China Seas (1935) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
30 Reviews
Sort by:
Romance and Adventure On The China Seas
Noirdame7930 November 2004
Warning: Spoilers
This was the first film I saw that paired Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. I expected a lot from it and I was not disappointed. They were one of the finest screen teams of the 30s.

In a way, the plot is like RED DUST on the high seas. Gable is again in charge of a location and the leader of men, including a crew of Asians. Harlow is again the woman of easy virtue with a heart of gold. Rosalind Russell, in an entertaining turn as Sybil, Gable's long ago love, is a comedic and decidedly more classy dame who captures Captain Gaskill's attention, and who incites China Doll's jealousy. Wallace Beery, who worked with both Harlow and Gable in "THE SECRET SIX" and with Harlow in the 1933 classic "DINNER AT EIGHT" is enjoyably slick and subtly shady as Jamesy. But it is the chemistry between Harlow and Gable that really holds this movie together. They obviously had great respect and liking for one another, and this only cemented their working relationship on-screen. My favorite lines, one spoken by China Doll: "When I want you to sound off, Golden Bells, I'll pull your rope!" The other by Gaskill, with that unmistakable Gable grin: "And as a man said when they were about to hang him, 'This will be a lesson to me.' " It's a gem, and don't pass it up.
16 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Nothing Ever Happens on a Steamer in the China Seas
theowinthrop24 October 2005
The studios in the "Golden Age" of films loved to stick to successful formulas that worked for their actors and directors. Just go down the list of performers that you can recall: A fine actor like Basil Rathbone is either the heavy or villain, or Sherlock Holmes (but not, as he wished, Rhett Butler). Jean Harlow and Marlene Dietrich could not play normal housewives, nor could Joan Crawford play a stupid woman. Oliver Hardy could always have a wife, but never a happy marriage (and if it approached happiness, Stan Laurel would help destroy that). Lewis Stone, sterling character actor, only achieved permanent stardom when he inherited the role of Judge Hardy from Lionel Barrymore, and he would remain the perfect, wise father to Mickey Rooney in a dozen films. As for Barrymore, while he had a higher degree of stardom than Stone, he fell nicely into a niche as the original Dr. Leonard Gilespie, opposite Lew Ayres as Dr. Kildare.

In 1932 MGM got the bright idea of making a dramatic film of Vicki Baum's "Grand Hotel" with an all star cast (John and Lionel Barrymore, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, Jean Hersholt, and Tully Marshall). The film won the best picture Oscar, so it became a standard for other MGM projects to copy. The best known is "Dinner At Eight" (both Barrymore brothers again, Beery again, Jean Harlow, Marie Dressler, Billy Burke, Edmund Lowe, Lee Tracy, Hersholt again). But "David Copperfield", "The Prisoner OF Zenda", and several other Selznick films, and "The Women" (with only a cast of actresses - Crawford, Shearer, Russell, Fontaine, Goddard, and Boland) followed the same formula with variants by the settings and plots of the films.

"China Seas" was an early example of the formula "all star" film, a "Grand Hotel" set at sea. The plot is varied: C. Aubrey Smith is having a cargo of gold shipped by his ship captained by Gable. The passengers include Harlow (who has had a long standing on-again, off-again romance with Gable), Russell (Gable's current love interest - a real English lady type), Beery (an untrustworthy gambler and thief - he may be planning to steal the gold), Robert Benchley (an American novelist on a permanent toot), Edward Brophy and Lillian Bond as a married couple on a tour (Ms Bond has her secrets from her husband), Akim Tamiroff (a man who knows how to take advantage of secrets), Dudley Digges (a self-satisfied and smug chief executive officer), and Lewis Stone (a former sea captain, now reduced in rank and a pariah due to an act of cowardice).

The film is a lively mixture of comedy and tragedy, including the death of one of the villains. Harlow demonstrates an interesting way of playing cards and drinking that suggests more than the film shows. Benchley never appears clear eyed and sober throughout all the film. Stone, in a powerful moment, leaves the self-righteous Digges with a permanent black mark on his self-esteem. Gable and Beery show what the "boot" is, and how effective it is. This is a film where the activities of the cast are so involving you never get bored even when you see the film another time. And at the end, as the ship reaches port (as in "Grand Hotel"), life goes on as though nothing (including a pirate attack) ever even occurred.
25 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A great story and a great cast
stills-624 August 2001
A great story and a great cast. If you set aside all the early Hollywood traps about racism and sexism, this is a terrific and watchable romance/adventure.

