|Index||4 reviews in total|
Hollywood short subjects were (and still are) all over the place in
content and purpose. Some of them stylishly show off rising directors
and specialty subjects, some openly give background on the making of
coming major attractions, some do so more indirectly. Promos for other
films that don't appear to be plugs but which stand on their own as
entertainment or education on other subjects can be more effective
promotions than hard sell. One hopes THE RAINBOW PASS was as effective
for its real covert purpose as it is as a stylish (if sloppy) tour of
Chinese "theatre culture."
THE RAINBOW PASS was fairly transparently made to promote MGM's big (ultimately Oscar winning) release of the same year, THE GOOD EARTH, from the novel by Pearl S. Buck (cited in THE RAINBOW PASS as a "major expert" on China). They scrupulously avoid mention of the bigger picture, but they freely refer to the Chinese people's gratitude to "the good earth" and the supposed annual festival honoring that gratitude by carrying a statue of the "god of the harvest" to a theatre for a performance.
The acting (all filmed on U.S. locations) is as first rate as the non-roles permit with one spectacular exception, and the atmosphere as lush as a studio system can make it. The smoke filled small town "Chinese theatre" with its stylized presentations and cabaret style food service and full family attendance is credibly presented and explained. The one offense to credibility is the distorted presentation (for supposed comic effect?) of the black clad "stagehands" who work in the open in Chinese theatre as they do in Japanese Kabuki in THE RAINBOW PASS (the Chinese "play-within-the-movie").
The stagehand in the short is NOT fully clad in black as he would be in even the *poorest* Chinese theatre - his face and pale arms are bare to emphasize for the studio underestimated, presumed biased, 1937 Western movie audience the "unusualness" of the Eastern conceit. Even worse, the supposed stagehand smokes all through the performance making it even harder to ignore his presence.
In reality, fairly presented, the Eastern conceit works beautifully (see the "Welcome To Kanagawa" number in the filmed Broadway performance of PACIFIC OVERTURES - done kabuki style and broadcast over Tokyo television in 1976), but by choosing to make fun of the conceit in this film short, they turn what was intended as an appreciation of another culture (as well as appetizer for the studio's big China based film) into something of a put-down of that culture.
It's a real loss and a pity, but what remains is still well worth a look for those who can look past a bit of studio hack-dom, going for the cheap laugh in exotic settings to the rest of the worthwhile atmosphere.
Interesting short put out by MGM as sort of promotion to The Good Earth. It never mentions the film directly, but it does mention Pearl Buck and uses "the good earth" phrase. It discusses Chinese culture and history and talks about the importance of theatre. It shows a play called The Rainbow Pass that some Chinese actors put on. This is all filmed in the US, of course, and its authenticity is debatable. Not being well-informed on Chinese culture I won't wade into those waters. I'll just assume, knowing what I know about Hollywood at the time, that a limited amount of research went into making it authentic. I seriously doubt the average (non-Chinese) layperson would know the difference, however. Admittedly it looked authentic enough to me. Give them credit for not using white actors in yellowface. It's directed by Jacques Tourneur, so it's got that going for it. Not a bad little short, especially if you're interested in the subject matter. One thing -- another reviewer says the short puts down on the culture it appears to appreciate but I can't see any evidence of that. I thought it was highly respectful.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Short "Rainbow Pass" shown on turner classic between films. Narrated by Carey Wilson. Purports to show customs and history of china. According to the narrator, "She has always assimilated the conqueror and made him Chinese too." Very interesting photos of what they want us to believe is actually China, but IMDb tells us (at least) the theater scenes are filmed in Chinatown. Wwheat fields, busy markets, people thanking the god of agriculture for the harvest. going to the smoke-filled playhouse. children in front, old men in back. grinding walnuts to keep fingers limber. heating damp hot towels. amazing costumes typical of the playhouse dramas. The narrator talks about the importance of props, property man. building "mountains" out of tables, chairs, and a dark cloth. They break into a short skit about a general and something or other (rainbow pass ?) , but i found the early black & white photographs MUCH more interesting, although many were probably actors. the skit was rather hokey. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, who had started in the silents, but seems to have started directing shorts when they switched to talkies, and would do that for another ten years. Story written by Richard Goldstone. An entertaining-enough eleven minutes, but get what you want out of it.
Rainbow Pass, The (1937)
** (out of 4)
Carey Wilson narrates this mildly interesting but extremely flawed short that was put into theaters shortly before MGM's THE GOOD EARTH. In the film we are told that all groups of people in China enjoy the theatre and we go inside one of these places to see a performance of "The Rainbow Pass", the story of a woman who challenges the man who killed her husband to a battle. There's quite a bit to enjoy in this short but for the most part I don't think it really succeeds at what it's trying to do. There's no doubt that it's trying to throw some attention to the Paul Muni flick even though the film isn't ever said directly there are several moments where "the good earth" is said, often times aimed at the Chinese people. For the most part Tourneur's direction is top-notch as he's able to build a pretty good atmosphere with the production of the play given a lot of great details and it's certainly more interesting that the side plot of the Chinese people and their love for the theater. Just about all of this side plot is overlooked and in the end what's here is pretty useless as we're just never given enough details to find it interesting.
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