The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938) Poster

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Spaghetti was a Chinese invention!
This is one of the oddest films to be made in pre-war America. Gary Cooper plays the Venetian explorer, and the film opens in a Venice seemingly constructed of cardboard. Here he is pursued by his comic servant, a sort of cross between a midget and a hyperactive gondolier.

In no time at all, we are in the mysterious realm of Cathay, where the streets are exotic, but seemingly made of cardboard as well. Marco is attracted by a strange voice - these medieval Chinese (or Mongols?)speak with impeccable Oxbridge accents. And this one, oddly enough, is reading to his children on some sort of verandah facing the street. This public recitation is from the New Testament, and Marco immediately completes the phrase, as it were. The placid mandarin figure takes this in his stride, and happens to mention that he is treating his son to a crash course in both eastern and western wisdom - which is not bad for a place that has not yet been visited by a European.

Soon our Gary (er, Marco) is served a mysterious oriental dish called 'spaghet', which he thinks he will introduce to Venice when he returns.

At the royal palace (made of a superior form of cardboard), he is soon immersed in the intrigues of the court of Kublai Khan. After some swashbuckling and some overacting, he falls for a beautiful princess. Alas, she is pledged to another, but our hero is given the task of escorting her to her intended.

And so they sail away into the sunset on a large sea-going junk (!), and he states that he will at least have her to himself for the year long voyage. The film ends on this morally dubious note, and the implication is that he eventually returned with his spaghetti to Venice and opened a restaurant.
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Watchable but silly
MartinHafer24 November 2006
This is the sort of film that usually makes history teachers cringe--after all, this film bears about as much of a resemblance to the life of Marco Polo as it does to Ferdinand Marcos! Part of this is because there is a very limited amount that we actually know about this 13th century adventurer and part of it is because Sam Goldwyn must have realized what we DID know wasn't all that exciting--so, in true Hollywood fashion, the story is almost complete hogwash! Who, other than Hollywood, can make Kublai Khan seem cuddly and sweet--allowing a commoner like Polo to make out with his favorite daughter? The bottom line is after the first 10 minutes of the film, the movie diverges so far from reality it is impossible to believe any of the movie. However, from a purely entertainment point of view, this movie is pretty good--albeit a bit hokey. The story has lots of action, adventure, suspense, White-American people playing Asian roles and a lavish budget. So, provided, of course, you completely suspend disbelief, this is a watchable and entertaining flick.
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Spaghetti a la Chinese
jotix1001 June 2006
Archie Mayo's 1938 "The Adventures of Marco Polo" is an odd film to watch. Even giving it the benefit of the doubt, this misguided attempt to bring the legendary figure to the screen doesn't quite make it. Not even by a stretch of the imagination can we believe that the Chinese inhabitants of Cathay could look like these actors on the screen.

John Cromwell and John Ford are not credited, but they must have been called as consultants to a losing enterprise that even these talented directors couldn't help fix. Robert Sherwood, a distinguished writer of better films, is responsible for writing the screen treatment, but frankly, his imprint is lacking in the finished product.

Of course, times have changed and no Hollywood producer would dare to give this type of "entertainment" to today's audiences because they would be seen as ridiculous, at best. The film came out at a time when audiences were less sophisticated and more willing to accept stories such as this one. Even for a film produced by Samuel Goldwyn, this production looks tacky. It's obvious the people behind this film either had budget problems, or they didn't get the right art directors to improve the film.

Gary Cooper, as Marco Polo, appears to be lost. The beautiful Sigrid Gurie is made out to look oriental to resemble this Princess Kukachin she is supposed to be. The only one that escapes the debacle is Basil Rathbone. His Ahmed is a villain, and he plays it with relish. George Truex, Alan Hale, H.B. Warner, are seen in minor roles.

Watch this film as a curiosity, but don't expect too much.
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Fictional History
Ron Oliver1 August 2003
THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO take him from his home in Venice, across the wide expanse of Asia, to the palace of the great Kublai Khan.

Lavish and at times exciting, this adventure film never rises far above the level of a comic book and should not be relied on for much historical accuracy. Even so, it is nonetheless entertaining, with a sturdy hero and a villain worthy of scorn & hisses.

To his credit, Gary Cooper plays the title role with good grace and a straight face, doubtless well aware that a fat paycheck would be his reward for spending so much time running about in 13th century garments. His Marco is a perpetual student, always excited about finding something new and interesting. His romance with princess Sigrid Gurie is refreshingly low-key and charming, even if wholly implausible.

