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John M. Stahl
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
Tasteful version of Pearl Buck story...offbeat casting is intriguing...
It may be disconcerting to see blue-eyed Caucasian actors playing Orientals, but once this initial distraction is over, the story of DRAGON SEED takes over and it's an engrossing one. Film's chief flaw is the fact that Pearl Buck's story is overlong--and so is the film.
Chinese villagers have to flee the enemy, Japanese soldiers, during the 1930s, and WALTER HUSTON and ALINE MacMAHON are the sturdy head of a family that includes daughter KATHARINE HEPBURN, as Jade. None of the three principals are particularly convincing in their Oriental make-up, but it's still fascinating to watch them perform.
HURD HATFIELD, TURHAN BEY, AKIM TAMIROFF, JACQUELINE DeWIT and HENRY TRAVERS are further examples of offbeat casting, but the grim story of survival of the fittest under cruel exploitation by the enemy is well crafted and always interesting to follow.
The film is photographed in meticulous B&W, crisply produced in the handsome MGM manner--with main attention going to Huston and MacMahon who do nicely in the leading roles. Hepburn, thankfully, is less mannered and less on display than usual. One of the most interesting scenes involves her decision to poison her brother-in-law during a banquet at his "mansion".
Summing up: Admirers of other Pearl Buck works (like THE GOOD EARTH) should find this unusual drama well worth watching. MGM should be commended for producing a very tasteful version of the novel. Story ends on a fever pitch with a graphic simulation of "the scorched earth policy" as practiced by the Chinese villagers.
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