John Farrow

China (1943, John Farrow)

China has a lot to do. While it’s a propaganda picture meant to rally American support for the Chinese, it’s also propaganda for the future of China. Loretta Young plays a school teacher and her charges, in almost every one of their scenes, extol the virtues of Western democracy.

There’s also the redemptive aspect for Alan Ladd’s apolitical war profiteer.

But dismissing or discrediting China as a propaganda picture is a mistake. It’s an amazing war film; it’s exceptionally rough action film. For every weak propaganda moment, there’s a fantastic subtle one. The performances from Ladd and Young are outstanding. William Bendix plays Ladd’s sidekick and carries China for a bit at the beginning. It takes the script a while to get comfortable with Ladd, since he’s so unlikable.

The film opens with an incredibly long tracking shot. Farrow does a great job directing China, with the opening tracking shot one of the many wow moments. It shows a village’s destruction (from Japanese bombs) while introducing Bendix and giving him a little story arc. It’s masterful.

The effects keep up the rest of the run time.

Farrow never brings attention to China‘s accelerated pace. It takes place over approxmiately forty-eight hours. The time crunch leads to some painfully obvious exposition to introduce characters. It’s a necessary evil, though no one fars too badly. The fast pace and frequent set pieces make the film a thrill ride, but there’s still a lot of content.

China ably transcends its propaganda.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Farrow; screenplay by Frank Butler, based on a play by Archibald Forbes; director of photography, Leo Tover; edited by Eda Warren; music by Victor Young; produced by Richard Blumenthal; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Loretta Young (Carolyn Grant), Alan Ladd (David Jones), William Bendix (Johnny Sparrow), Philip Ahn (Lin Cho, First Brother), Iris Wong (Kwan Su), Victor Sen Yung (Lin Wei, Third Brother), Marianne Quon (Tan Ying), Jessie Tai Sing (Student), Richard Loo (Lin Yun), Irene Tso (‘Donald Duck’), Ching Wah Lee (Chang Teh), Soo Yong (Tai Shen), Beal Wong (Capt. Tao-Yuan-Kai), Bruce Wong (Aide to Captain Tao) and Barbara Jean Wong (Nan Ti).


The Saint Strikes Back (1939, John Farrow)

The Saint Strikes Back is George Sanders’s first Saint film. It’s strong, even though John Farrow might not be the right director for it. The script’s great, playing to Sanders’s strengths of being the charming cad, but Farrow’s close-ups are poorly conceived and some of Frank Redman’s lighting is questionable. Jack Hively, who went on to direct one of these Saint films, does a good job editing it.

This one’s also a little different–while a lot of the principals are the same–Sanders, Wendy Barrie and Jonathan Hale (who both appear in other entries)–Jerome Cowan and Barry Fitzgerald are in Strikes Back, which gives it a more A picture feel, especially Fitzgerald.

It’s a solid mix of mystery and comedy. There’s some nice montage a couple times throughout.

The pacing plays up the film’s San Francisco setting (obviously it didn’t shoot on location). It does a lot to convince the viewer of the location, only starting to fall apart in the last act with the exterior of a house and it’s clearly a set. It doesn’t feel right, since the other street sets are so well-done, shot at night with fog machines.

Sanders and Barrie both have some great scenes. Their chemistry isn’t particularly sharp, with Sanders playing the big brother here. Fitzgerald’s a hoot. Neil Hamilton’s solid, even though he gets short-changed.

John Twist’s dialogue for Sanders is incredible. It’s quite hard not to spend one’s time watching the film grinning at Sanders’s deliveries.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Farrow; screenplay by John Twist, based on a novel by Leslie Charteris; director of photography, Frank Redman; edited by Jack Hively; music by Roy Webb; produced by Robert Sisk; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring George Sanders (The Saint / Simon Templar), Wendy Barrie (Valerie ‘Val’ Travers), Jonathan Hale (Inspector Henry Fernack), Jerome Cowan (Cullis), Barry Fitzgerald (Zipper Dyson), Neil Hamilton (Allan Breck), Robert Elliott (Chief Inspector Webster), Russell Hopton (Harry Donnell), Edward Gargan (Pinky Budd), Robert Strange (Police Commisioner), Gilbert Emery (Martin Eastman), James Burke (Headquarters Police Officer) and Nella Walker (Mrs. Betty Fernack).


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