The story is very similar to Gable's later film, "Mogambo." He's the adventurous cad who loves two women - a beautiful ice-queen who represents his link to civilization (Russell); and the cute but stubborn and uncouth "woman of the world" who has the capacity to betray him when it suits her (Harlow). This movie is very well acted. I've always said that if you give Gable an affectation to fall back on, he does extremely well. Here, he's a barking sea captain, which, almost by accident, gives his performance a better range than it otherwise would have. I don't really like Harlow, but she's good in her role.

The editing is a bit strange - many closeups are too obviously added in later, but I guess I can partially forgive this because of the time it was made. It really shows how Harlow was on a roll when she was with the rest of the cast, though. Because these individual shots do not fit in with the movie at all.

There's some amazing effects during the typhoon sequence, with a steam engine running loose on the deck - and you actually see people get run over and flattened. It's disconcerting even though you realize the camera tricks involved. Very inventive for its day.
25 out of 27 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
On The High Seas Of Adventure With Gable, Harlow & Beery
Ron Oliver11 March 2000
British Hong Kong, mid 1930's. A freighter makes ready to lift anchor on its way to Singapore, carrying with it £250,000 in hidden gold. The passengers & crew are a colorful mix of often violent hatreds & animosities. Traveling into typhoon-swept, pirate-haunted waters, danger & death awaits all those who enter the CHINA SEAS.

While admittedly the plot is a little far-fetched, this was one of the great all-star features which MGM did so well during its heyday. The sets are lavish (especially the bustling docks) and except for the occasional use of a model, the ship scenes look realistic.

The cast is made-up of some of the Studio's best: Clark Gable as the captain - given to drink & homesick for England, he must choose between the two women he loves; Jean Harlow, the brassy blonde with too much past, passionate in defense of her man; Wallace Beery, gambler & exporter, bluff, hearty & treacherous; Rosalind Russell, the English society girl, cool & beautiful.

Rounding out the excellent supporting cast are Lewis Stone, as an old ship's officer accused of cowardice; Robert Benchley as a perpetually inebriated American novelist; Edward Brophy & Lillian Bond as American tourists who attract the notice of lustful Russian swindler Akim Tamiroff; and wonderful old Sir C. Aubrey Smith, as the founder of the shipping line.

Film mavens will spot uncredited performances by Willie Fung as a cabin boy; Donald Meek as a chess player; Emily Fitzroy as a gossipy passenger; and especially Hattie McDaniel, hilarious as Harlow's maid.

On a side note, one of the writers for this film was Paul Bern, an important MGM producer & Harlow's husband. His 1932 murder by his deranged common-law spouse, made to look like a suicide by MGM security to protect Harlow's career, would provide one of Hollywood with one of its most famous scandals.
23 out of 25 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Harlow, Gable, and Beery at their best
PeterPangloss20 December 2005
"When I want you to sound off, Golden Bell, I'll pull your rope"--Harlow to Yu-Lan in "China Seas." There's not another actor, alive or dead, who could make that line work, but Harlow finds both the obvious comedy and the hidden pathos in it. (The pathos stems from her realization that she's out of her league, and her fear that the others at the table are looking down their noses at her.)

She, Gable, and Wallace Beery, are perfectly cast here. Harlow is the sassy, brassy, slightly shady blonde who's impulsive and emotional, but who really wants to do the right thing. Gable is of course steady and solid, all man, in charge, unflappable, ironic, and irresistible. Beery is by turns roguish, charming, tough, and menacing.

Roz Russell does a fine job as an old flame of Clark's who shows up for the voyage. Her British accent holds up pretty well. Lewis Stone plays the cowardly 3rd Officer who is out to repair his reputation, a far cry from his future as Judge Hardy. And Robert Benchley does his familiar drunkard routine.

