13 August 2007 | catherine-71
Strange Indie Film
This is a difficult film to review. William Lundigan plays a nicely heroic Amercian with a warm, charismatic radio-trained voice; Richard Loo is great as the temper-tantrum-throwing villainous warlord marshal, with Philip Ahn as his civilized aide-de-camp; and Victor Sen Yung is splendid as a heroic Chinese-American radio operator. There are also cute turns by Milton Kibbee (Guy Kibbee's brother) as a pot-bellied fur trader, Barbara Wodell as a hysterical neurotic, and plug-ugly ex-pro wrestler Henry 'Bomber' Kulky as a Mongolian (in your wildest dreams) sergeant-at-arms, but despite these little highlights, the whole film is excessively talky, suffers from a patriotic narrative introduction, features muddled motivations (would the State Department actually send a female secret agent to Mongolia to deal with the emotional problems of a depressed, piano-playing secretary???), is rather set-bound (are those the "Republic Rocks" i see out back in Mongolia?), and ends on a weirdly sudden note, thus removing it from any consideration as an undiscovered classic.
Also working against this film's revival or renewal of popularity is the plot line's firm tie to then current events. How many modern viewers will understand the backdrop of what the script refers to as "the present crisis" -- the fact that, in 1949, this meant the Communist take-over of China, with Mao Tse-Tung wresting control from the pro-American Generalisimo Chiang Kai Shek?
Communism might have made a credible opposing force to the heroic American men and women of the State department, but the film-makers apparently wanted to play it safe and, not knowing which way the cats were gonna jump in old Peiping, they inserted a stereotypical "Mongolian Warlord" figure as the opponent to America's interests, a "Yellow Peril" threat that was dated at the time and hasn't aged well since. There was an attempt to cover this anachronism in the screenplay by stating that the marshal's father had been a local "prince" and that he himself -- despite the fact that his followers are dressed in Maoist People's Army type uniforms -- are actually out of favour with the "central government" -- but the effect comes across as a fairly transparent screenwriter's ruse, because if the marshal was a Mongolian prince, educated at Oxford, then why were his foot soldiers wearing Maoist style clothing?
Campiest line in the story, delivered by Philip Ahn, after Richard Loo goes ape on Victor Sen Yung's communications set-up:
"The marshal is very angry. He has broken your radio."
Spoken in the voice of Monty Python's Michael Palin as Cardinal Ximenez, that would have been a classic! As it is, it's just weird.