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This film is being shown as part of the "Quota Quickies" season at the NFT during this month.According to the programme notes the original script was set in Limehouse but was turned down by the BBFC.However with a few minor adjustments including transferring the setting to a South American country it became acceptable.It really is an odd concoction.There are a bunch of Cockney characters,eg Wally Patch conducting a protection racket a receptionist who to quote the notes is more like a "Blackpool landlady" and Wong,to name but a few.Wong is very well photographed and simply shines out from amongst the dross around her.If you get the chance it is certainly worth a viewing.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Tiger Bay here is part of a French colony in South America, not in Cardiff and the film is a strange mixture, with Anna May Wong as a Chinese "dance hall"/restaurant owner with a Lancashire manageress and a waiter who've emigrated from George Formby films, a German-accented gangster, French-accented police and an English hero and love-interest. Although there's a reference to "effeminate Jews" in the first scene (among British expats at the Gymkhana Club- who are also caricatured themselves) the film is fairly prejudice-free within its limits- the only caricatures are English class and regional-based- 'though- of course- the British hero has to marry the vapid blonde love-interest rather than the much more interesting Lui at the end. Competently filmed, using a few limited sets skilfully and with a battle scene that is surprisingly well-done for a quota quickie, the acting is a strange mixture, Henry Victor, as a gangster, leads a convincingly frightening gang and the lovers are vapid and pale, with elocution taught English accents, but Wong herself acts very well. In the scene where she kills the gangster watches her face and she shows emotions which the censor probably didn't understand, fortunately.
The most memorable things about "Tiger Bay" are, first of all, that
Anna May Wong and most of the minor character actors are more than
capable of making the two romantic leads looks like a pair of amateurs
-- even allowing for the fact that Letty and Michael are intended to be
callow roles -- and secondly, the totally wrong ending. I can only
assume that this was imposed at the censors' behest: from the audience
point of view, we have been watching Olaf and his gang commit every
offence up to and including murder, but as soon as one of them gets
what he so richly deserves, then and only then do the authorities --
and, apparently, the script -- react with moral outrage. The moment
when the worm finally turns and Lui Chang is prepared to outface
blackmail and strike back is the one we have been waiting for with
increasing impatience throughout, conditioned by modern movie
conventions. For this vigilante act alone amongst all the villainy of
the film to be condemned (a leading character cannot, presumably, be
seen to get away with a crime) subsequently comes across with all the
disbelief of a slap in the face: Bruce Lee never had to put up with
anything like this.
Up until this point the film is actually not bad; I couldn't help wondering where on earth Ealing Studios assembled such a polyglot, polychrome cast in 1933! Anna May Wong, although not cast as the romantic lead, more or less carries the picture, as appropriate to the star with her name above the titles. She is notably assisted by Margaret Yorke as the voluble English manageress, in a part that at first appears to be mere comedy relief but turns out to be a central part of Lui's surrogate 'family'. Other supporting roles including those of the villains are also well-played, and I was gratified to find that my instincts were correct and that 'Whistling Rufus' was indeed more than he seemed.
Sadly, the young hero and heroine do not fare so well, coming across as improbably stiff and stagy, and completely unrelated to their environment. Letty is admittedly supposed to be sheltered, but she appears to have no sense of the realities of Tiger Bay at all, and gives the impression of having wandered out of a different production altogether, and one with a somewhat different standard of acting at that. Victor Garland as the male lead, Michael, is not quite so bad, but he still appears to regard the whole thing as a frightfully good lark without any sense of genuine engagement.
I wouldn't totally write this film off, but I can't wholeheartedly recommend it; worth seeing if you get the chance, but not really worth wasting any effort over. (Incidentally, I was surprised to read in one source that "Tiger Bay" had to be cleansed of all mention of drunks and prostitutes, since both feature prominently in the finished product, and are indeed vital to the plot...)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've always wanted to see one of the movies David Lean edited before he became a big-time director. Good old Grapevine Video has come up with Tiger Bay (1934) and it stars one of my favorite people, Anna May Wong. And she really does have the star part. Unfortunately, it's not much of a movie. For a start, I distrusted its anti-French sentiments and its blatant attack on the French judicial system. In fact, I found the story's resolution quite unnerving. On a minor level, I didn't like the distractingly unattractive costume forced on Anna May in her final scene. And aside from Anna May's perfect performance, nearly everyone else either overacted (Henry Victor) or underplayed their roles (particularly youthful Victor Garland in his fourth and final feature film appearance). The story was basically pretty routine but managed to maintain my interest until its disappointing and totally unsatisfying resolution. Worse, there was nothing distinguished about the editing at all. In fact, I'd hazard a guess that director J. Elder Wills handled the movie with speed rather than inventiveness, haste rather than care. There was probably little for editors David Lean and Ian Thomson to do but glue the shots together.
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