4 May 2010 | bkoganbing
"The Company Way Is For Me, OK"
You might recognize that title line from How To Succeed In Business as Robert Morse sings his philosophy of life in the business world. But that was from the safety of Madison Avenue in New York, not in the frontier atmosphere of Kuomintang China. Pat O'Brien endures all for the sake of the company which is never referred to by its actual name which is the Atlantis Oil Company. It is reverently and in semi-hushed tones always referred to in Oil For The Lamps Of China as "THE COMPANY", in the same way the Central Intelligence Agency is called that in much espionage fiction.
From what I was able to gather the Atlantis Oil Company does what oil companies do. One of the byproducts of petroleum is kerosene and since China is hardly wired for electricity, they depend on oil lamps for illumination. So this company has a nice market there, drilling the oil from China and selling it back to them. And its all presented in such awe as spreading the benefits of civilization, western civilization that is.
So Pat O'Brien goes to China with the zeal of a missionary. He gets dumped by the woman he was supposed to marry, but then meets up with Josephine Hutchinson who was on an oriental tour with her father who was a professor of oriental history, but who died on the boat. Two lonely people commiserate and fall in love.
After they marry the film turns absolutely bizarre. O'Brien and Hutchinson endure so much for THE COMPANY, like the loss of a child, long separation, outright theft of an idea for a new type kerosene lamp O'Brien events. I hate to say this but Pat should have taken up a new career. Anyone else would have, but he carries on strong in his faith in THE COMPANY.
The film was based on a novel by Alice Tisdale Hobart and the book was first and foremost a romance novel between two people in an exotic location, exotic for Americans of the time that is. As romance it's all right, the sociological implications are frightening however.
Remember that How To Succeed In Business was a satire, this film was never meant to be that.