Malaya (1949) Poster

(1949)

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7/10
The Great Rubber Shortage
bkoganbing24 May 2006
Malaya may seem a fantastic tale, but the story actually has quite a bit of truth to it. When World War II broke out the Japanese quickly conquered most of the rubber producing areas of the world. The modern mechanized army does run on rubber and both the USA and Germany developed types of synthetic rubber to be used.

My mother told me during World War II there were all kinds of drives for recyclable material and among the most valuable was rubber. People contributed all kinds of old tires for the war effort.

Lionel Barrymore plays the real life Manchester Boddy who was publisher of the Los Angeles Daily News who was the prime mover in the scheme you see portrayed here in Malaya. Though this story is fictional, the need for rubber in the USA was critical at the time and there was in fact a rubber smuggling operation going on.

Spencer Tracy before he came to MGM played just the kind of two fisted action heroes at Fox which was his original studio. He expressed an interest in doing this kind of film for old time sake and got cast in it. He really isn't poaching on Humphrey Bogart's territory these were the kind of roles he originally did in film while Bogey was playing hoods over at Warner Brothers.

Because the script called for a buddy team of heroes, James Stewart was approached and he even conceded top billing to Tracy. According to the Films of James Stewart, he admired Tracy as an actor so much that he was grateful just for the opportunity to work with him again. In fact Stewart's first film role was in Murder Man, a film that starred Spencer Tracy back in 1935.

With the two of these big stars in the leads, MGM was able to recruit a really outstanding group of players like John Hodiak, Valentina Cortese, Roland Winters, Richard Loo, the aforementioned Lionel Barrymore and my two favorites Gilbert Roland and Sydney Greenstreet.

Roland was shortchanged though. Watching Malaya I could tell his role as Tracy's adventurous friend was left on the cutting room floor. But even a little Gilbert Roland is always a pleasure to watch.

This was Sydney Greenstreet's last film and in it he essentially reprises the part of Ferrari in Casablanca. He's got the best lines in the film and his scenes with his cockatoo are classic. As he says, he's just a saloon keeper with an access to gossip. Which gets put to very good use.

Stewart the idealist, Tracy the cynical realist. Too bad they didn't work together more.
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7/10
decent war film
blanche-223 November 2011
Spencer Tracy and James Stewart preside over a terrific cast in "Malaya," a 1949 film also starring Valentina Cortese, Sydney Greenstreet, John Hodiak, Lionel Barrymore, Roland Winters and Gilbert Roland.

This is a fictional account of a very real situation involving the shortage of rubber during World War II. Japan really dominated the countries that had the rubber, and there was smuggling of rubber to the U.S. The situation involving Tracy and Stewart, however, never happened.

Tracy plays a con named Carnahan, whom the government releases from Alcatraz in order to spearhead this project, and Stewart plays John Royer, a former reporter with a shady enough past that the government (represented by John Hodiak) thinks he's a good bet to go into Malaya and smuggle tons of rubber out of that country and pay with gold. Carnahan knows the country like the back of his hand and has the connections. He and Royer pose as Irish sailors looking for work in order to get around a suspicious Colonel Tomura (Richard Loo) while they are helped by an old friend of Carnahan's, The Dutchman (Sydney Greenstreet). Cortese has the Dietrich role, that of a singer in love with Carnahan.

There are some exciting scenes in this film, and it holds one's attention. One of the best performances comes from Gilbert Roland, who leads the smugglers handpicked by The Dutchmen. He's very convincing.

As for Tracy and Stewart, well, although Tracy started out in tough guy Wallace Beery roles, 1949 was a little late for him to be taking them up again. Actually Hodiak would have been good, or Bogart, or John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney, someone along those lines. I thought Stewart was very good and that the two of them made an effective team. Someone said he came off as a nice guy. I thought he did cynic and hardboiled well. You can be cynical and hardboiled and averse to physical violence.

All in all, pretty good.
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8/10
Surprisingly good!
xnet9511 January 2013
I'm an American ex-pat living in Malaysia, so I thought I'd watch this to see if there were any old scenes of life in Malaysia in the late 40's. Well, as I expected, there weren't, BUT the actual movie and story were really well done and interesting.

I thought the dialog in this movie was the best I have heard from this era. I watch a lot of "noir", and this dialog was more realistic with a flair that wasn't overdone. For example, the interaction between Spencer Tracy and his girl wasn't flowery or sappy, it was kind of hip and snappy without being too "40's". Also, every line out of Greenstreet's mouth was sublime.

Casting was awesome! It seemed like everybody was perfect for their role. Greenstreet was fantastic as an almost omnipotent bar owner. Tracy was rough and rugged. Stewart was convincing as a sort-of-drifter that finally finds purpose in his life. Plus, you get a cameo of Lionel Barrymore, which is worth it's weight in gold.

