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Thursday, October 2, 2008

FILM REVIEW OF " ADVENTURES IN INDOCHINA" (1958)

This gritty little tale about greed, gold, and the grueling jungles of South Vietnam borrows elements from Henry Hathaway's "Garden of Evil" and John Huston's "Treasure of the Sierra Madre." French director Jean Bastia and his crew lensed this taut search for buried treasure on location in South Vietnam with the help of the civilian population and the local military. If the production dates are genuine, the French had only recently been booted out of North Vietnam. The authenticity of the surroundings and the novel setting in South East Asia bolsters the credibility of "Les Aventuriers du M├ękong." The gorgeous verdant scenery will knock your eyes out and you'll feel yourself sweating it out along with the leads as they venture into unknown territory.

As in Hathaway's "Garden of Evil," a lone chlorine, Dominique (Dominique Wilms), recruits four men at $500 per fool to plunge into the dense, bandit-infested jungle and follow her to a mine where they uncover gold instead of a dying man. Bastia and scenarist Charles Brabant do an exemplary job of showing how desperate these guys-in-exile are and why they eventually agree to accompany Dominique. Essentially, their state of destitution matches the desperation of the heroes in another immortal French classic "The Wages of Fear." These guys are stranded in Saigon with no hope of ever getting enough money to leave on-board a ship with first-class passage. The film's narrator comments on their plight at the outset: "Saigon—the graveyard of shattered hopes. They came here to make a fortune and remain. It isn't that they like the place, but it costs money to get away."

Once they unearth the gold, things begin to happen and people die under mysterious circumstances over which they had no control. Like Huston's "Treasure of the Sierra Madre," our heroes go from flat broke to hopelessly rich after they dig up a fortune in gold ingots. The trip back through the jungle is fraught with peril. The bandits that clashed with them on the way to the gold reappear, and our heroine has her hands full the entire way. Although Dominique dominated the men in Saigon, she loses her control over them once they enter the jungle and she has to renegotiate their pay. She ends up having to split fifty-fifty with them. The heroes and heroine conjure up minimal charisma and "Adventures in Indo-China" lacks any visage of humor. Predictable but durable storyline, evocative settings, and strong performances by an unknown cast make this melodrama worth a glance. Bastia generates some suspense from the order in which the guys die and the nature of their deaths. People who prefer happy endings shouldn't rule out this believable but downbeat melodrama. The chief flaw of "Adventures in Indo-China" is that Bastia and Brabant never adequately explain how gold ingots came to be where Dominique found it and what so-called 'group' that she mentioned she was working for early in the first 30 minutes. I obtained my full-frame copy of this actioneer from Something Weird Video.

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