Basil Rathbone is the evil Saracen who controls the Khan's court, his lust for ultimate power having made him as rapacious as the vultures & lions he keeps in his private apartments to feed upon his enemies. Suave & sophisticated, Rathbone's soothing voice and sinister good looks made him the perfect intelligent villain.

A bevy of fine character actors keeps the fast paced story moving: little Ernest Truex as Marco's bookkeeper with bad feet - he spends much of the film perched on Cooper's back; H. B. Warner as the soft-spoken Chinese inventor who befriends Marco; chubby, dithering George Barbier as a less-than-awesome Khan; rotund Robert Greig, sporting enormous fingernails, as the Khan's majordomo, and diminutive Ferdinand Gottschalk as a most unfortunate emissary from the Khan of Persia.

Jolly Alan Hale appears as a rebel leader who blithely sends his prisoners off to be boiled in oil, but secretly lives in fear of his termagant wife, Binnie Barnes, while he secretly ogles slave girl Lana Turner.


Some of the true facts concerning Marco Polo (1254-1324) and omitted by the film should perhaps be relayed. Marco's father Niccolò and uncle Maffeo had already made the long trip to China and met the great Kublai Khan. They left Venice in 1260 and returned in 1269 with the Khan's request that they come back with Christian missionaries and teachers. The Polo brothers took 21-year old Marco when they began their return trip in 1271, with the blessings of the Doge, who secretly hoped for Venice's power to expand, and the new Pope, who assigned two priests to travel with them. Afraid of what might lie ahead, the priests abandoned the Polos in Muslim territory. The Polos would not reach the Khan's court until 1275. Marco immediately became a tremendous favorite of the monarch, who used and trusted him during his entire stay in China. Marco was able to travel and record many strange & wonderful sights, and for awhile was even made governor of the important city of Yangchow. Finally, in 1292, Marco was able to get the Khan's permission to return his elderly relatives to Venice, after escorting a Chinese princess and her immense entourage to the Persian Khan. (There was no romance between Marco and the princess; to attempt one would have been more than his life was worth.) Eventually, after seemingly endless travel, the three Polos arrived home in Venice, having been gone for 24 years. In 1298, while captaining a Venetian ship, Marco was captured and placed for a short time in a Genoese prison. While there, he dictated the story of his marvelous travels to a fellow inmate. When eventually published, it became one of the most famous books of the millennium.
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Absurd version of Marco's adventures
jjnxn-14 June 2013
Worthless as biography and not even much of a Gary Cooper adventure film but on a camp level there is entertainment value here. You would think with a tale as rich as Polo's they wouldn't have to fabricate an almost entirely false one but such was Hollywood film making in the 30's.

All the obviously Caucasian women are made up with Jean Harlow eyebrows and dark makeup not for one instance being convincingly oriental. About those eyebrows: within the cast in a small role about an hour in is Lana Turner as a maid/concubine, to prepare her for the role the makeup department shaved off her eyebrows and they never grew back! It wasn't worth the sacrifice she is no more convincing than anybody else. Most absurd is the usually reliable Alan Hale who looks preposterous. There is nothing wrong with his performance except its one that would feel right at home in a western but he is supposed to be a Mongol warlord, so authentic it is not.

Sigrid Gurie, the Siren of the Fjords as she was billed but who was actually born in Flatbush, doesn't make much of an impression as the romantic interest. Binnie Barnes tries to inject some life into the picture and have some fun with her role as Alan Hale's wife but is likewise handicapped by her makeup. Gary Cooper does not look at all like a traveling merchant in the 13th century but like Gary Cooper of course, oddly that's one of the films strengths since even when faced with the unlikely sight of Basil Rathbone as Ahmed a Mongol villain Coop is there to remind you that this is a vehicle for its star and little else.
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Comic book adventures of Polo on a lavish B&W budget...
Neil Doyle28 December 2006
This is the film that cost LANA TURNER (in a bit role) her eyebrows which never grew back. Other than that, it has no distinction whatsoever except that it provides a nice comic book excursion into the past with lavish sets of Oriental splendor but little else for compensation.

Still, it's watchable enough thanks to the low-key and quietly humorous performance of GARY COOPER (an unlikely choice for the role of the Italian adventurer from Venice). It's also interesting to watch SIGRID GURIE, fascinating in close-ups with Hollywood's brand of Oriental make-up--but an actress who never managed to be more than a passing fancy.

BASIL RATHBONE adds the right touch of menace as Ahmed, the villain of the piece, and ALAN HALE brings his boisterous presence to the role of a man who was afraid of his lecherous wife (BINNIE BARNES) but not afraid to dispose of his enemies in boiling oil.