This is a "feel good" movie about losers and dregs of society helping to win the war. It's tough, violent, and not everybody gets out alive. And, it's patriotic without being sappy. Watch this one on the Fourth of July, and you can't go wrong!
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9/10
The Shortage of Rubber in 1942
theowinthrop25 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is about how close the U.S. war effort (and it's "arsenal of Democracy" image) came to faltering in 1942. The U.S. has been blessed with many natural resources that other country's don't have. Oil for example, or iron ore and steel. Or even huge forests of trees. But we are not a nation with huge stores of rubber. We are dependent on rubber supplies from abroad.

Oddly enough one man had tried to counter this. In the teens of the 20th Century, Thomas Edison had become a close friend to Harvey Firestone, the tire king. Firestone had huge rubber plantations in Liberia, but was aware of the dangers to his shipping of rubber in World War I. He discussed the possibility of an alternative to rubber in the U.S. with Edison. It was the Wizard of Menlo Park's last big project, occupying his life until 1931 when he died. He found that golden rod came closest to being a viable substitute. But little was done with this discovery.

In 1942 our rubber was coming from three areas of the globe, and none were next door to us. They were in Liberia and Brazil, both of which were across the Atlantic Ocean to the east or to the south. Nazi u-boats were making shipments from these areas difficult. The third was from southeast Asia, principally from French Indo - China or from Malaya and Indonesia. The movie RED DUST dealt with the rubber plantations in French Indo - China in the 1930s. The Japanese had these plantations and the ones in Malaya and Indonesia in their control from December 1941 onward.

To counter the emergency, a rubber-collecting drive occurred across the country (similar to tin and metal drives that children got involved in). But the U.S. government was quick to organize any method to get the rubber that was in Japanese hands. This movie dealt with the scheme that was planned that involved smuggling Rubber out of Malaya.

Lionel Barrymore is John Manchester, the editor of the LOS ANGELES RECORD (based on Manchester Boddy). He has gotten Jimmy Stewart, a reporter with a mixed record, to the U.S. Stewart knows about a way to get huge supplies of rubber to the U.S. under the nose (theoretically) of the Japanese. The plan requires the government springing his former friend Spencer Tracy, a big time smuggler, out of Alcatraz. With Tracy Stewart would go to Malaya (with papers showing they are sailors from the neutral Eire - Irish Free State - of Eamon DeValera). They would hook up with Tracy's old friend "the Dutchman" (Sidney Greenstreet) and he would help find the local wharf rats (including Gilbert Roland) to assist the matter. They would have unlimited American gold to get the men they need, and to bribe the three largest plantation owners in the area (Tom Helmore, Ian MacDonald, and Roland Winters). To sweeten the operation for Tracy, who will get a free pardon for his help, he is reunited with Valentina Cortesa - his girlfriend who works in Greenstreet's saloon.

The film follows the whole operation, which (on the whole) is working well enough - but has it's dangers. The local Japanese Colonel is Richard Loo, who is suspicious (if dismissive) of westerners, and he soon zeros in on Tracy and Stewart as distinctly odd figures. And one of the three plantation owners, Winters, is a German. He is a greedy man, but he may be closer to the Japanese than the allies.

The film works pretty well. My only complaint is the seeming waste of John Hodiak, who is a Federal agent and is seen for twenty minutes at the start of the film, but only turns up at the tail end of it to deliver a medal (I won't say to whom). This was Sidney Greenstreet's last movie, and he does look a trifle ill, but he certainly maintains his best standards - as a philosophical gent who knows how to safely balance his friendship with Tracy and his "necessary" friendship with Loo (his relationship with Loo, regarding gambling in his saloon, is similar to that of Rick Blaine with Captain Louis Renault in CASABLANCA). Winters plays his few scenes as an untrustworthy type well. Cortesa has a few good scenes with Tracy, including one where he has to forcibly cause her to leave him when she does not want him. Stewart's character believes in maintaining his own counsel. At the beginning he seems a hard bitten reporter who has seen the world and skirted the edge of the law a bit. He is cynical. Only later do we realize that a family tragedy has made him less cynical and more patriotic than we realized.
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5/10
rather full time passer--salvaged only by a few decent performances
MartinHafer27 August 2006
If this movie did not have Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy, the film wouldn't have even merited a score of five. It was a very uninspiring and forgettable wartime film made several years after the war actually ended. It just seemed like all the energy was missing from the film. In fact, about the only energy came from Sidney Greenstreet's pet bird--now that bird can act! Another problem with the film is the idea of casting Spencer Tracy in the role of a selfish, devil-may-care smuggler in Alcatraz at the beginning of the film. The believability of the performance didn't improve once he made it to Malaya. This is actually the sort of role I might have expected for Clark Gable or maybe even Errol Flynn (yes, I know he was with a different studio), but for Tracy, an actor who often was cast as the priest or nice guy, it just wasn't terribly convincing. Plus, he just acted too nice to be as seedy as they described him as being.

