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January 11, 2022


China 1943 39 Alan Ladd and Loretta Young.jpg

John Farrow - 1943
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

While China was in progress, it struck me that World War II era films about the U.S. support for China have to the best of my knowledge never received the kind of treatment given to films that positioned Russia in friendly terms. Farrow's film takes place in 1941 just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Chinese guerrilla war against Japan is compared by Loretta Young to the American Revolution. The one real life name mentioned is Chiang Kai-shek, who was a unifying force the the country at least through the end of World War II. China is almost as much a work of propaganda when Hollywood was employed to help mold public sentiment regarding U.S. involvement in World War II as it is an adventure film.

Alan Ladd plays oilman David Jones, working in China, but also selling oil to the Japanese. This was still when the U.S. was officially neutral with war going on in Asia and Europe. Jones' outfit may have been the inspiration for another cinematic Jones with the fedora and brown leather jacket. Driving to Shanghai with William Bendix, Ladd gets shanghaied into driving Loretta Young and her group of young female students to safer ground.

Seen almost eighty years later, the cultural stereotyping is more glaring. On the plus side, there are no actors in yellow face. As Japanese-Americans were in interment camps at the time, both Chinese and Japanese characters are portrayed primarily by Chinese-American actors. One notable exception, the Korean-American Philip Ahn. Most of the Chinese characters are not reduced to speaking Pidgin English making the film somewhat progressive for its time. Definitely of its time is one of the Japanese soldiers seen in close-up, glasses and buck teeth. The names and places in Frank Butler's screenplay may sound Chinese to an audience that thinks Chop Suey is authentic cuisine. Glaring is a scene taking place in what is identified as a temple, presumably Buddhist, where Ms. Young recites "The Lord's Prayer" to a dying student. As if inspired by Charlie Chan, three of characters are known as First Brother, Second Brother and Third Brother, with Ladd dubbed as Fourth Brother by the film's end.

China may not have have the status of Farrow's films noir, especially The Big Clock and Alias Nick Beal. Where it especially shines in the opening scene with two complex traveling shots following William Bendix as he walks and runs through a city during an aerial attack. Amid shootings and explosions are large groups of extras sometimes crossing each other from both sides of the frame. The camera weaves in, out and around the remains of buildings while keeping Bendix mostly in medium or full shot. While Farrow's critical reputation has only seen an upswing recently, soft-core maestro Radley Metzger praised the camerawork in China in a 1973 Film Comment interview.

Eddy Von Mueller provided the commentary track. While the source print is not noted as a being restored, it did appear to be of good quality with no scratches or any other obvious flaws.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at January 11, 2022 05:52 AM