It gets more laughable as it goes on, but reaches new heights of incredibility with an ending that has Polo making use of explosives to bring down the enemy camp. His final fight to the death with Rathbone, near an open trap door with hungry lions waiting below and vultures overhead, is the stuff of comic book suspense.

If you can suspend all disbelief long enough to enjoy it, it passes the time quickly and entertainingly. A history lesson, it's not.
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Lavish Hollywood entertainment based on the exploits of the 13th-century famed Venetian explorer
ma-cortes24 April 2013
Gary Cooper plays the role of Marco , a venetian adventurer , in this all star production of Marco Polo's adventures . Young Marco travels to China to help Kublai Khan fight against rebels, headed by his own assistant , with a new invention : gunpowder . Entertaining motion picture about oriental and medieval feats in superb Black and White cinematography and luxurious scenarios . High budget Hollywood production deals with Marco Polo travels from Venice to Pekin , where he falls in love with the Emperor's daughter . Marco (sympathetic as well laconic Gary Cooper) becomes the first traveler to record his visit to the Eastern court of the Emperor Kublai Khan . Once there he possesses his protection to merchandise between China and Europe but he prefers to seek out for more adventures . There Marco falls for gorgeous Princess Kukachin (Sigrid Gurie) . Kublai (Barbier) is a kindly fellow , but his villain aide Ahmed (Basil Rathbone replaced originally cast John Carradine as the evil of a piece) wants to get rid of Kublai Khan so he can be emperor, and to get rid of Marco Polo so he can marry the princess . But Ahmed sends Marco Polo to the West to fight barbarians led by a Tartar chief called Kaidu (Alan Hale Jr), but he goes back just in time to save the day . The Italian explorer rescues the daughter of the Mongol leader Kublai Khan , and meets a hermit (the prestigious silent actor H.B. Warner) who has invented gunpowder . During his adventures Polo is imprisoned and will suffer numerous dangers , adventures and risks ; besides he'll quickly discover many Chinese invents as coal , ¡ spaghetti! and gunpowder , among others .

It's a spectacular adventure and plenty of emotions , action , romance and evocative musical score from Alfred Newman and Hugo Friedhofer . The picture blends far eastern adventures and medieval scenario . This is one of the most bemusing oriental adventure movies ever made and extremely well produced , lush production design and shot in awesome black and white photography from Archie Stout and Rudolph Mate . This juvenile romp is utterly amusing and entertaining though inexactly based on facts . Don't expect historic accuracy from this typical Hollywood product full of adventures , a love story and lots of action . The notorious producer Samuel Goldwyn were more concerned with offering moving and enjoyable amusement than factual information . However , the picture has some actual events such as the attempt conquest Japan by means a fleet that was sunk by strong winds ,thunders and gale . This marked the screen debut of Samuel Goldwyn's protégé Sigrid Gurie, whom he publicly labeled "the Norwegian Garbo , even though she was born in Brooklyn . In fact , by the time the film was released , it had been discovered Sigrid was born from the rather less exotic place of New York . Look out for Lana Turner in her sixth movie making a short appearance , almost extra , as a slave girl , later she recalled in a Gary Cooper biography that her "fancy black oriental wig" had been glued around her face with spirit gum, while she felt extremely uncomfortable in her costumes .

The motion picture was middlingly directed by Archie Mayo who replaced John Cromwell after a few days due to "differences of opinion on story treatment," according to a press release. The film's producer Goldwyn then attempted to rope in William Wyler for the job , but Wyler wanted nothing to do with it, so Goldwyn persuaded John Ford to take over for a few days until he could find a permanent replacement for Cromwell. Archie Mayo was eventually brought in to finish the picture. The film was received poorly at the box-office, becoming the biggest flop up to that time for both Gary Cooper and Samuel Goldwyn; it was estimated that the picture lost close to $700,000 . The flick will appeal to far eastern saga fanciful and Gary Cooper enthusiasts.

