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  • Hollywood did not make a lot of films about the China component of World War II. When they did, they usually focused on Americans, with the Chinese appearing as supporting characters. (There are hardly any Chinese with speaking parts in John Wayne's FLYING TIGERS, for instance.) Anna May Wong made two war films, THE LADY FROM CHUNGKING and BOMBS OVER BURMA, in which she starred as a Chinese patriot leading resistance efforts, both in 1942 and both extremely low-budget. They're worth seeking out, chiefly for her performances, but I've never seen a decent print of either and don't know if one even exists.

    John Farrow's CHINA (1943) is different from other films I've seen about the war in China. It foregrounds a trio of Americans, one female and two male, but the rest of the cast is nearly all Chinese and many of them have significant speaking parts. Even more importantly, the Chinese are proactive and drive the resistance efforts, with the two American men forced to go along, first reluctantly and then wholeheartedly. There are extended scenes of the Chinese conferring among themselves. This was extremely rare in Hollywood. Four of the five preeminent Asian-American actors in Hollywood at the time are in this film: Philip Ahn, Richard Loo, Victor Sen Yung, and Benson Fong. Only Keye Luke is missing. There are many Chinese actresses in the film as well.

    The action takes place in 1941, just before Pearl Harbor, and the plot involves the flight of refugees from a bombed Chinese town in a transport truck driven by an American oil exporter, Davy Jones (Alan Ladd), who's been supplying gasoline to the Japanese and is eager to get to Shanghai to secure another deal. An American teacher, Carolyn Grant (Loretta Young), has a large group of female students with her and prefers to go to Chengdu where the girls will presumably be safer. Eventually a band of well-armed Chinese guerrillas show up and essentially take over, dictating to Jones and his partner, Johnny Sparrow (William Bendix), what route they're going to take. After witnessing an atrocity committed by the Japanese, Jones decides to fight alongside the guerrillas and participates in two major confrontations with the Japanese.

    The film acknowledges Japanese atrocities committed in China with a reference to Nanking early on and a scene where three Japanese soldiers descend on a farmhouse and kill the occupants, leaving alive only a teenage girl whom they proceed to rape. This is presented as frankly as was possible at the time and it's unmistakable what has happened in the house. If the country wasn't at war, the scene would have been censored, but standards were relaxed during the war to allow for scenes like this that would outrage the audience and pump up their fighting spirit.

    From a purely cinematic standpoint, the film is quite remarkable for other reasons. The opening sequence is one long, intricate tracking shot through a Chinese town as it's being bombed, with the camera following William Bendix as he rushes through the town, looking for Ladd, with debris falling around him, and stopping to pick up a baby crying on its mother's corpse. This sequence is filmed on an elaborate backlot set. The shot continues, thanks to an invisible cut, into a building shot on a studio interior, and then out again, thanks to another invisible cut. Director Farrow often employed extensive tracking shots, putting him in the company of such directors as Max Ophuls and, on occasion, Sam Fuller, Orson Welles, and Otto Preminger. Yet, because his work was seen as formula studio fare rather than that of an "auteur," Farrow has never gotten the critical reputation he deserved.

    The two big action sequences in the film are masterfully shot. One, filmed entirely on the studio backlot at night, involves a raft trip across a river by Ladd, Bendix, Ahn and the resistance fighters to the Japanese camp to steal dynamite, erupting in a firefight when the Japanese discover them. Later, they set up dynamite charges along a mountain pass and have to climb up and place the charges in time to stop the Japanese advance. This was partly shot on location somewhere in California and is quite a suspenseful and spectacular sequence. Some of the Chinese girls on the trip participate in this mission.

    CHINA was Ladd's fourth starring role—after THIS GUN FOR HIRE, THE GLASS KEY and LUCKY JORDAN. There's a touch of the GUN FOR HIRE killer about him, particularly in the early scenes where he's pretty contemptuous of the people he's asked to help. But he softens along the way, particularly in his tender scenes with Loretta Young. He's also a fierce fighter in the two big action scenes. At one point, he overhears the Chinese girls talking about him and they clearly think ill of him. One of the girls notices him and comes over to apologize and then asks him when he's going to kiss Miss Grant. She explains that she's seen numerous American movies and the hero is always kissing someone or shooting someone, sometimes both. It's quite a charming scene and the young actress, Marianne Quon, is quite good. It's a notable sequence for the way it frames the American hero in a third world country as someone who's not respected or admired, but actively distrusted. He has to earn their respect and trust in the course of the film. They're not working for him. He, in essence, is working for them. In Hollywood films like this, that was quite unusual.