In the end, the only interesting thing about this film is how so much money was spent on the cast and so little bang was achieved for MGM's buck. This is purely a time-passer or film for those devotees of Stewart or Tracy.
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7/10
Decent war film with a difference
vincentlynch-moonoi12 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Spencer Tracy plays a smuggler who is released from prison to help Jimmy Stewart sneak a huge rubber crop out of Japanese-held Malaya during WW II. They sneak into the country and meet up with Sydney Greenstreet (in his last film), who helps them recruit a group of men to assist, including Gilbert Roland. They use money and force to purchase all the available rubber, but the Japanese find out and ambush the last shipment. Who will live to complete the mission? I don't like the first 18 minutes of this film because I don't care much (at least usually) for film noir...and although this is not a gangster flick, the beginning is definitely noir. It is nice, within that portion of the film to see Lionel Barrymore, and nice also to see John Hodiak, both of whom do what they need to do to advance the plot.

Some people don't like the Jimmy Stewart character we meet here, because it's not the nice Jimmy Stewart we all came to like. Here's he's a rather cynical newspaper reporter, and he does fine in the part.

About 20 minutes into the film he teams up with Tracy, fresh out of Alcatraz for the heist of the rubber from Malaysia. If you are a fan of Tracy, and have seen his pics from 1945 to 1948, you know he was aging fast, and here, in 1949, he is surprisingly older...and it's not makeup.

The Old Dutchman is played by Sydney Greenstreet, who was suffering from diabetes and a form of kidney disease at the time. This was his last film before he retired; he died a little over 4 years later. Here he plays the owner of a café of sorts, in a role not dissimilar to the one he played in "Casablanca", although here he is sweatier and dirtier.

Richard Loo plays Japanese Colonel Tomura. Gilbert Roland is one of the men who helps Tracy and Stewart. John Hodiak is an FBI agent. Valentina Cortese is good as Luana, Tracy's girlfriend.

This is not a great film like "Casabalnca", and it was clearly not a film into which MGM invested great sums of money. But, it's a different kind of WWII film, and as such, a welcome change. The action is pretty decent, and it does make some sense. Tracy is very good here, Stewart is reasonably good, and there's a degree of suspense since you have a pretty good idea that one of the good guys is going to die before the end of the picture. But, which one? Tracy and Steward fans will want this on their DVD shelf. It's on mine.
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TERRIFIC MOVIE - CLOSE TO A CLASSIC
bowiebks15 May 2004
Just by chance I was home to catch this terrific movie when it was shown a few days ago on cable TV...what a happy surprise! Both Stewart and Tracy play "good-bad guys" whose inner morality and patriotism rises to the top when the going gets tough. The supporting cast is full of top talent, including super performances from John Hodiak, Sidney Greenstreet, and Lionel Barrymore. Richard Loo and Gilbert Roland both play brilliantly to their "type" and are fine as well, and Roland Winters (usually in pompous comic roles) is very effective as a German rubber plantation owner who should not be trusted! Look for the always-welcome Russel Hicks in the scene on the train, and savor the sound of his elegant voice.

In addition, the script by Frank Fenton is way above average, with very droll and off-hand wit in evidence throughout.

All in all, a first-rate movie which deserves to be much better known!
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8/10
Sydney Greenstreet is superb (as always) !!
wmjahn17 June 2007
There is a scene that makes the whole picture worthwhile (although it is otherwise pretty ordinary):

Sydney GREENSTREET is entering a room after app. 2/3 of the movie, where Spencery Tracey has just been "treated kindly" in an "interview", Greenstreet is sweating (as always), sitting down and looking at the molestor of Tracy, then says (roughly): "If you say this was necessary, then of course it was necessary, but wasn't that much for a bottle of poor booze?". The officer say: "But he broke our rules". Greenstreet: "A man who drinks and then doesn't break any rules is no man. Drinking and making troubles goes together, this is also a rule." What a line !! Officer: "I love your logic." Of course these are not exactly the lines from the picture, cause I saw the German dubbed version and re-translated them, but they can only be better in the English version.

Hilarious! Tape it, when shown on TV next time and get to that scene, it is just great!
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6/10
A middling movie a little late in the game...fun, but not intense
secondtake24 November 2013
Malaya (1949)

It would be nice to love this movie—with a strong theme of wartime ingenuity and bravery, and with three stellar actors—but by the end I was thinking everyone involved was just going through the motions. That's probably enough in many ways with people this naturally gifted on screen, and the movie is enjoyable, no question. With all the borrowings or references to earlier classics (Sydney Greenstreet even has a big bird as a pet, as in "Casablanca"), it makes for a fun time.