Other pictures based on this legendary character are the followings : ¨Marco Polo (1962)¨ by Hugo Fregonese and Piero Pierotti with Rory Calhoun , Yoko Tani and Robert Hundar ; "Marco the Magnificent" by Raoul Levy with Horst Buchhold, Anthony Quinn , Elsa Martinelli ; ¨Marco¨ (1973) by Seymour Robbie with Desi Aznar Jr , Zero Mostel ; the best results to be ¨Marco Polo¨ TV (1982) by Giuliano Montalvo with Ken Marshall , David Warner , F Murray Abraham , Leonard Nimoy ; ¨The Incredible Adventures of Marco Polo on His Journeys to the Ends of the Earth¨ (1998) with Don Diamant , Jack Palance and Oliver Reed ; and ¨Marco Polo¨ (2007) by Kevin Connor with Ian Somerhalder , BD Wong and Brian Dennehy .
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Old-School Entertainment
wuxmup31 May 2006
You either get it or you don't. Like most studio films, this movie was intended to make money by providing one thing - entertainment. Not a history lesson, not social commentary. Entertainment. Like the better realized but equally fake-medieval "Adventures of Robin Hood," released the same year (1938), "The Adventures of Marco Polo" (note the similar title) provides plenty of entertainment in the comedy-adventure genre that eventually led to "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Evaluating either "Raiders" or "Marco Polo" on its historical accuracy misses the point. It's like asking how Marco is able to speak what must be flawless Mandarin, plus the language of Alan Hale's presumably Turkic people. If you gotta ask, the movie just isn't your style.

Cooper looks a little less comfortable in this role than in some others, but he's adequately wry and intrepid, never taking the role of Marco too seriously. The rarely-seen Sigrid Gurie, whose face reminds one of Garbo, even through the Asian makeup, is beautiful and ethereal as the daughter of Kublai, played with Midwestern folksiness by the affable George Barbier. (Remember, it's not supposed to be real.) As Kublai's evil vizier, Basil Rathbone emanates the same elegant menace as he did in the role of Sir Guy in "Robin Hood." The ubiquitous Alan Hale, Sr., plays his usual self, and if you look carefully you'll see teenybopper Lana Turner in a small but fully credited role.

Why aren't there any Chinese here in leading roles? Because first, the studio had big-name actors on contract and meant to use their box-office appeal to make a bundle. Second, despite the potentially impressive Asian-American talent pool in California no greed-driven executive would have counted on white audiences in 1938 to shell out Depression-era cash to watch Asian unknowns acting the leads in for-profit motion picture. "The Adventures of Marco Polo" is not "The Last Emperor," and it doesn't pretend to be. Nor is it a misconceived turkey like John Wayne's Mongol epic "The Conqueror" (1961). Instead it's only a great "family film" and simple adventurous fun in the pulp-magazine tradition.
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THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO (Archie Mayo and, uncredited, John Cromwell and John Ford, 1938) ***
MARIO GAUCI3 July 2006
In itself corny and uneven, this is typical 30s entertainment done on a grand scale; the look of the film is artificial but undeniably lavish. Being a Samuel Goldwyn production, the film is the very antithesis of a history lesson; still, it's more interesting when dealing with the title character's various discoveries in the Orient than his romantic conquests!

Goldwyn, however, could surely afford to employ a reliable cast - most of whom, though, one would be hard-pressed to accept as Chinese - including Gary Cooper (likeable as always in the lead, if not exactly believable), Basil Rathbone (a typically sly villain), Sigrid Gurie (Kublai Khan's daughter and, naturally, an object of contention between Cooper and Rathbone), Ernext Truex (funny as Cooper's flustered sidekick), Alan Hale (a jovial rebel leader) and H.B. Warner (who basically replicates his dignified Chang from LOST HORIZON [1937]). Action is sparse but nicely handled (particularly the climax) and, surprisingly, the montage sequences (a feature of many films of the era) utilize some interesting optical effects.

The IMDb lists the uncredited contribution of two other directors - John Cromwell and John Ford; since the latter's frequent cinematographer Archie Stout does feature in the credits, I'm inclined to believe Ford was involved at some point...though it doesn't really show in the finished product (the subject was hardly up his street, to begin with)! Back in the day, I had watched both the 1965 international epic MARCO THE MAGNIFICENT and the 1982 TV mini-series MARCO POLO; I'll be following this with an Italian low-brow variation made in 1961 (see review below) and might even rent the recent 1998 version, THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO (shortened to MARCO POLO for the U.S.) - if only because it features Jack Palance and Oliver Reed, and was written by Harry Alan Towers!
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Unjustifiably maligned; fun goofy adventure with Cooper at his best
Maciste_Brother4 July 2009
THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO is an unjustifiably maligned film. Yes, it has a lot of problems with it, including the miscasting of the Chinese characters (Sigrid Gurie was a mistake), the sluggish middle part and somewhat insulting plot points concerning Chinese culture in general (they don't know what a kiss is?) but if you overlook this (yes, it might be much for some), there's actually a fun film here with Gary Cooper at his most relaxed and handsome, Basil Rathbone being wonderfully evil, some cool vintage Hollywood sets, an exciting climax all done with an amiable goofy tone to it which makes you forget the film's obvious weaknesses.