    Today, September 3, 2013, marks the centennial of Alan Ladd's birth. I've enjoyed the majority of the films of his that I've seen and would argue that CHINA is one of the best. For some reason this film never played on TV when I was growing up and I didn't get the chance to see it until I purchased a used copy on VHS from Amazon.
  • lohman4822 November 2005
    The cast is great, especially William Bendix. I think the movie was made to draw attention to the terrible situation which was going on in China at the time. Thought Bendix is better known as a comic actor in many movies he also can switch to play the serious side. Here there is a soft hearted Bendix and comical Bendix and a serious Bendix as the movie is drawn to a very dark side as the Americans and a load of Chinese students try to out run the Japanese Army.

    Ladd always played one role, a tough guy, either the good guy or the bad guy but always the tough guy. From what I have read about his personal life that fit him to a tea. He does not stretch his personality in this movie.

    Loretta Young is a little out of her nature. She always seemed more reserved and lady like and does not seem to fit in the darker side of China. But I think it is all this change in what people believed about them, especially Bendix and Young is what really pulled it all together and pulled it off. This is really a great movie. Propaganda? Probably, but it is a great movie.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    CHINA 1943

    This 1943 Paramount Pictures production stars, Alan Ladd, Loretta Young and William Bendix. This wartime flag-waver is set in China just before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    Ladd plays a war profiteer who sells oil and gasoline to whoever pays the most. At the moment it is the Japanese. Ladd is a tough, anything for a dime type, who could care less about the war going around him. His sidekick is William Bendix, in the second film pairing of an eventual five, for the pair. When the Japanese start bombing the town, it is into their truck, and on the road. Bendix brings along a small baby he found during the bombing raid.

    Further up the road, they hit a group of Chinese refugees who include missionary schoolteacher type, Loretta Young. The next thing you know, Ladd's truck is full of young women from a school Young was running. They want to stay ahead of the advancing Japanese forces.

    Miss Young of course tries to melt Ladd's mercenary heart and get him to drive them to their destination. Ladd is bound and determined to dump Young and her charges at the next stop. This changes when one of the girls is gang raped by a Japanese motorcycle patrol. The little baby Bendix had rescued is also killed by the Japanese. Ladd grabs a handy Thompson machine gun and obliterates said Japanese.

    The group soon joins up with members of the Chinese forces that are out to hinder the Japanese advance. The group includes, Victor Sen Yung, Philip Ahn and Richard Loo.

    Ladd and company now pull a midnight raid on the pursuing Nipponese. They swipe several hundred sticks of dynamite, pausing only to kill a few dozen of the enemy. Ladd of course just happens to know a thing or two about explosives. They plant the dynamite in a pass through the mountains. The Japanese need to go through the pass in order to continue their attack.

    Ladd, in a bid to slow down the Japanese, offers up himself as bait. He flags down the leading Japanese staff car, and has a chat with the General in charge. Bendix and the Chinese need the time to finish setting the explosives.

    Ladd earns the Chinese the time needed, but, is killed in the massive explosion that brings down the walls of the pass. The motorized Japanese Regiment in the pass is wiped out as well.

    Bendix and Young load up the girls and drive off to safety.

    This fairly brisk and entertaining war film was directed by John Farrow. This was the third war film in a row for Farrow. He had just finished, COMMANDOS STRIKE AT DAWN and WAKE ISLAND. Farrow would work with Ladd and Bendix in two other films, TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST and CALCUTTA. The twice Oscar nominated, one time winner, Farrow, scored with a number of film noir, war, adventure and western films. These include, HONDO, FIVE CAME BACK, THE BIG CLOCK, NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES, WHERE DANGER LIVES, HIS KIND OF WOMAN and PLUNDER OF THE SUN.

    The cinematographer was Leo Tover. He was also twice nominated for an Academy Award. His film work, includes, DEAD RECKONING, I WALK ALONE, THE SNAKE PIT, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL, A BLUEPRINT FOR MURDER and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.

    The film apparently set a record for the most special effects explosions used during a wartime production. Studios were rationed a certain amount of explosives for each picture. Paramount just used supplies that had been carefully husbanded from other productions. There are plenty of big bangs here.

    This was the last film Ladd made before being drafted into the military.
  • During WWII, American film studios made tons of films featuring the enemy as monsters...snarling, drooling, evil monsters. Much of this is understandable....the country was at war. But many of these depictions went way overboard...so much so that the films seem very dated today. "China", unlike some of the more severe depictions of the enemy, is actually a bit more realistic. In fact, it's so realistic in spots that the film is much more brutal and frank than you'd expect from a Post-Code American picture.

    The story is set in China just before the US entered the war in 1941. China, in contrast to the US, had been at war with China for about a decade...with Japan invading eastern China and in many cases eliminating the locals completely. So, when the film show the Japanese army doing ethnic cleansing, it's actually pretty realistic...ugly...but realistic. In addition, rapes and murders of civilians were common...and the film actually manages to show much more than I'd expect. I also mention this because the film CAN be hard to watch in places...especially in the portion where there is a rape and murders of a family. Because of this, it's far better than the average wartime propaganda movie.

