September 18, 2023
Soldier of Fortune (1955)
Grade: 50/100

Director: Edward Dmytryk
Stars: Susan Hayward, Clark Gable, Michael Rennie

What it's about. In 1955, the Chinese island Hong Kong is controlled by the British, while the mainland has been Communist for several years. Humorless journalist Gene Barry meddles in China until he is detained by the Communists. Barry's glamorous wife Susan Hayward shows up alone in Hong Kong to find her missing husband, who must still be alive because it is a movie.

British inspector Michael Rennie won't do much to help her, so Hayward conducts her own investigation, by herself, despite not knowing a word of Mandarin. Fortunately for her, Hayward soon encounters Clark Gable, a purported crime lord with a shipping empire and a heart of gold. Clark drops everything to help her, because that is what rascals do in Hollywood movies when they see a beautiful white woman in trouble.

How others will see it. Director Edward Dmytryk is fairly highly regarded in film circles, though not for the present feature, merely an exotic vehicle for manly-man Clark Gable and Pauline-in-peril Susan Hayward. The widescreen format takes advantage of filming on location in atmospheric Hong Kong, but the effect is diminished by Hayward's scenes, since a child custody battle kept her in the United States on a Hollywood backlot.

Most viewers recognize the formula but give the film grudging acceptance due to the star power of its two leads.

How I felt about it. Dmytryk's best films were made in the 1950s, particularly The Young Lions and The Caine Mutiny. Unfortunately, Soldier of Fortune is not up to that level. The obvious problem is that the story is not credible.

We are to believe that Yankee Clark Gable is the shipping magnate of Hong Kong. That his mansion houses three orphan children and zero Chinese mistresses. That he would give up his smuggling empire to win over a beautiful American housewife, even if it means risking his own neck in a raid in Communist China to free a dufus American adventurer. He is accompanied in this raid, not by henchmen he knows and can rely upon, but by a British inspector acquaintance who would sooner arrest Gable for any number of violations of Her Majesty's laws in British Hong Kong.

But what is the beautiful American housewife doing there, in the first place? She doesn't look for her husband when he is thousands of miles away in the lawless Orient, but once he stops writing, she arrives in Hong Kong with nothing more than a wardrobe, a checkbook, and an attitude of feminine superiority. She might as well hold up a sign that reads Rob Me, Rape Me, written in English on one side and Mandarin on the other.

There is an entire subplot about dimwitted middle-aged white men (Alexander D'Arcy, Tom Tully, Russell Collins, Leo Gordon) in Hong Kong who do nothing but hang out together in a bar and hotel and get drunk.

The plot is burdened by the Production Code, which ensures that deplorable thick-accented thief and kidnapper Mel Welles will get beat up by Clark Gable, while Hayward escapes with her virtue intact and Barry escapes despite his endless capacity for brave stupidity. The surprise is that Gable gets the girl despite the obstacle of Hayward's marriage, though only because Barry is such a dufus that he won't even escort his beautiful wife back to where she belongs, in America.