The Bribe (1949) *
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard. Produced by Pandro S. Berman.Written by Marguerite Roberts from a story by Frederick Nebel. Cinematography, Joseph Ruttenberg. Editing, Gene Ruggiero. Music, Nacio Herb Brown (song),William Katz, Miklós Rózsa. Cast: Robert Taylor (Rigby), Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, John Hodiak, Vincent Price, Samuel S. Hinds, John Hoyt, Tito Renaldo, Martin Garralaga, et al. An MGM film
For many years, Robert Taylor (1911-1969) was one of the top stars at MGM. He was internationally thought to be the handsomest actor in Hollywood. He did deserve to be called "the man with the perfect profile," and while not a performer of AAA caliber, he was very good.
Beginning in 1934 (at age 23) he was in a quick succession of movies. As the lead in the musical "Broadway Melody of 1936" (1935).he was popular, but it is with "Magnificent Obsession" (1935) that he became a star. Other films confirmed his status: "The G orgeous Hussy" (1936) and above the super-romantic "Camille" (1937) where as Armand Duval he was cast opposite Greta Garbo. Other successes followed, culminating again with the World War I sad romance "Waterloo Bridge" (1940), with Viven Leigh. In subsequ ent movies -- in many genres -- his stature remained high, even though few of the pictures were truly superior. Some were indifferent. Some were stinkers.
"The Bribe" is in that last category. Still young at 39, Taylor looks good -- and that's all one can say about the film, which opens with one of the most-used clichés of film noir: the first-person narration that leads to a long flashback.
Taylor, named just Rigby, is a Federal agent. His superior calls him in. Taylor arrives wearing impeccable, expensive clothes of the kind that one mostly sees today (A.D. 2000) on TV network news hosts. Egged on by the movie's title, one might suspect tha t he has been taking bribes, but then his boss too is snappily dressed. Perhaps some research into Government employees in 1949 is in order.
Rigby is assigned an undercover job in Carlotta, a tropical island in Central America. Some clever racketeers purchase in the USA war surplus equipment as junk, but secretly too ship to Carlotta valuable airplane engines. The operations nets them millions , on which they pay no taxes to the US. Government. Since Carlotta is not a tourist place except for deep-sea fishing, Rigby will pose as a dedicated amateur fisherman.
The island is transparently one of those formulaic, generic and unconvincing studio sets. As usual, the central meeting place for locals and foreigners is an hotel with a restaurant, bar and music.
Too many of the clients are wearing (or holding) jackets in Carlotta's sweltering weather. It adds another phony note yet. And, of course, there is the "de rigueur" beautiful American torch singer who is stranded there. In this case she is Ava Gardner, wh o has an American husband, former wartime, then civilian airplane pilot John Hodiak. A basket case of disillusionment, he works as barman and is habitually in his cups. (Why do they keep him?) The cast is rounded out by a peculiar Charles Laughton with hu rting feet, and the predictably villainous Vincent Price.
Adding to lack of genuineness is the hotel's band of Central American musicians who accompany Ava's singing. But you can sense immediately that the music is mostly provided by a large-ish, unseen studio orchestra.
Predictably Taylor and Gardner will fall for each other. What follows will not be told here except that it lacks shape, suspense, true romance, and any sort of interest. Neither Taylor nor Ava are convincing in their roles. What could be noted is that fr om the start of the film there is an enormous amount of smoking by all, even by the 1940s standards. If Taylor did this in real life it is no wonder he died of lung cancer.
Ava Gardner's performance is a mediocre as everyone else's. Her singing is indifferent. The song she does is by composer Nacio (for " Ignacio") Herb Brown who contributed splendidly to many a film, and whose last picture was no other than "Singin' in the Rain." You wouldn't suspect this from the dullness of his song here. Nor does the score by another great talent, Miklos Rozsa, make a dent.
How the mighty can fall, at times!