Still in Saigon

Working my way through the Ladd-Lake catalogue (see here, and here). For some reason, SAIGON (1948), their last collaboration, was only findable on fuzzy ex-VHS, a shame, since you can still see evidence of Paramount’s soft, lambent house style, in the hands of DOUBLE INDEMNITY’s photographer, John Seitz.

Alan Ladd is Major Briggs (it’s tempting to imagine him settling down in Twin Peaks and putting on weight), hanging out in the far east after demob with the two surviving members of his wartime flight crew (Ladd played a lot of “post-war disillusion” roles, which I guess nobody was embarrassed about because he HAD served, even if he got invalided out with ulcers and a double hernia after a few months, poor guy). His youngest buddy, Douglas Dick (ROPE), has some kind of unconvincing war injury that’s going to alluvasudden kill him in a month or two. Rather than telling the kid, Ladd decides to “pack in a hundred years of living, with no rough spots, no bumps in the road” (the film’s best line, repeated a couple times). This requires dough, so he and his pals take on a suspiciously remunerative job flying an oily tycoon to Saigon.

The titan of industry misses his flight due to a shoot-out with local cops — I *knew* this guy was up to no good — but his secretary, Veronica Lake shows up. She and Ladd cordially hate each other on sight but young Dick falls for her. A few balls are now in the air — Ladd at first tries to protect Dick from Lake, who’s no good, in his view — then he blackmails Lake into being nice to Dick, because the kid’s stuck on her and this would give him a couple months happiness. But we know the creepy businessman’s going to turn up looking for the half mill he entrusted to Lake and which Ladd now has. And, once in Indochina, there’s a sinister-seeming local policeman (“Eurasian” Luther Adler, quite good fun) lurking around, determined to nab somebody, anybody, on a money-smuggling rap.

Some of what follows is predictable — we have, after all, been told that one character is doomed — and some pans out in a fairly uninspired way, which is a shame because the leads are so good together, underplaying their socks off. Lake’s thawing is very nicely played. Leslie Fenton directs — he was quite a good actor in the pre-codes — alas, the script doesn’t have enough zingers to put over its surprisingly downbeat conclusion. Deserves a release, though, a Ladd-Lake box-set would be a desirable item, except I suppose they’d have to put STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM on it.

SAIGON stars Jay Gatsby; The Girl (in the picture/with the peekaboo curl); Kenneth; Cotton Valletti; Rudi Janus/Adolf Hitler; Morris Gershwin; and Heinrich Himmler.

2 Responses to “Still in Saigon”

  1. chris schneider Says:

    I will hear nothing against the picture that includes “Hit the Road to Dreamland” and “I’m Doin’ It For Defense” — that is to say, STAR SPANGLED RHYTHM. Even if its number with Lake is one of its less inspired stretches. Walter Abel is quite good in it, too.

  2. I had heard bad things, and I don’t usually like these plot-free extravaganzas, but I’m curious and will be taking a look. Glad to hear there are highlights!

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