The best thing about ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO is Gary Cooper. I've seen several films with Cooper, including Morocco with Marlene Dietrich, DESIGN FOR LIVING with Miriam Hopkins and Fredric March, and HIGH NOON with Grace Kelly, etc. Always thought he was fine in those films but a bit of a stiff but in MARCO POLO he's never been more at ease and fun here. With his wavy hair and 6'3" frame, he's sure cuts a striking figure. The camera loves him. The worst thing in this film is Sigrid Gurie. This was her first major role and the poor girl drags the whole film down several notches. Not only she doesn't look Chinese at all but her voice is horrible. I feel sorry for her, having been put in such an awkward role. Thankfully, Basil Rathbone is there to bring balance to the uneven film with a control and yet knowingly campy performance.

So to recap, a fun old fashioned adventure film with Gary Cooper at his most enjoyable.
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Movie Not History, But Neither Was Polo
Dale Houstman27 September 2004
I don't have much to say about the film; it's another pretty, but merely adequate Hollywood hoo-hoo. But - although the film (of course) plays loose with historical fact - it must be remembered that Marco Polo did it as well, and there is almost no actual record to compare anyone's version of the story against: Polo (like Cellini) was a notorious liar-in-print. It is now assumed that his record of his journey is quite spurious, and written to enhance the glory of his accomplishment. As there is no other extensive record of the journey, there can be precious little "truth" or "fiction" to be be determined about any Marco Polo narrative. Like Cellini, he has "pre-dramatized" his own story.
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How did MST3K miss this one?
dsnyder12 December 2009
I first saw this film with my world history class when I was a junior in high school.There were three other classes watching with mine,most of us were heckling it.Among the corniest aspects were the sign for the Polo Brothers business written in English(this was Venice,they were Italians),then when Ernest Truex was in a gondola searching for Marco Polo breaking out in song about him.Even after makeup,Sigrid Gurie looked about as Chinese as Hillary Duff does without makeup.I couldn't believe such talented actors as Truex,Gary Cooper,& Basil Rathbone would have made such a silly film.The best performance was by H.B.Warner as Chen Tsu,the first Chinaman Polo befriended.It was on TCM last night,Robert Osborne commented about how the movie was not a box office hit,I'm not surprised.The only reason to watch is for laughs at how corny it is.
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A fictionalized (and unbelievable) biography featuring Gary Cooper as the explorer
jacobs-greenwood13 December 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Six foot, three inch Gary Cooper standing upright and passing through the palace guards undetected among the Chinese peasants (e.g. pretending to be a Chinaman himself) isn't the only unbelievable moment in this fictionalized biography of the great Venetian explorer.

According to Robert Sherwood's screenplay, or N.A. Pogson's story, produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by Archie Mayo, Marco Polo (with help from Kaidu, played by Alan Hale) actually saved China, rescuing emperor Kublai Khan (George Barbier), and his daughter Princess Kukachin (Sigrid Gurie), from his own ambitious adviser Ahmed (Basil Rathbone), as well as bringing spaghetti and coal to Italy.

Apparently Polo also discovered that the gunpowder China used to burn bright for celebrations and make firecrackers (as toys) could be also be utilized on a larger scale for weaponry (e.g. to blow up gates or bring down walls). Since historians question the facts surrounding this famed, mid-to-late 13th century trader-explorer, I'll not comment further on the validity of such claims.

In the film, Ernest Truex plays Polo's traveling companion and bookkeeper Binguccio, Binnie Barnes plays Kaidu's wife Nazama, H.B. Warner plays the native Chen Tsu who helps Polo, Ferdinand Gottschalk the Persian Ambassador, Harold Huber plays Toctai, the assassin Ahmed sends to kill Kaidu, and Lana Turner plays Nazama's maid, who's coveted by Kaidu.

Because his son is young and popular with the ladies (his disarming good looks?), Nicolo Polo (Henry Kolker) and some Venetian businessmen decide to send Marco (Cooper) to the East to establish trade agreements. First he travels by ship, but when it's wrecked by a storm, he and Binguccio (Truex) continue on foot through the desert and then the mountains of Tibet to China. He meets Chen Tsu and his humble family and learns that the emperor's adviser Ahmed (Rathbone) is not to be trusted.

