Singapore (John Brahm, 1947) 🇺🇸

Singapore |

November 20, 2021

Sin-ga-pore: three highly evocative syllables we see here adorning the bright yellow diaphanous folds of a film star’s gown. How many adventurers, priests, crooks and smugglers have gone there to lose themselves – only to find themselves? The choppy waters of its port teem with junks, sails unfurled, yoke carriers struggling to make their way through the ballet of rickshaws, the mysterious gleam of gazes hidden by deftly wielded parasols, an enticing scene that lures and misleads the traveller. 

As blinded as he may have been in the past by his pearl smuggling and by a woman (Linda Grahame, the stunning Ava Gardner!), Matt Gordon (Fred MacMurray) nevertheless has all his wits about him on his return to Singapore to find his hidden treasure. On the poster he wears a Navy cap, cigarette in one hand, pistol in the other, the very picture of a gangster. But the Matt who sits down alone at the table where Linda and he used to meet is an elegantly dressed gentleman. He is submerged in a flood of memories (possibly with the help of the Gin Slings) and we hear the whole of the sad story. Five years earlier, sipping on the same cocktail, a ship's siren called to his fiancée, telling her to flee the city as the Japanese bombs rained down. Other bells rang out with an equally mournful sound, celebrating a wedding that never happened: the bride-to-be (who, after all their tearful goodbyes, finally chose not to board the ship) was left for dead under the rubble of the bombed church. Her fiancé escaped since he had slipped away to check on his cache of jewels. Crazy with despair, he embarked on a ship and went home. The end. So are we going to be deprived, only a third of the way through the film, of the smouldering looks of the diva we have only glimpsed through the Persian blinds that appear in every scene? Do we need to be satisfied with the flabby form of Matt's hotel neighbour (the bubbling Spring Byington, mother of Doctor March's four daughters!) whose only goal is to sit herself down on a rickshaw seat? 

The goddess of One Touch of Venus who set foot on earth in The Barefoot Contessa, and became a home-wrecker in the Kenyan jungle of Mogambo naturally takes the starring role in Singapore. She is no longer Linda Grahame but Ann Van Leyden. While Matt has not forgotten any detail of the past, she doesn't recognise him when they happen to run into each other at a dance. A little irritating, wouldn't you agree? However, she politely agrees to receive him, lovelier than ever in a silk gown, in the tropical garden of her plantation and on her husband's arm. And then agrees to another meeting (one too many?) at the same famous table, where her memories seem to be locked away behind the veil of her hat. The ring engraved with “one life, one love” he wears on his finger means nothing to her. Proof that this lost past really did exist comes in the form of Ming Ling, her former servant, who is over the moon at seeing her again in an exotic scene when a high-heeled Ava Gardner ventures into the mud of a neighbourhood where the buildings are on stilts.  

While her past seems to be buried forever, Matt's former life catches up with him as his old associates demand the hidden jewels. He hurries to get them from their hiding place, beneath a ceiling fan in his hotel room.  Persuaded that she remembers where the jewels are – despite the fact that she's suffering from amnesia, the idiots! – the gangsters give Linda/Ann a grilling. An interrogation that becomes a little forceful, when Ann becomes Linda once again (proving that it is indeed possible to get better!). Matt, in the meantime, runs away, convinced that it's all over with Linda. Suitably repentant, he hands over the jewels to the police chief as he is about to board his flight. Linda, who has remembered everything, dashes across the tarmac. The big-hearted police chief sees her and orders the plane to stop. The end. 

With her languid kisses, elegance, perfect poses and delicious outfits, Ava Gardner lights up the screen and makes us happy we didn't stop a third of the way through the film. As well as sad that it lasts no longer than 71 minutes, the time it takes for the lovers to join their hearts forever in the languorous Singapore setting. What better way to prolong the pleasure than hanging this poster on your wall and, in the words of Alain Souchon's song, celebrate “the beauty of Ava Gardner”?

Check out the French version of this article.