Upon hearing John Barry’s beautiful opening titles music, I realized it was unlikely High Road to China would live up to its score. It does not. It does, however, at times, come rather close.
The film takes place in the twenties, with Bess Armstrong as a flapper who hires WWI veteran Tom Selleck to fly her to Afghanistan to find her father. Selleck’s rough and tumble, Armstrong’s perky and assured; they don’t get along. But unfortunately, Road isn’t a travel picture. The 1,200 mile part of their journey is done completely between scenes. It cuts down on the bantering between the two–but also cuts down on their expected romance.
About thirty minutes in, after they reach Afghanistan, the plotting becomes more predictable. They encounter a warlord–Brian Blessed camping it up in brown-face–and have to escape. Then they get another passenger (Cassandra Gava, in the film’s worst performance) and discover they have to keep going. It should be a quest picture… but it’s not.
Jack Weston is excellent as Selleck’s sidekick. For most of the runtime, the film’s salient character relationship is between the two men; both are broken down and marking time. None of the other actors make an impression–except Robert Morley. He’s awful.
Armstrong and Selleck are both fantastic; Armstrong gets a little more to do.
Besides the weak plotting, the film’s real drawback is director Hutton. Even when he’s competent, his work is never good enough for the actors.
Still, it’s not bad.