Besides being well-cast, the film is exciting, with tropical storms, piracy at sea, and complicated romances. The special effects are excellent for the era, and the pacing is lively. Really a fine film.
15 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A solid, well-crafted film of MGM's Heyday
Tobias_R15 August 2006
It is a relief to see a vibrantly entertaining film that is well-crafted as a finely made chair. Like most chairs, this film is no classic like "Citizen Kane" or "Gone With The Wind" but it's exciting with charismatic leads like Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. The chemistry between the two is gripping, even if a lot of their encounters in this movie are rather repetitious of the "I love you but I shouldn't" variety. One can see why Gable and Harlow were cast together at every opportunity MGM had from "Red Dust" onward. The other supporting actors are quite good especially Wallace Beery as a slippery villain. While Robert Benchley is quite amusing, his drunk act starts getting really old after a while. Also, it's quite sobering to realize that Benchley would die in 1945 from the effects of long-term alcoholism. In sum, despite some unhappy reminders of Hollywood's racism of times past, this is a fine film that probably served as one source of inspiration for Spielberg's Indiana Jones series of films in the 1980s.
9 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Great cast meet danger in the high seas!
funkyfry8 October 2002
High seas adventure with Gable as a run-down captain and Harlow as his lover. Complications involve Rosalid Russell, as a high society widow Gable was in love with before. Harlow takes up with Beery to make him jealous, but ends up being forced to join him in his plot to help pirates rob the ship. Harlow and Gable remain a knockout A-class pairing, and the character roles are well-handled. Juicy dialogue and gory action are also plusses.
14 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
On the high seas; big ships come...big ships go.
Michael O'Keefe23 February 2002
Not just a routine trip from Hong Kong to Singapore for Captain Alan Gaskell(Clark Gable). There is a treasure trove of gold hidden on board. Among the passengers are two women of the captain's past: Dolly(Jean Harlow), the brash blonde bombshell and Lady Sybil(Rosalind Russell), the prim and proper socialite from England. Wallace Beery is a 'blow hard' gambler that is not to be trusted. Also in the cast are Lewis Stone and Hattie McDaniel.

Raiding pirates, one hell of a typhoon plus love on the high seas...a very good adventure film with tense action. Gable and Harlow are dynamic together. Tight direction from Tay Garnett. Special effects are superb.
15 out of 19 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Worth a second, third, fourth look
lucy-1923 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of my favourite films and is as great as people say. It's got a lot of plot, some I think lifted from other sources. The gold in the steam-engine - wasn't that a story by Kipling? (Notice how the runaway engine is mirrored by the runaway piano in the saloon where the posh people have taken refuge.) And the "fake" pearls are definitely Somerset Maugham - they turn up again in a film that's a compendium of his short stories. I love Jean Harlow, and she only betrays Gable because she thinks she's lost him. Surely she redeems herself and switches sides again. (And was her real-life husband murdered? His motiveless "suicide" is one of those Hollywood mysteries that have a hundred solutions.) Harlow died tragically young of untreated kidney disease - her mother was a Christian scientist. Or is that another legend?
5 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Pass the Dramamine
telegonus7 November 2001
This is a rollicking, fun, unprofound movie set aboard a ship in the China Seas of the title, and has a little bit of something for everyone, as most Hollywood movies of the time did. It has romance, adventure, tragedy, comedy, pirates, torture, and a largely studio-bound storm at sea that is remarkably effective. There's really no sense in this movie, as it is pure escapism. Stars Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Rosalind Russell, Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone and a very believably inebriated Robert Benchley make it livelier and more entertaining to watch than most films, and the constant movement of the ship is well-conveyed, and enough to send most land-lubbers reaching for the dramamine bottle.
14 out of 18 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Jean & Clark hit the high seas
jjnxn-15 May 2013
Rollicking fun with the MGM sheen at its height. Jean and Gable were always a great match and they continue here as a doxy and a ship's captain. The script is serviceable enough to not stretch belief too far, what is more fantastic is that Jean would be traveling on a China tug in white satin no matter how striking it is, same goes for Clark in his white captain uniform but that's Metro for you. This is the last of Jean's true brassy platinum blonde roles. For the short time she had left in her regrettably too brief career she softened her look and her roles were heading to the more ladylike end of the spectrum, for instance Wife vs. Secretary. Rosalind Russell is just starting out here too stuck in one of what she referred to as her Lady Mary roles, full of good diction and the graaaand manner her great flair for comedy wouldn't be tapped for several years, she's fine but knowing what she's capable of she feels constrained. The rest of the cast is terrific with Wally Beery and Robert Benchley standing out in full bodied characterizations. Keep in mind that this was made in the 30's so racism and sexism are on full display in a very casual way.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Steaming Up The High Seas
bkoganbing12 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
In China Seas, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow essentially take their characters from Red Dust off the rubber plantation and transplant them to the high seas. What's wild about this film is that both Gable and Harlow are supposed to be English, but do not even attempt to adopt an accent. In Gable's case he figured the public accepted him in Mutiny on the Bounty so why not. In any case the part called for a rough and tough adventurer and that certainly did fit Gable.

