Tue 24 May 2011
A LADY WITHOUT PASSPORT. MGM, 1950. Hedy Lamarr, John Hodiak, James Craig, George Macready, Steven Geray, Bruce Cowling, Nedrick Young, Steven Hill, Richard Crane. Director: Joseph H. Lewis.
This is one of those black and white semi-documentary movies about one of the various US law enforcement services that were common in the late 1940s and early 50s, in this case the Immigration Service.
While the story value is rather low, if you were to ask me, that the director was Joseph H. Lewis means that there’s lots of entertainment value to be found in the staging, the lighting, the settings, the camera angles – everything that a director can do to make a dull thud of a movie interesting, Joseph Lewis (no relation) does.
John Hodiak is sent to Havana to get the goods on a sophisticated operation of smuggling illegal immigrants into the US through that port of entry, and in particular mastermind George Macready, who plays his part to the hilt. No one can act in as slick, sinister and evil a fashion as he!
The would-be immigrants are mostly refugees from war-torn Europe or criminals of various persuasions, and among them is Hedy Lamarr, as radiantly beautiful as she always was as a former prisoner of Nazi concentration camp.
John Hodiak falls in love with her, of course, as who wouldn’t, and is even willing to give up his job for her, in light of the obviously untenable situation they find themselves in.
The problem is, from the viewer’s point of view, is that Miss Lamarr is far too beautiful, with far too many fashionable clothes, to ever be accepted as a refugee from the Nazis with no legal place to escape to. Accept her at face value, for the sake of the story, or not at all. While I don’t know about you, I went with the first choice, but full honesty in reviewing, according to my Guild notes, requires me to point this particular dilemma out to you.
Havana makes a nice place to film a movie – many shots are on location – but speaking of unusual camera angles, as I was earlier, two scenes are most worthy of note:
First, an confrontation on a busy Manhattan street at the beginning of the film, one that ends in the death of one of the participants, is filmed from inside an automobile, looking outward through the windows as the camera tracks the action; a second one, looking straight down from above as the passengers like ants make their way out of a downed plane in the Everglades and form themselves into groups, is a scene I’ve never seen from this particular perspective before.