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Marco Polo travels from Venice to Peking, where he quickly discovers spaghetti and gunpowder and falls in love with the Emperor's daughter. The Emperor Kublai Khan is a kindly fellow, but his evil aide Ahmed wants to get rid of Kublai Khan so he can be emperor, and to get rid of Marco Polo so he can marry the princess. Ahmed sends Marco Polo to the West to fight barbarians, but he returns just in time to save the day. Written by
John Oswalt <email@example.com>
THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO (Archie Mayo and, uncredited, John Cromwell and John Ford, 1938) ***
In itself corny and uneven, this is typical 30s entertainment done on a grand scale; the look of the film is artificial but undeniably lavish. Being a Samuel Goldwyn production, the film is the very antithesis of a history lesson; still, it's more interesting when dealing with the title character's various discoveries in the Orient than his romantic conquests!
Goldwyn, however, could surely afford to employ a reliable cast - most of whom, though, one would be hard-pressed to accept as Chinese - including Gary Cooper (likeable as always in the lead, if not exactly believable), Basil Rathbone (a typically sly villain), Sigrid Gurie (Kublai Khan's daughter and, naturally, an object of contention between Cooper and Rathbone), Ernext Truex (funny as Cooper's flustered sidekick), Alan Hale (a jovial rebel leader) and H.B. Warner (who basically replicates his dignified Chang from LOST HORIZON ). Action is sparse but nicely handled (particularly the climax) and, surprisingly, the montage sequences (a feature of many films of the era) utilize some interesting optical effects.
The IMDb lists the uncredited contribution of two other directors - John Cromwell and John Ford; since the latter's frequent cinematographer Archie Stout does feature in the credits, I'm inclined to believe Ford was involved at some point...though it doesn't really show in the finished product (the subject was hardly up his street, to begin with)! Back in the day, I had watched both the 1965 international epic MARCO THE MAGNIFICENT and the 1982 TV mini-series MARCO POLO; I'll be following this with an Italian low-brow variation made in 1961 (see review below) and might even rent the recent 1998 version, THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO (shortened to MARCO POLO for the U.S.) - if only because it features Jack Palance and Oliver Reed, and was written by Harry Alan Towers!
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