Saigon – Blu-ray Review

3.5 Stars Final Ladd/Lake pairing debuts on home video

Let’s look at Saigon.

Few actresses had the meteoric rise to stardom in any era of Hollywood quite like Veronica Lake. The Brooklyn born actress known for her signature “peek-a-boo bang” look went from being an extra named Constance Keane in 1939 to being named the leading lady for Mitchell Leisen’s military drama I Wanted Wings (1941) in just under two years. Now bearing her stage name, Lake would become one of Paramount’s top stars with films like Sullivan’s Travels (1941), I Married a Witch (1942), and The Glass Key (also 1942), the latter of which starred Alan Ladd. Though they already shared scenes together in This Gun for Hire, their second film together made Lake and Ladd a screen duo that Paramount parlayed into two more films, with Saigon closing out the pairings. Long unavailable on home video, Kino has licensed the movie from Universal for its home video debut here.

Saigon (1947)
Released: 31 Mar 1948
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 93 min
Director: Leslie Fenton
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Cast: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Douglas Dick
Writer(s): P.J. Wolfson, Arthur Sheekman, Julian Zimet
Plot: After WW2, two army buddies, one of them terminally-ill, embark on a series of adventures in South-East Asia and run across a dangerous criminal and his pretty secretary.
IMDB rating: 6.3
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 34 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Blue keep case with slipcover
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/04/2024
MSRP: $24.99

The Production: 3.5/5

In post-WWII Shanghai, Larry Briggs (Alan Ladd) learns that his Army buddy Mike Perry (Douglas Dick) has only a short time to live due to an unspecified head injury that several operations couldn’t fix. While Larry and fellow brother in arms Pete Rocco (Wally Cassell) resolve to give Mike the time of his life in his few remaining days, Larry takes up a job offer from profiteer Alex Maris (Morris Carnovsky) to fly some cargo from Shanghai to Saigon. However, the unexpected arrival of Maris’ secretary Susan Cleaver (Veronica Lake) as well as Maris being chased by police quickly throws the plans off track; as they make their way to Saigon, Larry and Susan trade barbs while also steadily falling in love with each other – despite the fact that the ailing Mike is smitten with Susan – while deceptively easygoing Lieutenant Keon (Luther Adler) tails the group suspecting that they’re doing some dirty work for Maris. All truths will be revealed in Saigon, where Larry must come face to face with Maris and decide whether or not to put an end to his shady partner’s dealings once and for all.

For the last of the pairings of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, Saigon returns the duo to their noir roots while adding in an exotic spin on their previously successful formula. Under the direction of former actor Leslie Fenton, the story – penned by Julian Zimet (later a victim of Hollywood’s blacklist for suspected Communist ties) and adapted by Arthur Sheekman and P.J. Wolfson (who also produced the film) – moves quickly once the cargo plane is forced to take off sooner than expected and Fenton maintains a decent pace throughout. The film also has the benefit of great atmosphere courtesy of Paramount regulars like the production design team of Hans Dreier, Sam Comer and Henry Bumstead, cinematographer John F. Seitz, costume designer Edith Head and composer Robert Emmett Dolan to weave a tense journey from the rain-slicked streets of Shanghai to the eponymous city. The only downside here is that by this time, the formula involved with the Lake and Ladd pictures had become familiar to the point that you can probably figure out what’s going on ahead of the characters; nevertheless, the solid performances of the cast does help gloss over that fact to a point. In the end, Saigon might be the least known of the more successful Ladd-Lake pairings (largely due to legal reasons that kept it from being released from home video for many years), but it’s still an entertaining noir that ended the duo’s pairings with a stylish flourish; while Ladd would continue to remain on Paramount’s roster, the film would mark the beginning of the end for Lake, whose contract with the studio was not renewed just months after the film’s release.

While Lake and Ladd are the main draws here, it would be remiss to not mention the contributions of the supporting cast. As the terminally ill Mike, Douglas Dick – who actually served in the Navy as an aviator – has one of his more notable roles here; he also had a memorable appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, released the same year as this movie. Wally Cassell provides the comic relief here as the wisecracking Pete Rocco; he would later leave Hollywood behind in the 1960’s and become a successful businessman. One of the original members of the Group Theatre, Luther Adler steals every scene he’s in as the cordial yet determined Lieutenant Keon; fellow Group Theatre member – and co-founder – Morris Carnovsky (also soon to become a victim of Hollywood’s blacklist) has a notable part here as the profiteer Maris. Also appearing amongst the cast are Luis Van Rooten as Maris’ valet Simon, Eugene Borden as the riverboat captain, Mikhail Rasumny as the hotel clerk, Griff Barnett as a surgeon who informs Larry of the terminal nature of Mike’s head injury, Philip Ahn as a merchant and Lee Tong Foo as the farmer who feeds Larry and his crew after they crash land in his fields.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in its original 1:37:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HD transfer created from a 2K scan of the original 35mm fine grain print. Film grain, fine details and gray scale are all presented faithfully with mostly minor cases of scratches, tears and dirt present on the transfer. For a film that hasn’t seen the light of day on home video until now, this release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video.

Audio: 4.5/5

The film’s original mono soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and Robert Emmett Dolan’s music score are all presented faithfully with clarity and minimal cases of distortion like clicking, crackling, popping and hissing present on the track. Again, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video.

Special Features: 3/5

Commentary by film historians Lee Gambin and Elissa Rose – Newly recorded for this release, Gambin and Rose share a spirited discussion on the film’s many aspects from production to where it sits in the careers of both Ladd and Lake.

Theatrical Trailer (2:00)

Bonus KLSC Trailers – Lucky JordanChinaCalcuttaO.S.S.Chicago DeadlineThunder in the EastThe Hour Before the DawnSo Proudly We Hail!Singapore

Overall: 3.5/5

Though not as successful at box office as their previous three films (it wasn’t a flop, despite the common perception of its performance), Saigon is still an enjoyable film that provided a decent sendoff for the team of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Kino has done a great job of rescuing the film from obscurity here with a decent HD transfer and a solid commentary track as a bonus feature. Very highly recommended.

This review is dedicated to the memory of film historian and author Lee Gambin. We’ll miss you.

Amazon.com: Saigon [Blu-ray]: Leslie Fenton, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Douglas Dick, Luther Adler: Movies & TV

Mychal has been on the Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2018, with reviews numbering close to 300. During this time, he has also been working as an assistant manager at The Cotton Patch – his family’s fabric and quilting supplies business in Keizer, Oregon. When not working at reviewing movies or working at the family business, he enjoys exploring the Oregon Coast, playing video games and watching baseball in addition to his expansive collection of movies on DVD, Blu-ray and UHD, totalling over 3,000 movies.

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Robert Crawford

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Thank you for your review. I watched this Blu-ray a couple of weeks ago and thought the movie was okay after not seeing it beforehand. I watched it twice in its entirety because I wanted to listen to the audio commentary which was one of Lee Gambin's last ones before his passing.
 

Robert Harris

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Great review, with nice historical background. Henry Bumstead became a major go-to as art director for Hitchcock, Eastwood and Hill. His work on The Sting gave him an Academy Award. Saigon was his first credited production as art director. Miss Lake made her first appearance at only 16.
 
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