Socially-conscious banker Thomas Dickson faces a crisis when his protégé is wrongly accused for robbing the bank, gossip of the robbery starts a bank run, and evidence suggests Dickson's wife had an affair...all in the same day.
The American missionary Megan Davis arrives in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War to marry the missionary Dr. Robert Strife. However, Robert postpones their wedding to rescue some orphans in an orphanage in Chapei section that is burning in the middle of a battlefield. While returning to Shanghai with the children, they are separated in the crowd, Megan is hit in the head and knocked out, but is saved by General Yen and brought by train to his palace. As the days go by, the General's mistress Mah-Li becomes close to Megan and when she is accused of betrayal for giving classified information to the enemies, Megan asks for her life. The cruel General Yen falls in love for the naive and pure Megan and accepts her request to spare the life of Mah-Li against the will of his financial advisor Jones. Meanwhile Megan feels attracted by the powerful and gentle General Yen, but resists to his flirtation. When Mah-Li betrays General Yen and destroys his empire, Megan realizes that to be able ...Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Despite its grandeur and pedigree, the film inexplicably received no Academy Award nominations, not even for its masterfully wrought art direction in recreating the majestic palaces and teeming streets of the Chinese uprising. See more »
Bridal Chorus (Here Comes the Bride)
Written by Richard Wagner
Played by an unidentified organist at the wedding See more »
pre-Code and pre-typical Capra
Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther star in "The Bitter Tea of General Yen," a 1933 film also starring Walter Connelly and Toshia Mori.
Stanwyck plays missionary Megan Davis who comes to China during their civil war in order to marry another missionary, Dr. Strike (Gavin Gordon). Before they can be married, they have to save orphans left in an orphanage some distance from Snanghai. While there, the couple get separated, and Megan ends up a guest of a General Yen, whom she had actually met earlier. She also meets his mistress, Mah-Li (Mori), with whom she becomes close. General Yen is attracted to Megan, and she to him -- both attracted and repelled -- and when Mah-Li is accused of selling secrets to the enemy, Megan begs that her life be spared.
This is such an unusual film for Frank Capra, and such an unusual film, period. It was banned in England because of miscegenation, even though the main characters are actually played by white people, Nils Asther being Swedish. This is precode, and the Hayes code really clamped down in the U.S. Anna May Wong was problematic casting for The Good Earth and Dragon Seed, and therefore wasn't cast, because she could not appear opposite a white man. Featuring an interracial couple, even if they were playing the same race, likely would mean the movie would be rejected by many theater chains in regions in which anti-Asian prejudice was particularly severe. The new Motion Picture Production Code of 1934, pandering to segregationists, forbade filmmakers from portraying miscegenation in a positive light. Casting a Chinese-American opposite a Caucasian might be construed as promoting miscegenation.
The film is very atmospheric, sexually charged, and beautifully acted by the leads. It was particularly a tour de force for Asther, though his career eventually fizzled. Walter Connelly plays a different kind of character, a tough American siding with General Yen.
Well worth seeing for its place in history as well as for Stanwyck and Asther.
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