and eternity is my vocabulary.
seems to be happy to receive a medal in the end. And as for John Hodiak, he is one of my fave actors of all time. The film of his to see is Battleground, 1949, directed by William Wellman. My parents took me to see that film, too.
They, those films, have left an indelible mark in me.
Video clip with Lionel Barrymore