After his introduction by his father's letter, Marco quickly earns Kublai Khan's (Barbier) admiration when he helps to sort the emperor's concubine women, culling out the guessers and those who are too smart. Later, Marco is smitten with the Princess Kukachin (Gurie), to whom he introduces the Western custom of kissing, even though she's betrothed to the King of Persia. Lotus Liu plays the Princess's handmaiden Visahka. When Ahmed learns of it, he's threatened such that he convinces Khan to send Polo to a troublesome, overtaxed province to spy on its leader Kaidu. Ahmed orders Bayan (Stanley Fields) to kill the Venetian en-route; he reports back that he'd succeeded, prematurely.

But Marco is captured by Kaidu's (Hale), though he's saved from execution by Kaidu's instantly smitten wife Nazama (Barnes). Kaidu sees an opportunity to spend time with his wife's maid (Turner) while Nazama is distracted by Polo. Ahmed convinces Khan to go with his troops to conquer Japan and is pleased to learn that the emperor's fleet was lost at sea. He decides that the Princess will be his wife, but she sends a warning by air (a hawk?) to Marco; conveniently, it's intercepted (shot down) by Kaidu's men.

Marco insists that he must go, but is delayed by Kaidu. Marco then recognizes that Ahmed's assassin Toctai (Huber) has become entrusted as one of Kaidu's men. He plots Kaidu's assassination, but only in order to save the rebel leader and expose Toctai. This earns Marco the privilege of returning to the emperor's palace, where Khan himself had returned to find that Ahmed had the Princess in a precarious position, tied down under his vultures. This forced Khan to sign away his power and become Ahmed's puppet.

Marco's first stop in Beijing is Chen Tsu's humble home, where he orders and/or commandeers all the flash power (e.g. gunpowder) for the wedding celebration between Ahmed and the Princess to create bombs capable of bringing down the palace gates. When Kaidu and his men arrive, Marco tells Kaidu the obvious (e.g. that his men should attack the gate tower), helping the rebels to take the palace so that Marco can rescue the Princess.

The explorer is somehow adept enough to take on Ahmed singlehandedly and overpower him such that he falls into his own den of lions, where he's killed. A grateful King asks Marco to escort the Princess to Persia, a trip assured of being a long one (e.g. to the kissing partners delight).
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Entertaining Historical Adventure Film From 1938
FloatingOpera75 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938): Gary Cooper, Basil Rathbone, Sigrid Gurie, George Barbier, Lana Turner, Binnie Barnes, Ernest Ruex, AlanHale, Ward Bond, H.B. Warner, Robert Greig, Henry Kolker, Lotus Liu, Harold Huber, Reginald Barlow, Harry Cording, Richard Farnsworth, Leo Fielding, Anne Graham, Hale Hamilton, Eugene Hoo, Greta Granstedt, Granville Bates.....Director Archie Mayo, Story by N.A. Pogson, Screenplay Robert. E. Sherwood.

By 1938, Gary Cooper was as big a star in Hollywood as Clark Gable. Cooper's Western films always drew crowds. "The Adventures of Marco Polo" was a different type of film for him and originally, audiences did not flock to see it. Playing a historical figure, although with a heroic and fictional slant, this was a sort of a departure from his usual roles. He was paired with an actress who never made it big - European-born Sigrid Gurie. Basil Rathbone as the villain and a young, previously unknown Lana Turner as a maid. She would become famous in the 40's shortly after this film. The results are a highly entertaining adventure film that is not historically accurate. The real Marco Polo never behaved the way Cooper does in the movie, nor did he ever experience the type of encounters he has in this film. It was a trend in the 30's to show adventure films, escapist films and it had been this way since the start of the Depression. For such a film, this one is well worth viewing, especially if you're a fan of Gary Cooper or have an interest in classic films.

1300's era Italian/Venetian explorer Marco Polo (Cooper) is assigned to explore China, namely the capital of Peking, the home of the Great Emperor Kublai Kan (Barbier). Italy hopes to make trade/commercial relations with China. Before long, Marco and his servant, carrying on his back, reach Peking and the Palace. Kan treats him hospitably. He discovers the beautiful Princess Kookoo-Chin (Gurie) who although engaged to marry the Prince of Persia, falls madly for Marco. Trouble arises when Marco is sent to dangerous enemy territory, as part of a carefully constructed plot by the Emperor's adviser Ahmed(played by Basil Rathbone). With Marco away, and shortly after the Emperor himself, Ahmed devises a plan to marry the Princess himself and usurp the throne of China. Will Marco be able to save China from this dastardly plot ? Will the Princess Koo-koo Chin and Maro have a happily ever after ? With exciting music, exotic costumes and sets (and yes this is a set picture) this type of film was a standard of most escapist adventures. Gary Cooper is no swashbuckler icon like Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn, who was in '38 at this time, the only swashbuckler icon, but he holds his own and does a marvelous job. It's part comedy, part romance, mostly adventure. It's sad to think that audiences did not seem to enjoy it. Now it's a wonderful reminder of an older form of cinema and a credit to the many acting styles of Hollywood star Gary Cooper.
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A comedy disguised as a drama
sxct17 September 2006
Stunned, surprised, confused, amazed. All adjectives that ran through my mind while watching this trash.

