9/28/2015 11:52 AM
This is a pretty good action melodrama that could rival a Warner Brothers production at the time like 'Passage to Marseille.' The camera work uses a lot of tracking shots and there's one notable one where the camera travels outside a yacht poking into portholes where we see what's going with the people inside their cabins. In one cabin scene you can see the sun's reflection from the water. I doubt the film was made in Macao and China, but the studio and local coastal areas do a good job substituting for these place as you get the right feeling about where the story is taking place. Georges Auric's musical score is unobtrusive but soars when needed.
There's some plot misinformation stated on this page and repeated on the DVD case's back cover: " ....drama involving Werner Krall, an adventurer and arms dealer, and his daughter, whom he's raised in complete ignorance of his profession. Krall has shown up in Macao in the company of a second-rate French actress, Mirelle. There, he meets Wing Chai, a man of nefarious activities disguised by respectable cover activities. Krall's daughter will eventually be unintentionally caught up in her father's illegal dealings and it might mean death for her...." It's not Krall (actually von Krall) who has a daughter, but it's Wing Chai who has sheltered her from his profession as a casino owner who runs Macao's crime network. Also - Sessue Hayakawa's character is not Wing Chai or subtitled as Yin Chai but it's Ying Tchai according to IMDb, pronunciation by the cast, and in subtitles although in one scene he's subtitled as Lin Chai by a priest speaking to him. IMDB could be wrong about correct spelling as there's not a lot info found online and to make out the words from the old soundtrack could add to the confusion so I shouldn't be too picky about cast names. But 'Directeur de Production' does not mean Jean Rossi was the 'Director' per se as that title belongs to Jean Delannoy. 'Directeur de Production' is like today's Manager of Production or Production Manager.
It's hard to find anything in English about the film's production history but according to IMDb it was "filmed in 1939 as "Macao, l'enfer du jeu" with Erich von Stroheim but released in 1942 as "L'enfer du jeu" WITHOUT von Stroheim [as Krall]. His films were banned in all German-occupied countries, so Delannoy, the director, could not release the film. Instead of shelving it, all scenes with von Stroheim were reshot with Pierre Renoir. The von Stroheim version was rereleased in 1945." I surmise the original film was shown in France and maybe in England for a short time before the occupation because von Stroheim was a top French star in the 1930's after his career ended in Hollywood. This version offered is the von Stroheim one, but the poster for the second version with Renoir is used for the front cover on the DVD's case. The correct poster seen on this site should be used because when I first looked at the cover, I thought I was sent the later version.
Von Stroheim is used to good effect almost playing himself as the gentlemanly ship captain and gun runner down on his luck that's run out and Hayakawa, who started in silent films and was later known for his roles in 'Bridge on the River Kwai' and Disney's 'The Swiss Family Robinson, steals every scene he's in as a cultured but dangerous villain. In some ways they mirror each other with their manners in dealing with others and each other. Mireille Balin, who was a popular star and played the entertainer who catches the eye of both men, had a rough life following the film's completion. According to one IMDb reviewer: "In real life, the languorous leading lady, sexy Mireille Balin (here resembling Joan Crawford made up to look like Marlene Dietrich), fell in love with a German Wehrmacht officer and they tried to flee during the Liberation but were captured by the "resistance" enroute to Italy. Balin was beaten, raped, and thrown in prison and her lover killed. Once freed, Mireille was punished for her 'crimes' by not being able to work for a year and, her career in shambles, soon drifted into alcoholism. She later suffered from a disfiguring facial disease and eventually had an operation in a comeback attempt but neither were successful and the destitute actress died in obscurity in 1968."
This disc has good, sharp video quality; the sound is a tiny bit scratchy at times as one would expect in an old film, but don't let this deter you from watching it. Where else can you see von Stroheim and Hayakawa in the same movie and both shining with equal distinction?
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