Saigon (1948) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Jul 09, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
  • Bookmark and Share
Saigon (1948) (Blu-ray Review)


Leslie Fenton

Release Date(s)

1948 (June 4, 2024)


Paramount Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Saigon (1948) (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


During World War II and for a number of years afterward, Hollywood turned out several films set in exotic countries, often in the Far East and Africa. Typically with a one-word title emphasizing the intriguing locale, such films included China (1943), Singapore (1947), Calcutta (1946), Macao (1952) and, of course, Casablanca (1942). Joining the list is Saigon (1948), showcasing two of Paramount’s biggest stars.

World War II pals bomber pilot Maj. Larry Briggs (Alan Ladd, Shane) and Sgt. Pete Rocco (Wally Cassell, White Heat) learn that another friend, Captain Mike Perry (Douglas Dick The Red Badge of Courage), suffered brain injuries that will give him only a few months to live. Larry and Pete vow to keep the diagnosis from Mike and show him a good time before returning to the States. They will need money, of course, and to earn it they agree to fly shady financier Alex Maris (Morris Carnovsky, Dead Reckoning) out of Shanghai to Saigon for the hefty fee of $10,000. Maris’ secretary, Susan Cleaver (Veronica Lake, This Gun For Hire), shows up at the appointed departure time, but Maris is detained in a shoot-out with police. Not wanting to get involved, Briggs takes off without him over the protests of Susan.

Unbeknownst to the three friends, Susan is carrying a briefcase containing a half-million dollars in cash, Maris’ illegal earnings as a war profiteer. Over the Indochinese jungle, the plane develops engine trouble and Briggs is forced to crash land. A passing farmer with an ox cart takes them to the city, where police lieutenant Keon (Luther Adler, D.O.A.) has been lying in wait for them.

Susan tries to get herself and her briefcase away from Briggs, Rocco, Perry, and especially from the police official. Meanwhile, Mike falls hard for Susan. When Briggs realizes this, he confides in Susan about Mike’s condition and blackmails her to stay and be nice to him. She, on the other hand, finds herself attracted to Briggs.

The film’s premise is interesting but its execution has problems. The character of Keon pops up periodically to greet his suspects with insinuating politeness and surreptitiously search their belongings, then disappears. Despite playing the film’s primary antagonist, Adler conveys little menace. Maris, gone from most of the picture, returns for the third act along with an armed henchman. But Carnovsky’s performance is too urbane to suggests that his character is a real danger.

Ladd is merely OK in this mid-level post-World War II adventure film. The script doesn’t challenge him and he waltzes through the film without making a strong impression. Ladd was cast in one film after another during this period to capitalize on his popularity, and not every one them was top- drawer. To his credit, he conveys an average-Joe vibe and looks good in a uniform. Unfortunately, he fails to make even some of the script’s better lines shine.

Veronica Lake has some spunky repartee with Ladd early on. Her lack of chemistry with Dick is appropriate to Susan’s lack of attraction to Mike. Dick smiles a lot but isn’t much of an actor. Cassell’s Rocco is the comic- relief sidekick, ready with a quip or witty observation. The romance between Lake’s character and Ladd’s is a foregone development right out of the 1940s Hollywood playbook and not at all convincing.

Director Leslie Fenton fails to generate spark in Saigon and the script by P.J. Wolfson and Arthur Sheekman is short on characterization and long on cliche. It fails to convey exoticism despite backlot recreations of Vietnamese streets, bustling rickshaws, Asian extras, and pushcarts filled with fruits and vegetables. We never believe we’re farther away than Paramount’s Melrose Avenue studio.

The title setting is not integral to the plot. In Casablanca, for example, we learn why so many people are stranded there and the locale is crucial to developments in the story. Saigon could easily have been set in and named for any major city in Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, or Burma.

Saigon was shot by director of photography John F. Seitz on 35 mm black & white film with spherical lenses and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The brand new master is sourced from a 2K scan of the 35 mm original fine grain. The only visual imperfections are occasional white specks that show up in darker scenes. Details are well delineated in debris at the crash site, Briggs’ uniform, Lake’s lustrous hair, billowing curtains, and the Saigon streets filled with people, rickshaws, pushcarts, and bicyclists. The typical-for-the-era technique of process photography is used when characters are on a ship and in a car. A rear screen showing moving scenery gives the impression that the ship and car are in motion.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are an available option. Dialogue is clear and distinct. Sound effects include car engines, gun shots, a plane belly-landing in the jungle, and ambient street noise. The score by Robert Emmett Dolan is subdued and doesn’t add dramatic “punch” to some scenes. A Miklos Rozsa might have composed a more exciting score for this film.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Lee Gambin and Elissa Rose
  • Trailer (2:00)
  • Lucky Jordan Trailer (1:36)
  • China Trailer (2:09)
  • Calcutta Trailer (2:20)
  • O.S.S. Trailer (2:06)
  • Chicago Deadline Trailer (2:14)
  • Thunder in the East Trailer (2:20)
  • The Hour Before the Dawn Trailer (2:10)
  • So Proudly We Hail Trailer (1:41)
  • Singapore Trailer (:43)

Audio Commentary – Film historians Lee Gambin and Elissa Rose share this commentary. The opening credits of Saigon set up the film’s aesthetic, style, and location. The film has elements of noir but is more about war trauma. The noir touch is that good men sometimes “go off the track.” The opening is very somber and shows that survivors of war do not emerge unscathed. The early scenes establish the bond of men during war that extends beyond it, highlighting male solidarity. Because the war is over, stresses aren’t as dire and impending doom is not omnipresent. In later years, Saigon would be significant both culturally and politically, but in 1947 it was a kind of refuge from the bigger problems of the world. Luther Adler is the brother of Stella Adler, the acting teacher. He was one of the original members of the Group Theater. Ladd’s character is stoic and resilient. Veronica Lake was never accorded the acclaim she deserved. She often played cool, unemotional characters who were vulnerable, yet she had a following among those who enjoyed seeing a hard woman on screen. Not long after making Saigon, her life spiraled downward with a series of bad marriages, a troubled relationship with her mother, and alcoholism. Lake’s last film was Flesh Feast (1970). She died of hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver in 1973, and was largely forgotten. Middle-class audiences enjoyed films like Saigon because they represented escapism. They were set in foreign locales and usually involved some sort of intrigue. Audiences also enjoyed seeing stars wearing beautiful clothes, and Saigon is a “visually beautiful film.” Leslie Fenton was brought in quickly to direct. When Ladd was cast, the project came to life. The film starts strong, loses its way in the middle, and then picks up “out of nowhere” for a solid, exciting climax.

Saigon marked the fourth and final pairing of Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. The dearth of suspense in the picture keeps the viewer from feeling involved. The script lacks the zip of other Ladd/Lake films, such as This Gun For Hire or The Glass Key. Lake is sultry and looks great in Edith Head’s costumes, but in the acting department she falls short. The film is typical of how Hollywood exploited World War II and its aftermath for stories. With a more focused script, more skillful actors, a more exciting score, and sharper direction, Saigon might have been more engaging.

- Dennis Seuling