Gary Cooper was one of the best actors Hollywood has ever had. What happened here is beyond comprehension. I am amazed that he not only chose to do this script, but put in the lack of effort he did. Sleepwalk is to pay him a compliment.

As for Alan Hale, one of the great character actors in movie history, was so miscast that its laughable. Imagine an actor with a slight Irish accent playing a Chinese war lord. To say it didn't work is to compliment the effort.

If you get a chance to see this movie, consider a bad book instead. I think you will be spending your time more wisely.
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This one hasn't aged too well
Leofwine_draca12 May 2017
Warning: Spoilers
THE ADVENTURES OF MARCO POLO was a notable flop for producer Samuel Goldwyn, being a staged Hollywood version of the adventures of the famous Venetian explorer who travelled to China and brought back spaghetti and gunpowder. This one's a really hammy film which features an all-white cast in yellowface make up throughout, and the effect is hardly realistic, to say the least. Gary Cooper is miscast as the lead and there's some value from Basil Rathbone's clichéd scheming villain, but watching the likes of Lana Turner and George Barbier pretending to be Asian is quite the embarrassment. The rest is a blur of the predictable action scenes and talky melodrama.
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....this rock burns!
Brucey D1 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Crikey, what a film!

You can just imagine the planning meetings; "yeah, we'll have Gary Cooper as Marco Polo, there'll be adventure, beautiful girls, romance, action, all set in the mystic east, it's gonna be GREAT...".

Except it wasn't. The pacing is uneven, the film lacks realism, lacks historical accuracy, Cooper is miscast, and even as entertainment the film is somewhat lacking. All this applies by the standards of the time, not just in retrospect: When the film was released, after a troubled production, the audience voted with their feet and stayed away; the film lost a fortune. Often films that don't do well at the time are viewed more kindly in hindsight, but not this one; it is very patchy indeed.

Gary Cooper does his best but you can see his heart is not in it; if he too had been made up to look 'oriental' then it could have been an epic miscast on a par with John Wayne in 'the Conqueror' two decades later. As it is, it isn't quite as bad as that.

Watching this film was interesting for me in other ways. One thing that struck me was that the shot of our hero narrowly avoiding plunging into a chasm (screen left) was a dead ringer for a shot in the final Indiana Jones film; both appear to have been done using a matte of the chasm and if anything, the 1938 matte looks more realistic. So much for progress!

Another thing that struck me was that the 1980 film 'Flash Gordon' contains many of the plot elements seen here, albeit rearranged somewhat. One can only suppose that there was some, uh, 'inspiration' from this film. However whilst in Flash Gordon they went for 'camp' in an absolutely shameless fashion, and reviewers here have tarred this film with the camp brush too, I don't think it was ever meant that way. It might perhaps have been a better film if they had.

For me, the one standout in this film is Basil Rathbone; he really did make an excellent bad guy! Another film around this time also saw him playing a 'bad Guy', literally; Guy of Gisborne, in Robin Hood, a well-remembered role. Arguably he only narrowly avoided being eternally typecast as a bad guy by being eternally typecast as Sherlock Holmes instead. It could have been worse I suppose; although Rathbone fought against this Holmes association for many years he eventually came to embrace it.

There are other small roles of interest in this film such as Lana Turner's, but for the most part this film is today little more than a slightly puzzling period piece. It isn't actually awful to watch, but this 'rock' burned nearly everyone involved.
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Life of two (or one and a half?) China adventurers
dbdumonteil8 August 2014
It's quite an expedition to go to China,if we are to believe the screenwriters!Today,Venice ,and the lovely women Marco ,a womanizer as irresistible as Casanova,seduces,and tomorrow,no problem ,we are in a Chinese village where a wise man reads the Bible to children ("are you a Christian?-No,but I want'em to be carefully taught and be aware of all religions around the world ";relevant today and even a lesson to be remembered in our troubled times)

