Hong Kong Confidential (MGM LE Collection) Review
Move past the notion that Hong Kong Confidential is any sort of forgotten gem and maybe you'll find some enjoyment in this little hour-plus espionage tale. For good measure, also try to avoid putting much emphasis on the title considering the majority of the picture is set in Macao and not Hong Kong, which is where it opens. (It's all rather indistinguishable anyway given the frugal sets.) That we're supposed to buy Gene Barry as both a semi-successful lounge singer and a secret agent, with the former a cover for the latter, might be the hardest sell of all.
Barry plays Casey Reed and he does so with great aplomb. Indeed, Barry's own confidence potentially far outpaces the viewer's level of enthusiasm. The actor is in a cheap B-movie with a convoluted plot and he's going for it. He sings, he swings and he still has time for romance and fisticuffs. It's a television performance, with the accompanying lack of nuance, in a film. You could easily argue that Barry was really more at home on the small screen, where he could be seen in the series Bat Masterson when Hong Kong Confidential was released. Another memorable show, Burke's Law, followed a few years later.
Rather awkward is the narrator who, without adding any kind of docudrama feel to the picture, contributes lazy expositional elements that ideally should be found on screen rather than via voiceover. Budget constraints, probably. At the very least it sets up the remarkably dumb plot without having to bother with much visual backstory. What's going on involves the kidnapping of a crown prince from a fictional Arabian country and the ensuing implications in regards to Soviet-U.S. missile base matters. It all feels silly, both on paper and in the film. Director Edward L. Cahn, a veteran of quick and cheap genre exercises, probably recognized how unconvincing the story was and instead focused on tightening the international intrigue aspects. These are the parts that work the best and allow the picture to achieve some fun despite itself.
Good and bad are separated almost like white hats and black hats in an old oater. The blonde piano accompanist (Beverly Tyler) is sweet but tough and loyal but suspicious. She's countered with a more exotic brunette (Allison Hayes, star of Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) who teases Barry's character but is identified as bad news almost immediately. Nothing here is shaded in grey, which is kind of strange since the hero of the picture carries a secret identity and has even created an alternate persona of sorts. The character of Casey Reed is almost interesting when he's acting like a heel, presumably to better mask his starched reality of being a government agent. This isn't, despite some pretenses to the contrary, noir territory, though, and the unrelenting tidiness of the entire affair is evidence of that.
The mix of professionalism and exuberance shown by Cahn is reason enough to give Hong Kong Confidential that little sliver of your day if these types of pictures are what thrill you. One could do worse, which is an easy, uncreative way of asserting that the movie passes the time well but is missing the enveloping wit or style needed to make it even very much above average. The idea of paying twenty bucks or so for a DVD-R version, which is unfortunately what it comes down to at the moment, is ridiculous.
As I alluded to, Hong Kong Confidential can now be had in a made-on-demand disc as part of the MGM Limited Edition Collection. It's a five dollar movie being sold for around twenty.
The aspect ratio used here in this progressive transfer is 1.33:1. That's likely to be an open matte presentation considering this is a 1958 film which would have been screened at cinemas in a wider aspect ratio upon its release. The print used is generally clean but shows some softness and middling contrast. The rainbow of chroma is also visible at times. It's not a terrible watch by any means, but I wouldn't go so far as to categorize the video quality as strong either.
The English mono is dull but effective, marred somewhat by a frequent crackle that can be heard on the track. Dialogue is emitted without struggle and volume remains consistent. There did seem to be a section of the film where the audio slips a little out of synch, though this is corrected after only a few minutes. No subtitles of any kind are offered.
Extras are so confidential as to be nonexistent.