The premise starts with some very compact storytelling—a somewhat disreputable man (James Stewart) is overheard saying he could smuggle rubber out of British Malaya (now Malaysia). It's WWII and the Army likes the idea enough to send him off with an ex-con (Spencer Tracy) who knows the area well. (This is all arranged with the help of Lionel Barrymore in a small role.)

Then the adventure begins as they penetrate with surprising ease the rubber plantations and arrange with the generally friendly locals and ex-pats to get their hidden stockpiles. The Japanese do eventually catch on and there is fun there, but not before a couple of torch songs and some humorous excess as usual from the likable Greenstreet.

Frankly, things never get exciting or even suspenseful, though interesting all along. One huge problem (for me) was a complete lack of details. The two men would say, okay, let's go get this rubber here, and they meet the plantation owner and there is some talk and then suddenly they are going down the river with some little barges. The Japanese have no suspicions, and the local smugglers are all these cheerful Resistance Fighter types who really like to help a lot.

It would be fun to know if a young viewer finds this exotic and fun or laughable. It's somewhere between in all. And what honestly holds it together for anyone who likes the actors is just watching familiar faces in new roles. That is one of the endless interests of the movies.

See it? Sure, if you already like older films or WWII films. It's not bad. The director Richard Thorpe is quite unknown these days, but the cinematographer is a standard bearer of he period, George Folsey, and that makes every scenes look terrific. Yeah, it's not at all bad. But it ain't great, either.
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10/10
One of the better war movies ever made.
Bob-15925 October 1998
Stewart gets Tracy out of jail to steal rubber from the Japs in Malaya during WWII. Not too much violence for a war movie but loads of adventure and twists. Obviously they'll succeed but not without a lot of conflict and action. The kind of movie you'll want to see several times because it's one of the best war movies ever made. Excellent acting, dialog, cinematography and direction. About the best actors possible to get into one movie. Wish it was on video tape.
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10/10
Great Cast of Classic Screen Actors!
whpratt115 May 2004
This is a Classic film that can be seen over and over again. Spencer Tracy, " Devil at 4 O'Clock,'61", gave an outstanding performance trying to obtain rubber from a jungle infested with the Japanese Army during WWII and working hand in hand with his buddy James Stewart,"The Shootist",'76, in order to accomplish their mission with romance and plenty of action. Sydney Greenstreet," The Woman in White",'48 gave his last performance in this film and played the owner of a cafe and lived up to a great supporting role. This entire picture had great supporting actors, Barrymore, Roland and Winters. If you love Classic films, don't miss this one!
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7/10
Keeps Your Interest.
rmax30482324 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
It's early 1942. Jimmy Stewart is a reporter recently returned from Southeast Asia, soured because his brother was killed on Wake Island. He's enlisted by the feds to smuggle three hidden hordes of rubber out of Malaya, but he needs the help of a former companion, Spencer Tracey, whom he sent up the river by selling a scandalous newspaper story. The fed arrange for Tracey's release.

Tracey is ensconced in Alcatraz. He's brought to the warden's office and meets Stewart for the first time since his betrayal. "Well, well, well!", says Tracey, all smiles, as he walks up to Stewart and punches him on the jaw. Still smiling, Tracey cradles Stewart's face lovingly in his hands and says, "I didn't really let that one go, you know," and then pinches his cheek like a baby.

That pretty much sets the tone of the rest of the picture. Fifteen minutes with the embittered and determined Stewart and the rest of the film belongs to Tracey. It isn't that Stewart's performance is in any way inadequate. But his role has little in the way of dimension. He's played cynical and unpleasant types before, up to and including "Rear Window." This is an extension of the same character.

Tracey is marvelous. Here, he's a man of impulsive action and pragmatism, selfish. And he was only one year away from playing the sentimental role of the "foxy grandpa" in "Father of the Bride." If this had been made in 1942 instead of 1949, it could easy have been a cheap flag-waver. The Japanese -- Richard Loo, a Hawaiian-born Chinese -- are still treacherous and a little fanatic. The plot is a thing of shreds and patches. Stewart and Tracey are going to save the US rubber industry by smuggling out a couple of boat loads of rubber -- one hundred and fifty thousand tons carted along a small river in small boats, without the Japanese army of occupation noticing the strange activity.

But it's not nearly as bad as it might sound. The direction is efficient, the performances alone would save the film if nothing else did, and the dialog has some keen edges to it, even during dull scenes of Tracey and Valentina Cortese murmuring to each other about their mutual love. Sidney Greenstreet adds a flaccid stability. And Richard Loo is hilarious as Colonel Tomura.

