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John M. Stahl
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Ling Tang and his family live on his prosperous farm in rural Southern China and have not yet felt the impact of the Japanese invasion in the North. Tang's two oldest sons, Lao Ta Tan and Lao Er Tan are married and hard working while youngest son Lao San Tan remains a free spirit. Er's wife Jade is also willfully unconventional and desires to exercises her literacy skills by reading books, a most unfeminine practice in 1930's China. Tang's only daughter is married to Wu Lien, a city merchant who profits from selling Japanese goods. When the dreaded invasion reaches their village, the family is scattered as the sons join the resistance while Wu Lien survives by collaborating with the enemy. Written by
Filmed in 1943 on the MGM lot in Culver City during the Second World War, the film features an unusual assortment of non-Asian actors with odd accents playing Chinese and Japanese: Russian-born and Stanislavski-trained Akim Tamiroff as Wu Lien; Turhan Bey, Viennese born son of a Turkish father and Czechoslovakian mother as the middle son, Lao Er Tan; New England patrician Katharine Hepburn as his wife; American Aline MacMahon, no longer one of the wisecracking Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), as the wife of Ling Tang; English born Henry Travers (best remembered as Clarence the Angel from It's a Wonderful Life (1946)) as the Third Cousin;" Irish-America J. Carrol Naish as the Japanese Kitchen Overseer; and finally Jewish-American Robert Lewis, co-founder of the Actors Studio and Meryl Streep's teacher at the Yale Drama School as the Japanese Captain Sato. See more »
Remember, my child, that the woman is the root and the man is the tree. The tree grows only as high as the root is strong.
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Has spare, beautiful moments, with the horrors of war vividly portrayed
When hard-working China is attacked by the power-hungry Japanese, a pre-feminist Chinese woman struggles with her family for survival; eventually she and her husband become fighters in the Resistance and help to influence their family and fellow villagers to join them. Hollywood product, with intentions that seem sincere, adapted from a Pearl Buck novel and starring...Katharine Hepburn? Actually, Kate is not flossy or "regal" here; she's nobody's fool and probably knows she's miscast, but her Asian make-up is commendable and she tries (not in vain) to find a character. In support, Walter Huston and Aline MacMahon, as Hepburn's Old World in-laws, are excellent. The movie has beautiful cinematography and absorbing passages, but its length is self-defeating and there are some howlers in the script and in much of the casting. Not a hit at the box-office, but by this time people were so used to Hepburn's hit-or-miss choices that it didn't hurt her. **1/2 from ****
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