For more than two years now, a friend of mine and I have been waiting for the latest John Cusack movie, "Shanghai," which was shot back in 2008, but only now finally got its release (the featurette accompanying this article is worthy of attention, as it gives a glimpse of the final production; there were also some posters released). Waiting for this movie to come to Russia (in theaters or on DVDs), I decided to remember some other films which feature China and Chinese people. This post is dedicated to another friend of mine, K.F., who currently lives in Shanghai. I will not review the movies, just give some impressions which live with me despite the fact that I watched most of these pictures a few years ago.
Shanghai Express (1932)
Dir. Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, Eugene Pallette.
I do not remember this film very well, with the exception of the fact that the cinematography impressed me immensely when I watched it some two or three years ago. I do not like Ms. Dietrich, and this film is too much focussed on her. The depiction of the Chinese is rather cursory, and not very favorable. I would say that, apart from the cinematography, art design and direction, I'd recommend this movie for the colorful array of its supporting characters and actors.
The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)
Dir. Frank Capra. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Walter Connolly.
This is one of my most favorite movies of all times, and I simply adore pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck (as I adore pre-Code Joan Crawford). One can wonder how a Swedish actor, Mr. Asther, could so aptly portray the mysterious and fascinating Chinese general, but he did, and huge kudos to him through the decades. A most wonderful movie in every respect.
The General Died at Dawn (1936)
Dir. Lewis Milestone. Starring: Gary Cooper, Madeleine Carroll, Akim Tamiroff, Dudley Digges, Porter Hall.
Another movie that I like immensely, and for several reasons: Gary Cooper, who is my most favorite actor; Lewis Milestone, who is one of my most favorite directors (his special technique of merging two scenes by a "hook" is present here, like in his other films; for instance, a billiard ball in one shot transforms into a similarly-looking door-knob in the next); pouring rain (like in many other Milestone's movies) -- and I like rain in movies; Akim Tamiroff's performance (he played Gen. Yang -- maybe the namesake for Nils Asther's character?) for which he was Oscar-nominated as a best supporting actor. Notwithstanding the general opinion, I prefer this movie to "Shanghai Express" mentioned above. Here we have much more action and a more significant message than in "ShE," which is by and large a love story.
The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
Dir. Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, Ona Munson, Maria Ouspenskaya.
There probably never have been a more decadent-looking movie in the whole history of Hollywood. After "ShE," Von Sternberg returned to his favorite city. The lavish production, the "smokey" cinematography, even the costumes emphasize the decadence, and the actors, through their outstanding performances, deliver this feeling of the mysterious city, and the decline and even the decay of the life of personages that are alien to it. Cruel and irresistible, this film will not fail to impress even a casual viewer of today.
55 Days at Peking (1963)
Dir. Nicholas Ray. Starring: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven, Flora Robson.
An epic movie (it's a description of the genre, not a qualifier) directed by one of the best Hollywood directors, who made a few exceptional noirs in the 1940s. For those who like epics and large-scale productions (as I do), this will be an enjoyable experience. Set during the Boxer rebellion, the film takes the characters through unbelievable adventures in and out of the embassy compound.
There are two films devoted to the service of missionary priests in China: The Keys of the Kingdom (1944, starring a very young Gregory Peck) and Satan Never Sleeps (1962). I watched the first (though I do not remember it very well), but I never saw the second (and I want to very much, because it stars William Holden, one of my favorite actors, and it's the last film of Clifton Webb whom I greatly respect as an actor). Maybe when I do, it will be interesting to compare the two. Speaking about movies from the 1940s, I remember that in "The Philadelphia Story" (1940) Tracy Lord (portrayed by Katharine Hepburn) recalls a Chinese poet who drowned when trying to reach for the moon reflected in the river. (I came across this reference once again recently, but, helas, no longer remember where.) And I just came across a magnificent post about a movie in which Katharine Hepburn plays none other than... a Chinese character!!! Go here and find out for yourself -- most astonishing!!!
I could not remember any China-related movies of the 1950s.