A few feet of location footage aside, as well as some shots of PT boats I swear was lifted from "They Were Expendable," it was all shot on the MGM lot. All the white men wear white suits. (No pith helmets, and I wept at their absence.) Tracey and Stewart hire the usual movie-style riff raff in colorful and raggedy outfits to man the boats that will carry the smuggled rubber.

Enjoyable. Not the stupid plot but its execution.
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8/10
A great blend of 40's patriotism and film noir
smitty974019 November 2006
Someone had the wits to make a 1940's patriotic war movie in the style of film noir. Is it hokey? Of course it is!! But when it's done like this, you have a sense of watching a war film at its best. Part of it is a literate script that goes far beyond the usual patriotic hoo-ha and gives a sense of real urgency to the war in Asia. Part of it is some totally professional acting by Stewart, Tracy, Greenstreet and, not least, John Hodiak in the role of an FBI agent. If you're bored, as I am, by the John Wayne, flag-waving nonsense that proliferated during the war, try this on. It manages to be improbable and believable at the same time.
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5/10
"With the right kind of money and the wrong kind of man I can get that rubber for ya."
utgard149 August 2014
WW2-set story about a plot to smuggle rubber out of Japanese-occupied Malaya. Reporter Jimmy Stewart, whose brother was killed by the Japanese, enlists in the war and is tasked with the smuggling operation, a nearly impossible mission he boasts he can do easily with the help of an old friend. That friend being Spencer Tracy, currently serving time at Alcatraz.

Watchable time-killer that's a bit of a disappointment given the cast. Notable for being the final film of Sydney Greenstreet. Despite his failing health at this time, Greenstreet is still the most lively actor in the bunch. Tracy and Stewart are just going through the motions, not that the dull script or pedestrian direction do much to help them. Also the last film Stewart made with Lionel Barrymore, whose part is unfortunately small.
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8/10
Wonderful gem found on a day encouragement was needed
kalibeans7 August 2014
I had never crossed paths with "Malaya" until today. Rather confused as to how I missed it being a Jimmy Stewart and a huge Tracy fan. The summary title I gave this review sums this movie up nicely. Encouragement. The kind of stories no longer made. Where a man does what he does knowing he is walking most probably into death for no other reason than it is the right thing to do. It also shows how one man willing to do the right thing is able to influence those who circle about him to do the same. It is the Second World War. The US is in desperate need of rubber. The rubber is in Malaya. Stewart's character, a journalist (even more needed today, a journalist with integrity!) who had been working in the east is asked if he could come up with the contacts to get the rubber out of Japan occupied Malaya by any means necessary. He accepts and enlists his friend Tracey, a ne'er-do-well currently at zip code Alcatraz. They hurry off to Malaya where barkeep Sydney Greenstreet (in his last role) plays the man who steers them to the right connections. Well written, captures your attention from the first scene to the last and most of all - encouraging. If you have a day when you are wondering where have all the hero's gone - watch Malaya. It will bring you encouragement without being sappy.
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WW II adventure with, er, action heroes James Stewart and Spencer Tracy
frank_olthoff5 July 2001
(Version reviewed is the 90-minute German-language showing on ARD on July 5, 2001.)

There are two rather unbecoming aspects about this movie, one being its blunt nationalism, the other one its odd casting. Where you would have expected, say, William Holden as the daring journalist and, well, Humphrey Bogart as the cynical hotshot, you get Jimmy and Spence. It's not that they don't act well, but the rôles just don't seem to fit. What a difference with handsome Mexican Gilbert Roland who is chosen perfectly (as Romano).

Journalist Royer (Stewart) gets his rival/friend Carnaghan (Tracy) out of prison with help from official sides (fine thesping by John Hodiak) for the good of the nation, that is, to haul all possible rubber out of British, but Jap-occupied, Malaya for the United States. Of course, the European land-owners give all assistance possible to support the sacred case, including a voluntary beating that Ian MacDonald gets from Tracy. America's raw nationalism was curiously carried right into the German translation: dubious Bruno Gruber (played by "Charlie Chan" Roland Winters) is named Marty Robber (or so) in German dubbing version of 1955, because a badman just couldn't have a German name to German audiences... This should be worth a correction, although the forgery effect is not as high as in the original 1952 dubbing of "Casablanca", that was corrected in a new version as late as in 1968. (Stewart, by the way, is synchronized well by Eckart Dux this time, not by regular Siegmar Schneider.)

Although film's humour is well-measured, it cannot conceal, but rather contributes to, the dare-devil chauvinism, four years after the war ended. Tracy played something of a contrary rôle in "Bad Day at Black Rock", as regards the U.S. relationship to the Japanese.