Harlow's a girl who's been around the block a few times and she's crazy about Gable. But Gable takes her for granted and he's now pursuing a cultured widow of a friend in Rosalind Russell. That doesn't sit too well with Harlow so she goes after China trader Wallace Beery who's always had a yen for her.

The problem is that Beery is hooked up with Malay pirates, a nasty bunch if there ever was. They're looking to steal some gold bullion that Gable's transporting on this voyage. What happens is the rest of the story.

This was one of Rosalind Russell's earliest roles and once again there's little trace of the fine comedic actress she became. She worked with Gable again in They Met in Bombay and the results there were excellent. Here she's being a mannered version of Myrna Loy. MGM did that a lot, had back up players in case stars became hard to handle. In this case that's what they envisioned Russell as at this time. She does well in a part, gets more out of the role than I'm sure was originally intended.

Actually my favorite in China Seas is Lewis Stone. He's a former captain himself who was beached for cowardice. Gable signs him on as a third officer and Stone makes himself a human bomb and martyrs himself to save the ship. It's a touching and tragic performance.

Russell in her memoirs says that at this time she was not terribly friendly with the MGM star roster while she was an up and coming player in the ranks. One exception she did mention was Jean Harlow who she describes as warm, friendly, and helpful. Not that the two would have been up for the same kind of parts, but I got the feeling Russell felt Harlow was a genuinely nice person.

The stars and the supporting cast fill out the roles they are normally type cast in. China Seas is still rugged action adventure entertainment.
8 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Harlow, magnificent idiot
Tashtago17 July 2008
A pretty good movie with an excellent cast and some decent special effects. Gable is at his best and the same can be said for Beery , Sir C. and Harlow. I haven't seen many Harlow films but I'm assuming that her stock character is the one she portrays here , a sort of bad girl with a heart of gold, a lovable moron who speaks first and thinks later. The kind of woman who (if she were your wife/girlfriend) would ruin a party and make a big scene if she became jealous. In other words the kind of woman most men might stupidly have casual sex with and then realizing what an idiot they were saddled with, run away from as fast as they could. I'm guessing many depression era women could identify with her low class stubborn pride but now she seems like an annoying , shrill, infantile idiot constantly seeking approval. As a portrait of this kind of woman , Harlow is magnificent. You might want to strangle her or throw her overboard but she's always watchable, the bra less gowns help.
10 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Thrills and romance on the China Sea.
Robert J. Maxwell9 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
This film has some good things going for it. First, a cast of MGM's finest -- Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery, Rosalind Russel, Robert Benchley, among others. Gable is the skipper of a somewhat battered passenger liner in Asiatic waters. Harlow is the girl he's been associated with, so to speak, a little "tainted", as Gable puts it. But who the hell is HE to talk? He comes aboard just before sailing, filthy and unshaven, hung over. He barks out orders to the crew and to just about everyone else. Rosalind Russel is an old flame from London and her husband has died so she is now "available." Wallace Beery is a likable big lug who gambles and drinks but is in cahoots with some pirates who take over the ship, just after the big hurricane hits. Benchley is thrown in as a harmless drunk given to wisecracks and non sequiturs, only one of which (about his being a chess master) is truly funny.

Second, there is the set dressing by Cedric Gibbons. Love it. Everything is painted white. The crummy little ship has a saloon the size of Madison Square Garden. This is one of those films in which all the men dress in white suits and wear pith helmets. The women's garb is more nearly traditional. Rosalind Russell has an English accent and an equally hoity-toity wardrobe. Harlow is dressed in slinky gowns that seem to glow in the dark and she eschews brassieres.

