30 June 2000 | Ron Oliver
A Tale Of Old Chinatown
Chinatown, Old San Francisco, early 20th Century. With revolution raging against the despotic Emperor in China, sympathizers in California work feverishly to ship weapons to the rebels, forever fighting Imperial assassins & hatchet men. Against this backdrop, a lovely Chinese maiden, only child of a gentle doctor, finds love with a newly arrived Celestial. She will soon be surrounded by danger & death, but her remarkable bravery will earn her honor as THE SON-DAUGHTER.
It's easy to criticize this film, with its roster of Western actors all playing Asian roles. That, however, would not be fair. It's important to remember that in 1932 Hollywood it was not unusual for stars to portray other nationalities. Indeed, Ramon Novarro, who receives equal billing here with Helen Hayes, made an entire career doing so. Being able to play ethnic roles was part of what acting was all about.
However, it is correct to say that Miss Hayes does give a rather overripe performance. Novarro comes off better, quietly underplaying his role. The rest of the cast - Lewis Stone, H. B. Warner, Ralph Morgan & Warner Oland - are effectively vile or virtuous, as the script demands. Elderly Louise Closser Hale steals a few scenes as the tart-tongued companion of Miss Hayes. Movie mavens will recognize Edwin Maxwell as the Chinese priest officiating at the wedding ceremony.
Good production values - notice the street scenes - show that MGM was not too stingy with the funds spent on this film.