    Alan Ladd and William Bendix star as Americans who work for an oil company. This work brought them to China...and Ladd's character, in particular, seems more than willing to sell to the Japanese or Chinese. However, through the course of the story, he sees more and more of the Japanese atrocities and eventually joins the resistence wholeheartedly. Along for the ride is a missionary lady (Loretta Young).

    A few things about the film could have been better. In particular, the casting was odd. Ladd was fine in his usual grumpy disaffected role, but Young and Bendix were all wrong. Young plays an American born and raised in China...and she seems as Chinese-American as a taco! Bendix isn't as bad, but he's supposed to be from Oregon...but he sure sounds like Brooklyn (though he apparently was from Manhattan).

    On the positive side, the film did not shy away from things and was BRUTAL. While the rape was not shown, it was STRONGLY implied and you could hear the screams. As for the killing, much of it was in hand-to-hand combat and was amazingly harsh for 1943. I appreciate that, as too often war films make war seem fun or easy...here, there is great sacrifice and realism as a result. Overall, very well worth watching and one of Ladd's best.
  • jakob136 February 2019
    Dusted off from long time in the vault, John Farrell's 'China' surprises. Allan Ladd plays a cynical, war profiteer, a part well chosen for him. He sells to the highest bidder: the Imperial Japanese waging war against the Nationalist troops, short of money, but not in men. And then there's doe eyed Loretta Young, born and bred in China and with missionary fervor remains in China to aid and assist her students, refugees. William Bendix as Ladd's side kick has a tender heart and is a sucker for an abandoned baby. But the surprise are the Asian actors...Korean Philip Ahn, Chinese Richard Loo and Victor Sen Yung and Marion Quon, among others, who usually plays small parts in Chan Chin films. Here, in 'China', at war, they have strong roles who force at the end of a barrel of a gun, to do as they want in their fight against the invading Japanese. They are forceful, intelligent and well able to fight with the Americans playing as it turns out to be in the background. Amazing? In a way, our allies in the fight against Japanese militarism, but in the US declared by act of Congress as a 'cursed minority', restricted in immigration, forced to live in ghettos quaintly known as 'China towns',centers of opium dens, intrigue and possibly engaged in white slavery. All the prejudice aside, 'China' is an exception. The Chinese characters speak good, standard ordinary English and are robust in character and know what they want to free China from Japanese aggression. Of course, Ladd has a change in heart, helps the Chinese to entrap Japanese troops. And in that he's ennobled by his sacrifice for all that's good and pure in America; he finds love in Young, and Bendix remains true to his heart. It's a pity, it is not shown on the television or in cinema clubs.
  • Paramount got caught short in 1943, their big discovery Alan Ladd was about to be drafted for who knew how long. So they had to get as much work out of him as they could before Uncle Sam claimed his services. That's the only reason that Alan Ladd at the threshold of his stardom was rushed into this film.

    That promotion line that I quoted in the title was as big a piece of hyperbole as ever came out of a publicity man's mind. China is clearly a B picture that was probably ready to roll with lesser known leads. Alan Ladd, Loretta Young, and William Bendix with a cast of Oriental players who never before or since in film history got as much work as during World War II, were rushed into this typical flagwaver.

    Ladd and Bendix are a couple of Americans who sell gasoline to whomever pays and in the Orient before Pearl Harbor, the Japanese yen was the strongest currency going. The Sino-Japanese war forces a sudden change in location of operations for them. Fleeing the city they were in, they come across Loretta Young, missionary teacher with a group of young girls in her charge.

    From this point on anyone who's watched any World War II era war pictures can figure the rest of the story from here. Loretta is as luminescent as ever, but she and Ladd have no chemistry at all. Ladd knows what Paramount is doing here and looks bored. Except in his scenes with sidekick Bendix. The two of them were close friends in real life. Bill Bendix was never bad in anything he did.

    By the way the movie poster that Paramount put out advertising China has a picture of Alan Ladd, bare-chested, machinegun in hand and sporting muscles that the Governator of Cal-lee-fornia would envy. In Alan Ladd's golden era at Paramount, they had some set of brass ones to put him in this nickelplated clinker.
  • writers_reign9 November 2016
    Warning: Spoilers
    In some ways this film resembles Shakespeare's play Henry V; the bard begins his play with scenes of the political situation between England and France. This isn't easy to follow for non history students but once we get past that you can wallow in the verse. This film is similar; you need a degree in the Sino-Japanese war to follow what's happening but again once you turn Ladd and Bendix loose, give them their heads and throw in Loretta Young the entertainment element kicks in and the audience can sit back and relax. Seeing it today, some seventy years after the historical events is even more of a challenge. Ladd is something like Bogie in Casablanca, sticking his neck out for nobody until, inevitably, he realizes he lives in the world and owes it something. Apart from the three co-stars all the rest of the cast are Chinese which was unusual to say the least; John Farrow does a workmanlike job and it's well worth a look.