There are some slam-bang special effects during the hurricane. And a great scene in which the Malay pirates take over the ship and torture Gable to get him to squeal about where the gold is hidden. "Oh, NO! Not the Malay BOOT! Tell them where the gold is. I can't stand to witness this!" (That's Wallace Beery, who hasn't been outed as a traitor yet, in mock anguish over the torture Gable is about to undergo.) It seems that we're all set up for another rousing, funny, exotic adventure movie along the lines of "Gunga Din," except that the script keeps undercutting the light-heartedness with serious, sometimes rather insightful dialog. Example: Harlow is jealous of Russell and, at the captain's dinner table, she has a couple of drinks and starts shouting lewd and suggestive remarks. Russell: "You must be very fond of him." Harlow: "Whaddaya mean?" Russell: "To humiliate yourself like this." There are a lot of ways Russell's punch line could have been delivered -- angrily, with bitchiness, for instance, but Russell's tone and expression convey empathy and sadness. Gable too is given some sober, thoughtful exchanges but acts as if he can't quite bring himself to believe what he's saying, as if he'd prefer the careless, rough-hewn character that first appeared on the screen, kind of like his character in "Red Dust." It's an above average flick for its genre though. All that whiteness is almost blinding.
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A really enjoyable film hindered by an ending that just made no sense!
MartinHafer9 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The first 95% or more of the film was quite enjoyable and this is no surprise considering the talent MGM assembled for the film. Three of its biggest money-making stars (Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery) were featured in this film, along with other notables such as Lewis Stone and Rosalind Russell. The plot is all about a cargo/passenger ship commanded by Clark in the China Seas--which is an area infested with pirates. Beery is one of the passengers but unknown to everyone, he's also the leader of the pirates!! Harlow is Clark's ex-girlfriend. Just how close she and Clark were is a bit vague, though it is implied they were more than just boyfriend/girlfriend. However, an old flame, Russell, comes aboard and Clark quickly dumps Harlow in favor of her because Russell isn't a loud-mouthed skank--plus she is pretty sophisticated with her British accent. Here is an odd bit of casting, because we then hear that Clark, too, is British, but he made no attempt at an accent and sounded about as British as the Frito Bandito or Yogi Berra!! But, despite this, the writing is pretty good and the acting top-notch, so it can easily be ignored.

Unfortunately, what cannot be ignored is the end of the film. It just made absolutely no sense at all. While Harlow was a foul-mouthed tramp who actually HELPED the pirates, Clark unexpectedly dumps Russell at the end even though she's a stand-up dame (great lingo, huh?)! It seems that the ONLY reason they ended the film that way was because Harlow was by far a bigger star compared to Russell and they just couldn't let Clark end the film without Harlow. Plus, in so many, many, many ways, this film is RED DUST, PART II. Both feature the pair in Southeast Asia, both had a back story where Gable and Harlow were strongly implied to be more than just "friends" and both had Gable fall for a sophisticated lady yet end up with Harlow in the end of the film!
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Red Dust meets Grand Hotel
robertguttman14 November 2012
China Seas is a sort of follow-up to Red Dust, with the addition of the sort of all-star cast pioneered in Grand Hotel, only set on board a passenger ship instead of in a hotel. As in Red Dust, the central plot element involves a triangle featuring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. However, this time the hypotenuse is occupied by Rosalind Russel rather than Mary Astor.

By the time China Seas was produced the infamous Hayes Office was already busily enforcing standards of decency in the film industry. Consequently, the action is a good deal less steamy than in Red Dust. Nevertheless, the Gable-Harlow chemistry is still very much in evidence, even if their byplay has been somewhat toned-down.

Another major element of the plot involves piracy against modern (1930s) shipping in the Far East. Some viewers might find that notion a bit far-fetched. However, it is far less absurd than one might think. In fact, it is still going on today (2012)!
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Typhoon and pirates in the high seas
jotix10030 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Capt. Gaskell shows up a bit drunk in Hong Kong's harbor for his trip to Singapore. He will be taking a cargo that includes heavy equipment and gold. An assortment of passengers are on board for the voyage, among them, China Doll, the former girlfriend of the captain, and and old flame, Sybil traveling to England.

China Doll, still in love with Gaskell, cannot hide her disappointment when the captain clearly shows a preference for the more refined Sybil. Jamesy MacArdle has no problems getting closer to China Doll; after all, he has his own personal agenda and she will be perfect for what he is trying to accomplish.