There's a lot of epigonism of "Casablanca", though not as much as in its immediate successors, in "Malaya". We have Richard Loo's Col. Tomura marching into the bar like Maj. Strasser; Italy's Cortese in the European female part (the story might have done without her, were there not some nice dialogues with Tracy); and the wonderful Sydney Greenstreet, who somewhat resumes his Senor Ferrari rôle (that parrot of his is a blue one, I suppose).

Despite this emulation, Frank Fenton's screenplay has something interesting about it that makes this movie agreeable after all. But it wouldn't have taken the famous leading players, close to miscasts, for something that appears like an MGM "B" production to me. - Worst thing is, I couldn't spot DeForest "Bones" Kelley anywhere around, although he is said to be there.
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Worth Watching for the Great Cast
Michael_Elliott17 May 2012
Malaya (1949)

*** (out of 4)

Washed-up reporter John Royer (James Stewart) is picked up by a government man who forces him into telling them how to sneak rubber out of Malaya. Royer agrees to help the government and he enlists the help of an old friend (Spencer Tracy) and soon the two are questioning their motives as they try and help the war cause. I've read quite a few reviews for this title and it seems that the majority of people were disappointed and I can certainly understand where they're coming from. After all, with such a terrific cast you really could argue that MGM should have spent more time coming up with a better story as there's no question it's quite standard WWII fair. With that said, it's the terrific cast that makes this worth viewing and I think seeing all the big names together makes the film worth sitting through. Not only do you have Tracy and Stewart but we've also got Lionel Barrymore and Sydney Greenstreet in his final film appearance. I thought watching the four of these men together was a lot of fun and especially the banter between Stewart and Tracy. I was a little surprised to see Stewart taking a supporting role but he's certainly very good in it and manages to bring that charm of his across without a problem. His character is also a patriotic one and I thought the actor did a great job at getting this across. Tracy is also exceptionally good here even though the character certainly wasn't going to stretch the legend any. Greenstreet is terrific as always and it's really amazing to see how good he could be with what appeared to be very little effort. It's a real shame that this turned out to be his final film. Barrymore plays the type of character he was typically doing during this point of his career but it was fun seeing him and Stewart together a couple years after IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The film also offers up some exciting action scenes and especially at the end, which I won't ruin but the effects of the battle were extremely realistic and they put you right there in the middle of the action. Again, I can see why some might be disappointed that the film is so light in areas but seeing the four stars together makes it very much worth seeing.
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not very good and terrible miscasting
deschreiber18 November 2011
Even with a better cast, this would not have been much of a film. On the surface it looks like it will be some sort of action film, with spies going into enemy territory to steal, or rather negotiate on the black market for, essential supplies. But there's little intrigue and very little action. Most of the scenes are simply characters sitting in chairs talking to one another. The surprise at the very end of the film is so far-fetched as to undercut the credibility of nearly everything else. The love story involves two people who have no reason to be attracted to one another. There are elements of Casablanca here, set in a country occupied by the enemy, a nightclub owner consorting with an enemy officer, the gambling being fixed by the owner to pay someone he wants to do a favour to, and a cynic acquiring higher ideals; but it's all a very pale imitation of Casablanca. Some comments suggest that there is something "noirish" about the film. Well. it's in black and white, but it does not have the requisite sense of evil and foreboding.

But the biggest failure is in the casting. James Stewart is supposed to play a sour, hard-bitten, cynical operator who finds a little patriotism late in life. But Stewart can't help coming across as a nice guy. He may speak the tough words, but the tone is wrong. His eyes shift in that self-deprecating way of his, he carries himself in that modest way of his, and he just doesn't come off as the character he is supposed to be playing. When his partner is punching someone over and over in the face, Stewart looks repelled by the brutality. Spencer Tracy is probably even worse in his role as a tough jailbird who is let out of Alcatraz to help in the mission. He looks old; his figure is dumpy, his way of moving is slow. He threatens a man, but he doesn't seem very scary. (DeNiro would know how to do that.) He is the romantic interest of a nightclub singer who is crazy over him, yet he's way too old for her and doesn't have anything of the sort of animal magnetism that might make him believable as her lover. In fact, to be honest, there were moments when Tracy looked like he couldn't act. The Japanese have been beating him, trying to get him to talk; Tracy frowns a little but registers no pain, no discomfort, no fear; he shakes it off and then looks comfortable. When he dumps his girlfriend to keep her safe, his face shows nothing.

