Movie Critique - Mara Maru

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: A forgotten film noir that definitely entertains you even with the very many flaws we see. Worth a watch!

Mara Maru is a 1952 film noir starring Errol Flynn, Ruth Roman, Raymond Burr, Paul Picerni and Richard Webb among others. Produced by David Weisbart, Directed by Gordon Douglas, the film was based on a story by Philip Yordan, Sidney Harmon and Hollister Noble. Screenplay was written by N. Richard Nash.

Gregory Mason (portrayed by Errol Flynn) is suspected of murder of his partner Andy Callahan (portrayed by Richard Webb), but Steve Ranier (portrayed by Paul Picerni) provides an alibi that lets him free. Subsequently Ranier introduces Mason to Brook Benedict (portrayed by Raymond Burr) to recover millions of dollars worth diamonds that went down Philippine coast during the war. Mason finds Stella Callahan (portrayed by Ruth Roman), his dead partner's wife aboard. And long ago passions ignite in the midst of murder, treasure hunting, betrayals and greed.

The sole reason I ended up watching this film was because it had Raymond Burr starring in it. I love his TV show of the original Perry Mason series and constantly watch the reruns of the TV series as well as the movies that were released in 80s and 90s later. So I always take an opportunity to watch the movies he was part of outside of Perry Mason franchise. And more than often he portrays an antagonist as opposed to the very good defense lawyer on the hit show. So it always intrigued me to see this other side of Burr.

Burr was 300 pounds when the film was in the conceptual phase. By the time the casting was finalized he had reduced to 185 pounds. It not only helped him get this role but also helped him in him getting the Perry Mason role five years later. 

Errol Flynn was a great actor. However, his extensive drinking sure did put some dents in the shooting of his films. Yet when we see his action on screen, there is not a single second you would feel that he was doing that scene completely stoned. Reminds me of one of Bollywood's (= Indian Hindi Cinema) iconic actress Meena Kumari who towards the end of her career had become alcoholic and came heavily drunk to the shooting. But no where in her acting you could see that she was drunk.

This film clearly marks his one of the last films for Warner Bros. who practically shoved him out the door making him do cheap films such as these. Interestingly enough though Flynn's character Gregory has "Mason" the last name which would become Burr's last name in the Perry Mason TV series 5 years later. A coincidence, I suppose!

I remember Ruth Roman mostly for her role as Loretta Spiegel, the owner of the hair salon in Cabot Cove, in the famous TV show Murder, She Wrote that aired from 1984 through 1996. I have seen three movies so far that Ruth Roman acted in - 1951 American drama thriller Lightning Strikes Twice; 1951 American psychological thriller Strangers on a Train; and 1949 American film noir The Window.

I have to add though that except for her role as Shelley Carnes in the 1951 Lightning Strikes Twice, I couldn’t remember Ruth Roman from the other two films if I look back. Or should I say her acting wasn’t as memorable in those. Unfortunately there was nothing memorable about her role in this as well. She was neither a femme fatale nor a lover, but felt more like a female presence that a film noir required.

Richard Webb as Andy Callahan has but a very short role in the film. However in the old time radio podcasts that I have been listening to, I see that he was pretty famous with the several radio programs such as Captain Midnight. He starred in the TV version of Captain Midnight as well. 

The opening credits show map of Philippine Islands with some geometrical instruments lying on the map. The map then fades out and reveals a ship on water, with the camera getting closer and closer to it, until it reaches a small tugboat beside the ship where someone is pulling something from the water; and underwater treasure hunters. The end credits also are shown on the map of Philippine Islands.

A treasure hunt that divides friends; creates suspicion between husband and wife; a chasm of animosity between members of the team; dishonesty; breaking of trust; and greed taking over moral ethics and human judgment. A forgotten film noir that definitely entertains you even with the very many flaws we see. Worth a watch!

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Dan Seymour portrays the role of Lieutenant Zuenon in this film. Pretty much in so many of the film noirs that I have watched in past 10 months, Dan seemed to be a fixture in many of them. He would play a cop, or a corrupt official or a gangster. And many of his films had Humphrey Bogart in the lead roles. 

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. 10 minutes into the film, Andy Callahan hits Gregory Mason, and when Mason falls on the floor he probably landed on the camera as we can see the camera jostling.

b. Irrespective of what time of day one goes into the depths of the sea you would need light to look as the water gets darker and darker as one goes deeper. However Gregory uses light only once, all the other times he is seen going into the water without light and able to see everything clearly. 

c. Also when Gregory wears the diving suit, he doesn’t wear a wetsuit inside but instead his regular linen pants and shirts. Wouldn't they weigh him down more and cause risk of his death. 


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