What the passengers, and crew, do not count on, is the typhoon they encounter as they get midway into the voyage. The rough seas almost wreck the ship. Some lower deck passengers, poor Chinese mainly, are killed when the heavy machinery break loose from the chains that are holding them tied firmly.

Jamesy MacArdle whose plan is to steal the gold, has been working with Malay pirates that board the ship and want to get the treasure. Jamesy persuades China Doll to steal a key from Gaskell, giving the pirates access to the firearms they carry in the ship for protection. The disgraced Davids, having been blamed for the poor handling of the typhoon rises to the occasion, saving the ship by repelling the invaders.

"China Seas", directed by Tay Garnett was an ambitious MGM production that offered a great spectacle that involved adventure and romance. With the studio resources the film must have been impressive, even in those days without the computerized special effects. Mr. Garnett showed he had an eye for the genre as he balances the action into a film that is enjoyable because all the elements worked they way he intended.

The dashing Clark Gable makes an excellent Capt. Gaskell. He showed why his screen chemistry with his co-star, Jean Harlow. They went to play opposite each other a few more times until her untimely death. Wallace Beery shows up as MacArdle, the schemer looking to steal the fortune stored in the ship. Rosalind Russell plays the sophisticated Sybil, and Lewis Stone appears as Davids. The beauty of the films from this era was the magnificent supporting casts that were put together, as is the case with this film.

The DVD we watched recently seems to have been lovingly restored.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Rough Seas - With Terrifying Scene
wolfen2449 June 2014
Aside from being a fine movie with a nice plot with plenty of intrigue and tension, this movie - and I've seen 'em all - had the single MOST terrifying scene I'd EVER seen in any movie bar NONE!! If you see it at around 50 minutes into it, it seems to last forever. For the life of me I really don't have a clue how they filmed this one. Don't forget this isn't CGI. Take your sea sick pills and fasten your seat belts for this one!!!!!

Gable, Harlow, Russell & Beery - along with the great Hattie McDaniel in a small role. And a great cast make this one a serious winner.

The 2 other "cast" members are a baby grand piano and a steam roller. Trust me.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Red Dust and Mogambo waterlogged
blanche-221 March 2009
A good cast and lots of action highlight "China Seas," a 1935 film directed by Tay Garnett and starring Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and Rosalind Russell. Gable plays Alan Gaskell who is captain of a ship sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore. He's in love with the refined Sybil Thorndike (Russell) and attempting to reform his some of his bad habits. He has a constant reminder of his former life, however, and that's his old girlfriend Dolly (Harlow) who wants him back. When the ship is hijacked by pirates looking for gold, Gaskell wonders how much Dolly and her drinking buddy, MacArdle, were involved.

Gable and Harlow worked extremely well together and give good performances here, and there's a lot happening - a typhoon and the pirate attack - which make for good adventure.

Derivative but very enjoyable.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A film that will convert people to classic movies
calvinnme24 November 2017
It is funny, sexy, exciting, and every bit as resonant today as 1935- really saying something for a post-Code picture.

It's MGM of the period all the way. Bang bang bang, nonstop action, mile-a-minute dialogue. Basically a shameless retread of Red Dust, I actually like it a lot better than Red Dust. It's also got a dash of Shanghai Express, which is fine. Maybe it's the fact that I'm drawn to "souls at sea"" pictures and ensemble films about disparate groups thrown together by fate, their bizarre stories intertwining.

And what an ensemble this film boasts: There's Harlow, who by now could act, working her sex-clown routine with total confidence- fierceness to the Nth degree. Acing scene after scene, playing off Gable and Wallace Beery and Hattie MacDaniel (who has a rare good role, although not as substantial as it could be) just wonderfully. She should have gotten a Best Actress nomination for this.

Then there's Gable as Gable. Roz Russell is stuck playing one of the dour, humorless Brits MGM frequently cast her as in the thirties (see also Night Must Fall and The Citadel ). Donald Meek and Lewis Stone and Robert Benchley and plenty of others, all making the most out of their bits.

The stories are tight, every character compelling, and great dialogue all wonderfully pieced together. I don't often agree with Leonard Maltin or find his assessments of films too astute, but he is completely correct when he calls China Seas "impossible to dislike."