I forced myself to watch to the end because I have an interest in Malaya. On its own terms, this movie would have lost me long before the mid-way point.
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6/10
Great Cast -Oddly Timed Film
DKosty12317 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I am so surprised that this movie was made in 1949. It plays much like war propaganda films made during the war. The story of the rubber shortage during the beginning of the war and some Americans and others getting involved to steal rubber in Malaysia.

Spencer Tracy does some fine acting here. He also punches out several people and somehow it seems like he actually does. Valentina Cortese is the leading woman, she is even shorter than Tracy. James Stewart has a different type of role here as a brother trying to get revenge with the Japanese after his brother is killed in the war. Sydney Greenstreet is a bad guy whose playing both sides. Lionel Barrymore has a brief role early in the film. John Hodiak is featured as Kellar.

For some reason, when the film ends, it has the feel of what might have been a war propaganda film. This might be because the story was written by Manchester Boddy who wrote a film called "Mr. Blabbermouth" which was one of those films. Frank Fenton converted it for the screen as he did other films often in the 1950's.
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5/10
OK but not up to the talent
drjgardner16 November 2017
This film has some really great actors in it - Sydney Greenstreet, Spencer Tracey, Lionel Barrymore, James Stewart, Gilbert Roland, John Hodiak, Richard Loo, etc. And it's got an exotic location (Malaya) and a war-time plot (getting rubber to outfit the US war machine in WW2). But it never manages to get going, maybe because Spencer Tracey was never really an "action" star, or maybe because the director Richard Thorpe, while prolific, wasn't particularly skilled in this genre (he's best known for Ivanhoe, Knights of the Round Table, The Great Caruso, The Student Prince).

It's worth a look, and Barrymore and Greenstreet do their usual wonderful jobs.
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7/10
Little-known chapter of WWII history
jhkp3 December 2013
This is a good, not great, action-adventure picture based on the true account of how very necessary rubber was gotten out of Malaya, under the nose of the Japanese, for the Allied war effort in World War Two.

Spencer Tracy and James Stewart are teamed as a two-fisted con (sprung from Alcatraz for the job) and a hard-bitten reporter recruited by American intelligence (represented by John Hodiak).

There's some action, some atmosphere, some romance. It's not an exciting film, really, but the premise is unusual enough, and with some effort on my part, I stayed with it, and felt it had a decent payoff.

Like a lot of other MGM films of the time, the entire foreign locale was recreated on the back lot and the sound stages of the studio. You may recognize the river area and other locations from earlier films (Tarzan films, for example).

I'm not sure I bought Tracy as the tough nut, Carnahan. At least, not at his age. (He did sometimes play these kinds of roles much earlier in his career.) Here, I would rather have seen Clark Gable. The lines, the attitudes would have suited him better.

Jimmy Stewart doesn't really seem ideally cast, either. He's very good, but he's not exactly right.

Sydney Greenstreet, Valentina Cortesa, Gilbert Roland, Richard Loo and Lionel Barrymore round out the cast.

