Lady of the Tropics (1939)
Directed by Jack Conway and written by two time Oscar winning writer Ben Hecht, this average romance drama earned Cinematographer Norbert Brodine (Merrily We Live (1938)) his second of three unrewarded Oscar nominations. The film stars Robert Taylor, Hedy Lamarr in the title role, and Joseph Schildkraut. Supporting characters are played by Gloria Franklin and Ernest Cossart, among others.
Taylor plays an American playboy named Bill Carey, who arrives in French occupied Saigon on the arm and yacht of a wealthy socialite named Dolly Harrison (Mary Taylor) and her father (Charles Trowbridge). A local priest, and old friend named Father Antoine (Cossart) comes aboard and an incident brings out the harsh truth about many of those who live in the city - they are half breeds, the products of visiting French nationals and local Asian women. Naturally, these men have then abandoned their illegitimate offspring. At dinner that night, the group meets a beautiful woman named Manon (Lamarr), who turns out to be one of these half breeds. Bill is instantly taken with Manon's allure, and they dance, but he's later led to believe that she's the girlfriend of a local official they meet named Pierre Delaroch (Schildkraut). Indeed Manon has been trying to manipulate Delaroch’s desire for her into granting her a passport so that she can venture to the place of the clothes she wears, Paris. We learn that she'd spent her dowry, given to her by her mother, on her fancy apparel.
Later, while shopping alone for a local specialty hat for Dolly, Bill is assisted by Manon, who naturally understands the local language, currency, and bartering. They spent some quality time together, which includes being entertained by a singing local named Nina (Franklin), who turns out to be Manon's sister. Shortly thereafter, Bill forgets all about Dolly and pursues Manon romantically, Bill witnesses Manon lie to Delaroch about her plans about staying in Saigon, and then pursues her on a boat which is returning her to her home in Shanghai (or Singapore, I forget). Their romance continues until the boat docks and there is a large reception for Manon, who is really Kira Kim, a "princess" about to married to the richest man in town. Bill asks her to instead return to Saigon and marry him, and she gleefully accepts. Father Antoine, despite his expressed reservations, marries them but then Delaroch enacts his revenge by having her passport application denied by the official who's about to be out of the country for many months.
Bill and Manon live until their money runs out while Bill writes to friends and officials abroad for help with his situation. All of them think he's making a fool of himself, and seem to subscribe to the same moral standard that produced Manon in the first place: "have your fun, then return home". But Bill remains with Manon until their money runs out. She hocks her wardrobe and the two lovebirds move in with Nina, living in ever increasing poverty as Bill struggles to find work in a country where he doesn't speak the language. Finally, Manon decides to use Delaroch, giving into his lust for her for his help. Ignorant to this arrangement, Bill is thrilled to get a job working at a rubber plantation (by Charles Halton, uncredited), even though he must be away from Manon for a month. Delaroch gets what he wants from her, and Manon gets her passport.
*** SPOILERS ***
When Bill returns, he finally puts two and two together, with help from a letter that indicates that the rubber company is owned by Delaroch and his finding a planted cigarette case with the initials P.D. in his robe. Enraged, he plans to kill Delaroch but Manon beats him to the punch. Arriving too late, Bill returns to Nina's where he finds Manon, who has just shot herself looking out at a ship on the horizon, the one she'll never take. Bill surprises her, unexpectedly telling her that he still wants her, but it is too late. Even though Bill says they can escape onto the ship, where they'll be a doctor, if they hurry, she dies in his arms.