China Seas, a minor title in the classic film library, is the film to show to win people over to the "Black and White" side and show them how exciting and entertaining a classic movie can be.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Earthy performances, terrific special effects!
canuckteach25 October 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I hardly knew what to expect when I played this offering from a nifty 4-disc set of Harlow films from Turner-Classic.

In this one, Cable, a naval commander, has tired of his skullery-maid-like former consort (Harlow), discarding her for a high-class prospect (Ros Russell). Harlow doesn't like it, and teams up with a crooked officer, Wallace Beery, who has cut a deal with some villainous pirates. This role required Harlow to be a semi-trashy blond bombshell, which fits her platinum blond persona (but she could do characters of a higher class, when required -- see 'Wife and Secretary' with Gable and Myrna Loy)

** Spoilers below **

Remember, though: the Hayes production code was now being enforced, which meant that Beery and Harlow could not profit from their crime.

So, the good guys win, in the end, but Gable says he will stick with his pretty former-consort Harlow--even marry her--but first she must face the justice system for her role in an attempted theft. I doubt the original story ended that way, but the Code demanded that villains NOT prosper from their nefarious deeds - so, Harlow will face prison for 3 to 5, I guess. If made in 1932, that film would have ended with Gable suppressing the role Harlow played, and marrying her the same day, in a local church!

Contrast this to 'Dinner at 8' made only a few years earlier with Harlow and Wallace Beery. Two (at least) of the female major players are guilty of indiscretions, but escape unscathed.

China seas was a pleasant surprise, and featured a brutal storm at sea, done with tons of water and wind machines (no FX in those days)..

Recommended. 8/10
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
A must-see Metro movie!
JohnHowardReid28 July 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Associate producer: Albert Lewin. Producer: Irving Thalberg. Copyright 6 August 1935 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. New York opening at the Capitol: 9 August 1935. U.S. release: July 1935. Australian release: 25 December 1935. 9 reels. 89 minutes.

SYNOPSIS: Captain Alan Gaskell, skipper of the "Kin Lung" on its way to Hong Kong with a valuable cargo aboard, is angered to find his mistress, China Doll, on board. To complicate matters, Alan's classy British fiancée, Sybil Barclay, has booked passage on the vessel. To console herself for Sybil's presence, China Doll involves herself in a drinking bout with Jamesy MacArdle, a scoundrelly China Seas trader. She manages to drink him under the table after winning a good deal of money from him. A torn fragment of a hundred pound note is among the bills and China Doll suspects that the Oriental writing on it could be important. Meanwhile, Gaskell has maneuvered the vessel through a typhoon and when he returns to his cabin he finds China Doll there. He misinterprets her presence.

NOTES: Negative cost: $1 million. Initial domestic rentals gross: $1.5 million, placing it equal 4th at the U.S./Canadian box-office for 1935. Fortunately the movie also took big money in England and Australia.

Carol Ann Beery is Wallace Beery's real-life adopted daughter. This was the fourth of the six films made by the screen team of Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.

COMMENT: Grand entertainment from a grand cast. Every role is perfectly played, with Beery coming across most effectively as the Harlow- smitten pirate. (Hard to believe that he actually detested Harlow in real life. What a consummate actor!). Garnett's direction with its fluid camera movement and rapid pacing takes full advantage of the film's spacious sets and exotic production values. Great action, with Gable noticeably doing some of his own stunts. Benchley is amusing and there are enough agreeable sub-plots to keep interest really humming.

For once, here is a cult favorite that all of us can all enjoy. Most expansively produced, superbly crafted entertainment, brilliantly directed by the then master of pace, verve and vigor, Tay Garnett, at the peak of his career. And it's available on a superb Warner DVD.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
edwagreen24 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Jean Harlow steals the film as a fast talking, brassy blond up to no good with being in cahoots with Wallace Beery, the latter bringing pirates on board to lift a case of gold from the ship.

As if this isn't enough, the passengers had to endure a major typhoon knocking everything around and causing near mayhem.

Clark Gable is the captain of the ship. With a gruff exterior, but a kindness only made by him, he is endearing here. Rosalind Russell, a widow, is on board with her wonderful English accent to woo Gable.

