Saigon (1948) Blu-ray Review: Alan Ladd & Veronica Lake’s Last Film Together

During World War II and for about a decade after, there were a slew of American movies set in exotic foreign lands. It was as if the war suddenly alerted Americans that there were places outside of their homeland. Fantastic, beautiful places full of intrigue, mystery, adventure, and romance. These films were often film noirs and usually came with one-word titles like Singapore (1947), Macao (1952), China (1943), Calcutta (1946), and my favorite movie of all time, Casablanca (1942). They range from the very excellent to the not so great.

Buy Saigon (1948) Blu-ray

During the years from 1942-1948, Alan Ladd and Veronica starred in four films together. They became one of the leading cinematic duos of their time. The films made them stars. They were all film noirs (more or less). They range from the very excellent to the rather dull. Unfortunately, their last film together, Saigon, falls into the latter category.

Ladd plays Major Larry Briggs, a bomber pilot who, along with his friend Sergeant Pete Rocco (Wally Cassell), decide to take their pal Captain Mike Perry (Douglas Dick) on one last adventure before going home after the war. Mike, you see, received a head injury during their last flight and despite several operations has been given only two months to live. Pete decides that rather than worry his friend needlessly, he’ll pretend nothing is wrong and let him have one last bit of fun.

They are hired by Alex Marris (Morris Carnovski) to fly him to Saigon. For their effort, he’ll pay them $10,000, an amount that should have their danger bells ringing. But Mike and his crew need money (and one last adventure) so they take the job. Marris tells the boys he wants to leave the next day promptly at six in the evening. He makes a big deal out of promptness being important to him and then he’s late. His secretary Susan (Veronica Lake) shows up first. When they realize Marris is being trailed by police, who are rapidly firing at him, our heroes (and the secretary) take off without him.

The plane crashes near a small Vietnamese village where they are met by Police Lieutenant Keon (Luther Adler), who is suspicious of them immediately. He has every right to be because Susan is carrying half a million in cash with her in a small briefcase. Naturally, Morris is into some shady dealings. Susan seems to be aware he’s a crook but doesn’t know the specifics.

Briggs treats Susan like crap. First, he blackmails her to leave, stating he’ll tell the police about the money. Then when he realizes that Mike is falling for her, he blackmails her to stay and be nice to him. Naturally, she falls in love with Briggs, because in the movies it doesn’t matter how big a jerk you are, women always fall for the star.

All of this is a pretty good setup for a movie, but the screenplay by P.J. Wolfson and Arthur Sheekman lacks fire and Leslie Fenton’s direction is limp. Keon periodically appears, eyes them suspiciously, asks a few questions, and then lets them go. There is no menace to his character; we never really feel like our heroes are in danger. The film seems to recognize this because by the third act, Marris shows back up brandishing a henchman with a gun.

Veronica Lake has no chemistry with either Douglas Dick (whose acting skills range from wooden to dull) or Alan Ladd (whom she previously lit up the screen with). It doesn’t help that Briggs is mostly a jerk. Rocco is the comic relief and I actually found his shtick pretty enjoyable. The sets are nice, and the costumes by Edith Head are beautiful. It isn’t a terrible film, it just lacks any kind of spark. Recommended to fans of Ladd and Lake who want to complete the collection. All others should probably start with This Gun For Hire or The Glass Key.

Kino Lorber presents Saigon with a new 2K scan of the original negative. Extras include an informative audio commentary from film historians Lee Gambin and Elissa Rose, and lots of great trailers.

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Mat Brewster

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