8 August 2013 | MartinHafer
Helen Hayes, Lewis Stone, Ralph Morgan and many others play Chinese-Americans. Nuff said!
Through most of Hollywood's history, the studios have taken an extremely insensitive view towards portraying Asians. While this might not seem at all surprising for the 1920s (when Lon Chaney played MANY Chinese roles), the practice continued well into the modern era--with folks like Mickey Rooney and Tony Randall playing Asians! For a partial list of the ridiculously miscasts folks who played Asians, I give you: Marlon Brando, Edward G. Robinson, John Wayne, Paul Muni, Katharine Hepburn (YES, the red-headed and extremely New England Hepburn), Sidney Toler, Myrna Loy, Boris Karloff, David Carradine, Walter Huston and Agnes Morehead!! Heck, I am surprised they didn't try Shirley Temple or Hattie McDaniel as Asians!!
Here in "The Son-Daughter", the studio has brought us the obvious Asian-like actors, Helen Hayes, Ramon Novarro, Warner Oland, Lewis Stone, Ralph Morgan and even H.B. Warner (who was most famous for playing Jesus in "King of Kings")! Again, the studio establishes several important truths: that the audiences were pretty stupid and would accept this, that working with REAL Asians was deplorable and that there were absolutely no Asian actors in all of California!!! Of course, the first 'truth' might be true, as some of these films with non-Asians playing Asians were very successful. As for the second, it goes without saying. And for the third, of course there were very talented Asians--but the studios simply didn't care to offer them much in the way of leading roles. Sure, they could play slobbering Japanese in wartime films or Number One Son in a Charlie Chan film--but not leading men or women. As a result of these prejudices, there is absolutely no way that I can give this film a particularly good score--even if the rest of the film was perfect...which it isn't.
In "The Son-Daughter", the characters are supposed to be Chinese-Americans, so at least their completely non-Chinese diction can be understood. As for making them look Chinese, the actors mostly squinted!! I am surprised they didn't walk around holding their fingers up to their eyes or sporting buck-teeth to make them look even more Chinese!!
As for the movie itself, it's all pretty silly drivel--very silly indeed. The writing was sappy, the story sappy and the only good thing were the sets--which looked really, really nice. It's obvious MGM had money for sets....and perhaps nothing left for competent writing! Pretty bad.