The scenes with the typhoon raging are marvelously staged and Beery is his usual no nonsense character wonderfully matched by Harlow's fast way of living.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Dangerous Voyage
lugonian5 February 2017
CHINA SEAS (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1935), directed by Tay Garnett, is an adventure/drama featuring an all-star cast consisting of top-named performers as Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone, the same actors who had earlier worked together in THE SECRET SIX (MGM, 1931). For this reunion, a lot has happened during those four short years. While Beery and Stone starred in THE SECRET SIX, with Harlow and Gable in secondary supporting roles, Gable and Harlow now assume the leads in CHINA SEAS while Beery and Stone support them. Reminiscing the earlier SHANGHAI EXPRESS (Paramount, 1932) starring Marlene Dietrich, shifting from a train to a shipboard vessel, each allowing for love and adventure along with Chinese bandit attacks as its focal point of interest, CHINA SEAS also includes some doses of verbal comedy to move it along.

Taken from the book by Crosbie Garstin, the story gets underway with plot development and character introduction prior to the sailing of the "Kin Lung" from the port of Hong Kong to its destination to Sinpapore. Passengers of the vessel include: Sir Guy Wilmerding (C. Aubrey Smith), the management director of the line; Alan Gaskell (Clark Gable), the ship's tough captain; Dolly Portland, better known as China Doll (Jean Harlow), Alan's former girlfriend who becomes jealous over his reunion with an old flame, Sybil Barclay (Rosalind Russell), a dignified British widow; Charles McCaleb (Robert Benchley), a drunken American novelist; Jamesy MacArdle (Wallace Beery), a China Seas trader; Dawson (Dudley Digges), a chief officer; Rockwell (William Henry), a young officer; and Tom Davids (Lewis Stone), a former sea captain now reduced to third officer due to his cowardice responsible for the lost of his crew, among others. During the voyage, the Kim Lung goes through a serious typhoon before being attacked by pirates out for a shipment of 350,000 pounds worth of gold hidden away on board the ship, whereabouts known only by Gaskell. It so happens that one of the trusted passengers happens to be the ring leader holding half of the 100 pound note. After pirates attack the vessel, putting both Davids and Gaskell through the Chinese boot torture, it is up to one of the passengers to save the day. Other members of the cast include Hattie McDaniel (Isabel McCarthy); Akim Tamiroff, Donald Meek, Edward Brophy, Willie Fung and Ivan Lebedeff.

An exciting production not as better known as MGM's earlier all-star productions as GRAND HOTEL (1932) and DINNER AT EIGHT (1933), but a worthy offering with elements of surprises during its 89 minutes. He-man Gable and feisty Harlow make a grand pair. Wallace Beery garners enough attention through his usual Beery-method of acting, especially in tense scenes involving him and Harlow, though not as classic as their second pairing together in the popular classic DINNER AT EIGHT (1933). It's also interesting seeing a youthful Rosalind Russell, early in her career, in her Myrna Loy-ish type performance. Let's not overlook Lewis Stone playing a frightful mate hoping to break away from his cowardice stigma. With a cast and plotting such as this, it's totally impossible for any movie buff not to like CHINA SEAS.

Available on video cassette dating back to the mid 1980s in clam shell covering, and decades later on DVD, CHINA SEAS, which was at one time a late show favorite years before becoming a regular fixture on Turner Classic Movies cable channel ever since 1994. (***1/2)
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Lukewarm High Seas Drama
atlasmb9 June 2014
This film might be worth seeing just for the cast, but here are some reasons why I cannot rank it highly:

1. I'll admit that Harlow does show different sides of her character in "China Seas", but throughout most of the film she is just shouting as are many of the cast.

2. Gable may be the best thing in this film, but his role does not give him much to work with.

3. I can't say I was drawn into the story. Most of the interesting moments take place during the brief portion that involves the pirating of the ship. And this is a film about mostly unlikeable characters.

4. Rosalind Russell is interesting to see so early in her career and because she is not playing her usual larger-than-life character. Here, she fairly fades into the bulwark, though, next to the other actors who are chewing up the scenery.

5.Harlow's eyebrows. Sorry, but those drawn-on clown eyes practically negate all of her charms.

6. I can't buy the choices Gable's character makes at the end of the film. I understand his attraction to the shipping life, but not his attraction to a certain woman.
1 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews