American pilot Cliff Brandon, fighting the Japanese in China, finds himself the unintentional "owner" of a Chinese housekeeper, Shu-Jen. The unlikely couple falls in love and marries, but not without tragedy brought on by the war.
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In China gruff Air Force captain Cliff Brandon wakes up after a night of drinking to discover he has purchased the housekeeping services of comely, young Shu-Jen from her father. Disappointed by Cliff's insistence on staying out late in bars, Shu-Jen leaves for home when Cliff, made aware that she is carrying her child, finds her and marries her in a delightful traditional Chinese ceremony. Happy days are spent as Shu-Jen and her infant daughter join Cliff at a forward base until Cliff, returning from a supply-drop mission, hears the base is under attack by Japanese bombers. Written by
Doug Sederberg <email@example.com>
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** 'China Doll' marked Frank Borzage's return to film after being 'blacklisted' for ten years, and for a modestly-budgeted film, it is a nifty war romance.
Cliff Brandon (Victor Mature) is a war-weary veteran pilot, assigned to airlifting supplies and training aircrews, in WWII China. To co-pilot Phil Gates (Olympian Bob Mathias), and his new crew (including singer Johnny Desmond, and rising actors Stuart Whitman and Tige Andrews), he is an abrupt and by-the-book nag (he tells them, "It's my job to get your dogtags back to the States...hopefully, with you still in them!"), but his coldness comes from losing too many men.
One night, as Brandon is drunkenly stumbling home, an old Chinese gentleman begs him for money, mentioning a girl. The pilot assumes the man is pimping, and hands him a wad of bills. Unknown to Brandon, the man was actually 'selling' his daughter, and Brandon now had a 'bride'.
The girl, Shu-Jen (played by newcomer Li Li Hua), accepts her new role with resignation, but as Brandon sobers up, he is shocked by what he has done. He attempts to rid himself of his 'bride', but discovers he cannot, 'honourably'. For three months, the American will have to live with the Chinese girl, until the 'debt' is paid.
There is a lot of humour as the months pass, and the pair start realizing their feelings. Events take a melodramatic turn, however, when the pilot suffers from a relapse of malaria; Shu-Jen undresses him, then tries to provide warmth by covering him with her body. Delirious, and racked with fever, he is aroused, sexually, and he 'takes' her, resulting in her pregnancy!
What prevents this scene from becoming tawdry are the performances of the leads, the following day; Mature conveys such sincerity and awkwardness that you know that he respects the girl, and will not take the night's passion lightly. Li Li Hua, barely speaking English, is a wonder, conveying the nuances of the innocent girl's love by her eyes, her smile, and her posture. The pair have a chemistry that makes the scene, and the entire film work.
Without giving away the ending, let me say that a LOT happens after 'the night', and the film integrates the war quite effectively into the story, building to a climax and resolution that might surprise you!
This isn't a movie that appears on TV frequently, and is not available to buy, but if you get an opportunity to see it, check it out...This is a VERY good little film!
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