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Fresh from Chinatown in New York, Harry Young has taken over the illegal import business in the seamy Limehouse district of London, where he cold-bloodedly disposes of rivals and runs a smoky nightclub. He falls for a low-class, white pickpocket, diminishing his pride in the Chinese half of his heritage and sparking the jealousy of the nightclub's moody star performer. Written by
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
Paramount "sex star" George Raft's a half-caste who leaves New York's Chinatown to set up shop in London's Limehouse district (thus explaining his accent) where he runs a smuggling operation out of a waterfront dive. He orchestrates a British rival's murder after finding out the brute beats his pick-pocket step-daughter (shades of BROKEN BLOSSOMS) and once the hit's carried out, Raft takes the girl under his wing. He falls in love, naturally, but she's "not his own kind" as discarded mistress Anna May Wong points out more than once and no good will come of it...
In a typical role for the "dark & dangerous" Paramount star George Raft, he's a bad guy with a good heart who does a complete about face in the last reel and it was more-or-less the same 'ol same 'ol for the exotic Wong as well. She does little more than shoot daggers with her eyes at pretty Jean Parker and when she wasn't doing that, Anna cut a rug with George (kind of an apache dance where he throws her around), sang a snippet, and, when we first see her, does a kind of cooch by striking poses a la Madonna's "Vogue" in a slinky black gown adorned with a glittering dragon.
In its favor, Paramount's fog-bound sets evoke a time and place but there's an implicit racist attitude in the fact that Raft's mother was a Chinese princess, something also present in MGM's NIGHT OF THE QUARTER MOON, another "tasteful" tale of miscegenation that sees Julie London's mom an African princess. Intentional or not, the unspoken message is "Well, if it had to happen, at least it was royalty" but, of course, the film was "of its time", a time when interracial marriage was still against the law and although Raft and Wong came very close to a kiss during that apache dance, their lips didn't touch.
I have to smile, tho, whenever I see Golden Age "yellow face" portrayals labeled politically incorrect at best and racist at worst because it shows an obvious ignorance of Classic Film and America at the time. There were real reasons behind this "unreality": In the 1930s, the majority of Americans were white and the majority of that majority went to the movies to see the stars and if LIMEHOUSE BLUES turned a profit (and I'm sure it did), it was because of heartthrob George Raft's many fans -fans who wouldn't have paid to see an Asian actor in the lead. Studios acquired projects for their stars -not the other way around- and besides, LIMEHOUSE BLUES was romantic escapist fare, plain and simple, with any resemblance to reality being purely co-incidental.
"I always wanted to be Anna May Wong. She seemed so much more exotic and exciting than plain ordinary folk. But no-go. I wasn't fated to be Wong, just white." -Paul Lynde
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