Though not a thrill a minute, Malaya is at least a fairly intelligent picture that tells a little known story of WWII heroism.
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In 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor...
andrenalin_048 February 2011
In 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, John Royer, an ex-newspaper correspondent, is summoned home by his publisher, John Manchester, after serving four years in the Far East. When Manchester asks Royer to help in a nation-wide drive to salvage rubber, the reporter scoffs and proposes a daring scheme to smuggle large quantities of rubber out of Japanese-occupied Malaya. After returning to his hotel room, Royer is contacted by a federal agent named Kellar, who reveals that he has thoroughly investigated Royer's past and has learned that Royer's story about smuggling resulted in the imprisonment of his friend Carnahan. Later, Kellar escorts Royer to a railroad car where Manchester is waiting with a panel of men, who intend to question him about his plans. Royer explains that he requires gold to buy the rubber, men needed to steal it and a camouflaged Navy ship to transport it from Malaya. Royer also insists that Carnahan be freed from Alcatraz to work on the mission. Carnahan is still angry at Royer for writing the expose that led to his imprisonment, but agrees to cooperate in return for his freedom. As Royer and Carnahan set sail for Malaya, Royer explains that he is risking his own life because his brother was killed by the Japanese. The cynical adventurer Carnahan responds that his only interest is in the gold. Upon reaching the Malay city of Penang, Carnahan and Royer pose as Irish seamen and visit the saloon owned by the Dutchman, an old friend of Carnahan's. There, Carnahan is warmly embraced by his former lover, the opportunistic singer Luana. The Dutchman also introduces them to Col. Genichi Tomura, the corrupt Japanese commandant with a penchant for gambling. After hearing their plans, the Dutchman agrees to recruit twelve men for the operation. While alone with Carnahan later that night, Luana recalls their past relationship and begs him to get her out of Malaya. The next morning, the Dutchman puts Carnahan and Royer in touch with three of the biggest planters in the district. Although all three agree to cooperate, Carnahan and Royer are wary of the third, Bruno Gruber, a German planter. That evening, while Carnahan distracts the Japanese by getting himself arrested, Royer, aided by Romano and the other guerillas, delivers the rubber from the first two plantations to a U.S. ship camouflaged as a small island. Afterward, the Dutchman convinces Tomura to release Carnahan into his custody. Afraid to trust the German, Carnahan refuses to participate in the last shipment but Royer, out of revenge for his brother's death, insists on completing the mission. Carnahan relents and joins Royer, then beats Gruber into revealing that the Japanese are waiting downstream to ambush them. Determined to secure the last of the rubber, Royer continues on alone and is brutally killed by Tomura's men. Hearing the sound of gunfire that signals the death of his friend, Carnahan shoots Gruber, prompting the Dutchman to observe that at least Royer died for his beliefs. The following day, Tomura visits the Dutchman and offers to allow the remaining rubber to be shipped out for a price. Although he suspects a trap, Carnahan resolves to complete Royer's mission. While Romano and his men deliver the rubber, Carnahan decoys Tomura with his boat. When Luana insists upon joining him, he pushes her overboard to safety. As Carnahan nears the U.S. ship, Tomura stops his boat, takes him captive, then signals the Japanese flotilla to attack the ship. Just then, two American PT boats suddenly appear and sink the flotilla with torpedoes. In the fracas, Carnahan is wounded but manages to kill Tomura. Some time after the end of the war, Kellar comes to Malaya to award a medal to Carnahan, who is now living on an island with Luana. Refusing the medal, the cynical Carnahan tells Kellar to pin it on the Dutchman instead.
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5/10
A tepid script and dull direction.
JohnHowardReid4 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Producer: Edwin H. Knopf. Copyright 25 November 1949 by Loew's Inc. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer picture. New York opening at the Capitol: 22 February 1950. U.S. release: 6 January 1950. U.K. release: 16 January 1950. Australian release: 1 June 1950. 8,557 feet. 95 minutes. Alternate U.S. title: Alien Orders. U.K. release title: EAST OF THE RISING SUN.

COMMENT: Disappointingly little action can be glimpsed in this over-talkative account of rubber smuggling in war-time Malaya. Not only is the screenplay irritatingly slow in getting under way, but Richard Thorpe's stolidly unimaginative, heavy-handed direction kills whatever promise the original yarn might have possessed. At times, would you believe, the script presents feeble echoes of Cacablanca, - for example in the sequence where George Folsey's camera caresses Cortesa singing "Those Little Things".

The marquee interest stimulated by the teaming of Tracy and Stewart also proves a fizzer. Indeed, all the acting rates as disappointingly routine. Richard Loo's charming manners come across as no substitute for Casablanca's Claude Rains ("I'm just a corrupt public official"), while Sydney Greenstreet renders his customary characterisation with a glumly dispirited air that effectively conveys his total dissatisfaction with the movie in general and Thorpe's impersonal handling in particular. Keen-eyed fans will have to stay wide awake to catch sight of Gilbert Roland who has one of the smallest and least consequential roles of his career. Likewise Lionel Barrymore, whose two scenes do him little credit.

To sum up, the picture falls resoundingly flat. Despite a tolerably large budget and a fair dollop of surface gloss, Malaya proves once again that even the strongest cast cannot survive a tepid script and dull direction.
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Tracy and Stewart
goldenbearhk200123 December 2006
Interesting movie for fans of Stewart or Tracy or both. However, the script and plot are pretty funny, unintentionally in most cases. As mentioned in goofs, there is a shot of chimps, which are nowhere to be found in Malaysia except a zoo perhaps. Also I would be surprised if there was an actual Malay in the entire film. Especially humorous is Gilbert Roland, using Spanish here and there. Also the idea that a large ship could be camouflaged to make it appear as an island was ridiculous. Nice opening shot of Alcatraz, and as usual Tracy is believable and gruff, similar to his turn in Boom Town with Clark Gable. Also Sydney Greenstreet has a major supporting role. In Casablanca he had a blue parrot, here he has a cockatoo as sidekick...
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2/10
From bad to worse
richard-178715 November 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is never good. It just keeps going from bad to worse. And just when you think it can't get any worse, it surprises you and does.

Very little of it is believable. How could Stewart and Tracy smuggle all that rubber, in large boats, down the river without the Japanese seeing them????

Once Stewart is killed in the attempt, the picture only gets worse. We have no idea why Tracy at one point pushes the woman he has been involved with overboard. And then, where did those two PT boats come from, and how did they manage to sink the Japanese destroyer?

It just doesn't make sense. And it's not a good movie.
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