Alan Ladd and Loretta Young star in CHINA, directed by John Farrow for Paramount Pictures.

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).

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