15 December 2000 | Ron Oliver
Fine Drama Of Corporate Soullessness
An earnest fellow struggles in the Orient for years as the employee of a huge corporation, trying to provide OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA. Never faltering in his devotion, even at the expense of family & friends, he is repeatedly mistreated or ignored by The Company...
This intriguing film, based on the best-selling novel by Alice Tisdale Hobart, shows the eternal struggle between the Cog & the Wheel, the little man and the giant corporation. In this case, The Company is the epitome of every heartless bureaucracy, commercial or political, which controls the lives of its workers, demands unswerving obedience, and offers very little in return.
The cast all do very well in their roles: Pat O'Brien, constantly called on to choose between The Company and his family; Josephine Hutchinson as his wife, who must become a tower of strength while blaming The Company for the death of her son; Lyle Talbot, John Eldredge, Henry O'Neill, William B. Davidson & George Meeker, as various Company functionaries & executives, who move through their lives for good or ill; and Jean Muir, as a young Company wife driven near to desperation.
Christian Rub as an old doctor & Keye Luke as a young Communist officer both standout in key roles. Willie Fung, who appeared uncredited numerous times in tiny bit parts during Hollywood's Golden Age, here receives proper recognition in what was probably his finest performance, that of O'Brien's servant.
Special nods should go to Arthur Byron & dour Donald Crisp, wonderful in small roles as bosses who make the ultimate sacrifice for The Company.
Warners didn't stint on producing fine atmospherics for this film. The Chinese scenes are especially well mounted.