Every Hollywood Oriental must have appeared in this one, including at least two of Charlie Chan's sons. It's one of those fun romantic comedy/adventures where the white folks travel around in exotic lands and wear panama hats. See, "The General Died at Dawn," "China Seas," inter alia. This one mostly involves a reporter who has been drunk for three weeks but who quickly recovers in time to win the girl and the battle, a forgotten American consulate that is turned into a fort, and hordes of Mongolian bandits who like nothing more than to kill innocent people and smash the furniture. You can tell that it's somewhere in China because the stage-bound sets feature lots of moon gates, Oriental prints on the walls, bamboo curtains, and Fu dogs.
Well, this is supposed to be the Chinese/Mongolian border in 1939 and the Japanese are never mentioned, but okay. The Nationalist Chinese Army is on the side of the angels, and I guess that's okay too. Nobody ever claimed that there were not bandit warlords in 1939 China who were not controlled by the Japanese or by the Chinese Nationalists or the Chinese Communists. It wouldn't be surprising to find them still there.
I kind of enjoyed it, although I must say it was a little corny at times and lacked the verve that other examples of the genre often managed to show. I think it would have been a better flick with a villain like the gruff, slimy, duplicitous, hammy Wallace Beery of "China Seas." Warner Baxter seems a little old for the part of an adventurous Byronic free-lance reporter. Alice Faye, with her plump lower lip, is quite nice looking and doesn't cause the viewer much pain. Charles Winninger is a sentimental figure. The Chinese servants play the part that exotic servants usually play, figures of fun until they die to save the Massah.
Speaking of dying, the movie is divided into two halves. The first half is the romantic comedy, which isn't too engaging because the script lacks wit. The comedy seems mechanical (Faye trying to pass herself off as a Russian bride) and the romance is unconvincing. But the movie picks up in its second half, behind those barricaded walls. The besieged hold off all those bandits by the simple expedient of never missing when they shoot, whereas the bandits are the worst shots in the world. Not that there's a lot of blood, or even distress, involved in their deaths. Like Dirty Harry's victims, they don't die shrieking in agony. They simply flop down when shot, like dropped marionettes. (Bang. Flop.) The gunsmoke lingers in the air, which is a nice touch.
A diverting trifle.
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