Pickup Alley (a.k.a., Interpol, Columbia, 1957) kept the actor in modern surroundings. Paired again with Anita Ekberg, Victor is the U.S. narcotics agent in search of a dope-smuggling ring, and especially eager to capture the crazed killer (Trevor Howard) of his sister. The locales switch from New York to London to Lisbon, on to Rome and then back to New York, all of which helped spark the action in this ninety-two minute programmer.
While Mature was in England plying his acting craft, he also managed to create a few (anti)social headlines of his own. Confidential Magazine, in its May, 1957 issue, took delight in detailing "Victor Mature's Lost Weekend with a Babe." The luridly-phrased article alleged that on the weekend of September 29, 1956, while in his apartment on Grosvenor Square in London, he "entertained"--nonstop--a young blonde woman named Maxine Lee.
Mature returned to Hollywood in 1958 to work under the direction of Frank Borzage, the noted craftsman who had been professionally idle for nearly a decade. The project was China Doll (United Artists, 1958), a somewhat poignant and offbeat love story of World War II. (Some critics were particularly tough on this often touching drama: "This is a far-fetched, very sentimental, tear-jerking story that cannot stand critical scrutiny" (Archer Winsten, New York Post). Paul V. Beckley (New York Herald Tribune) made the interesting side comment in his review, "I have too much respect for him [Mature] to relish seeing him in such an ungainly piece.) As an Air Force captain in China, he becomes drunk one evening and wakes up the next morning to discover he is the owner of a young Chinese housekeeper (Li Li Hua). When she later becomes pregnant, he weds her. After the birth of a daughter, the wife is killed in an air raid, and the hysterical Mature soon after is shot down in a Japanese raid. While Ward Bond, as Father Cairns, received the best critical notices, Variety recorded, "Mature displays his share of love, emotion and humor." Borzage reportedly paid Mature a salary of $125,000 for the picture. Plans for the two industry men to form a joint production company did not come about, nor did Victor's plans to produce a film entitled Escape from Andersonville ever reach the planning boards.
Warwick Productions provided Mature with further screen work with Tank Force! (a.k.a., No Time to Die, Columbia, 1958). Victor's third screen assignment with director Terence Young. It was another World War II tale ("An unsatisfying piece of work in which a great deal of effort seems to have gone astray through unimaginative writing and direction. There have been too many first-class war films for there to be room for inferior stuff," Variety). This time, Victor is an American serving with a British tank crew and is one of five P.O.W.s who escapes into the Libyan desert where they are betrayed by the Arabs. He is tortured by the Germans, but the group escapes a second time. Only he and his fellow escapee (Anthony Newley) survive to be rescued later by the British.
In another Warwick production, Victor portrayed Kasim Khan, the tribal chieftain of India who becomes The Bandit of Zhobe (Columbia, 1959). He turns outlaw when his wife and child are murdered by Thuggee tribesmen disguised as British soldiers. The Thuggees then murder other British subjects in the name of Kasim. His innocence is revealed by the daughter (Anne Aubrey) of a British major (Norman Wooland), and he dies a hero in defense of the English claims.
United Artists' Escort West (1959) was shot in California's San Fernando Valley shortly after the completion of China Doll. With a semblance of a southern drawl, Victor is a Confederate soldier on his way West after the war, accompanied by his daughter (Reba Waters). They meet, among others, the Drury sisters (Elaine Stewart and the ex-Howard Hughes protegee, Faith Domergue) en route to Oregon. Faith dies at the hands of a Modoc Indian, but the others trek on to new horizons. Also in the cast of this "routine, hackneyed" (Variety) Western was John Hubbard, another ex-Hal Roach contract player.
Victor may have had hopes for the resurgence of his wobbly career in films with Allied Artists' The Big Circus (1959), but much of what he was required to do onscreen had previously been done, and on a far grander scale, by Charlton Heston in DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth (Paramount, 1952) and by Burt Lancaster in Trapeze (United Artists, 1956). Nevertheless, The Big Circus, with its cast of "big names" (including Red Buttons, Rhonda Fleming, Kathryn Grant, Peter Lorre, David Nelson, and Vincent Price) provides the standard thrills of big top life, even though the story is at best routine. Mature is the owner of the traveling circus which is on the edge of bankruptcy. The problems brought about by his performers, both human and animal, a bank examiner (Buttons), and a press agent (Fleming) do not improve the tense situation. There is also a train wreck which is not as spectacular as DeMille's version, but it sets the stage for the "show must go on" plot. The more somber viewer could only wonder how a circus owner such as Mature could retain his sanity in the midst of such overwhelming odds.