Slow-moving Cold War cheapo without the courage of its convictions. In '48 the Chinese Civil War was in full swing-- red Mao vs. nationalist Chiang, with an outcome still in doubt. The Soviets half-heartedly supported the rebel Mao while the US supplied the nationalists. With the Cold War heating up across Europe and Asia, Hollywood began celebrating government agencies in what many saw as a first line of defense against communist penetration. Here, it's the State Department getting the cosmetic treatment. Note, for example, the celebratory prologue.
The impressively handsome Lundigan plays a Foreign Service officer sent to China to assist a besieged legation. There, while romancing colleague Bruce, he experiences the brutal machinations of a warlord (Loo) who's playing both warring sides against the middle. In short, the material implies a larger scale drama than what it receives from this indie production. At the same time, the script plays it safe, never once mentioning communists or Mao. Instead, they're referred to as rebels in the North, while the US maintains diplomatic ties with the government in the South. In short, the screenplay tries to clumsily finesse a critical issue of the day, while we read between the lines.
As other reviewers point out, there's much too much talk dominating the latter half, most of it within the cheap confines of warlord Loo's trailer! The gab adds up to a downer despite the fiery upshot. On a similar note, Lundigan's spiffy gray suit remains unblemished no matter the grimy surroundings-- no doubt a concession to the Service's image. Too bad director Newfield adds nothing to the pedestrian script. Some atmosphere would have helped
On the other hand, crowded scenes of the Chinese town are well done and fairly persuasive, even though the production never leaves greater LA (Iverson Ranch, and the studio). And what a neat burst of inspiration to couple the Chinese fire-eater with the American bubble-gum chewer. In my book, it may be the movie's highlight, an amusing pairing of East and West. At the same time, chubby little Michel just about steals the show from the stiffed-up adults.
All in all, the 87-minutes unfortunately adds up to a bigger bite than the meagre budget could chew.
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