A cheap expedition :only two persons (Marco and some kind of dwarf ,here to provide the story with a comic relief ) and not a long and winding road full of ambushes or dangers .As easy as to go from the Doges Palace to Marco's uncle's mansion .(The uncle is just passing by)

It's very pleasant though.Gary Cooper is handsome and his charm is as effective in China as it is in Venice (or in America);there is a very tongue-in -cheek side that sustains the interest throughout:Marco suggests he "test" the women,before a khan shocked by his brazenness;the princess ,reciting all his family tree to play for time and thus not to marry the ugly villain,the ending with a dubious moral ,which people with a dirty mind might take for a future menage à Trois.
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How many teeth does a snapping turtle have?
utgard1427 December 2013
Venetian Marco Polo (Gary Cooper) travels to China and meets the famed ruler Kublai Khan (George Barbier). While there he learns about all kinds of nifty things like spaghetti, gunpowder, and firecrackers. He also falls in love with Khan's beautiful daughter, Princess Kukachin (Sigrid Gurie). Unfortunately he must deal with the evil machinations of Khan's scheming adviser, Ahmed (Basil Rathbone).

Diverting adventure drama with a slightly miscast Cooper having a good time. Rathbone is great as a villain. Ernest Truex is good fun as Polo's comic relief sidekick. Sigrid Gurie is lovely to look at and listen to. Best scene is where Cooper teaches her how to kiss. As a history lesson you could probably wipe with it. As entertainment, it's enjoyable and fun.
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Adventures of Polo....Mr. Deeds Goes to Chinatown? *
edwagreen28 December 2006
The above statement is what one critic referred to when the film came out in 1938.

It is simply an awful amateurish-like production by Samuel Goldwyn. Mr. Goldwyn produced an absolute bomb here in his depiction of Polo (Gary Cooper) going to China.

By the way, with the exception of a map stating Cathay, ancient Cathay is referred to as China in this film. Who did the research for Mr. Goldwyn here, the 3 stooges?

The acting is just awful. Gary Cooper comes across like a western star and Sigrid Gurie, his leading lady, must have thought she was doing a poor imitation of Luise Rainer in "The Good Earth."

You know you're in for it when Ernest Truex, the bookkeeper, goes singing "Marco Polo" on a gondola at the beginning of the film.

Alan Hale and Binnie Barnes play leaders in western China where the Kublai Khan sends them to. The Khan, played by a fellow by the last name of Barbier, sounds like a Brooklyn or Bronx truck man. Barnes and Hale are completely unfaithful to each other.

Basil Rathbone, as evil as ever as the horrible Ahmed, minister to the khan, even looks disgusted and rightfully so by all this.

H.B. Warner provides the firecrackers, spaghetti and gun powder for all this.

Goldwyn lost a bundle on this mess and rightfully so. Since Technicolor was sparingly used in 1937, the film did not have it. It would not have helped.
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What a lot of hooey
sekander10 April 2006
Golden Age of Hollywood, huh? Sam Goldwyn production, Vasquez Rocks sitting in for China, a 40-ish looking Gary Cooper playing a 17 year old, some harmless, Caucasian boob masquerading as the Great Khan, good old Alan Hale for comic relief (what else could he provide?). Whew! This is hard to sit through. Thank goodness for Basil Rathbone as the scheming Saracen, Achmed. He's the only redeeming part of this stinker. The racial discrimination of Hollywood in the 30's is on full display here. The only Asians allowed are what they call in the biz "scenery". Not even Keye Luke in any part. What we have instead, is a bunch of white people pretending (and not very well) to be Chinese. Excruciating. At least the Charlie Chan movies gave speaking roles to Chinese actors. Oh, did I mention the history is ridiculously shoddy? People who decry the current state of the film industry should be forced to sit through this and wonder who had the gall to reduce one of the grandest pageants of all time to a backlot studio formula pic. The sets remind me of Flash Gordon, which was also about this time. Hell, they should have gotten Charles Middleton (Ming the Merciless) to play Kubilai Khan. He would have been a damn sight better than the guy here. What's really galling is that the 1982 mini-series, which featured some excellent, Chinese actors, fantabulous scenery shot around the world including China, and a marvelous score by Ennio Morricone, is not available on DVD and hasn't been seen for over 20 years. This mini-series borrowed much of the plot from the 1938 movie but, with the benefit of 45 years of technical and social advances, managed to tell a more complete and accurate story in a much more entertaining production. Yet, we have to be subjected to this claptrap every month or so on cable. Don't waste your time.
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Historical misfire walks the fine line between being enjoyable and camp as it wanders through a China of poorly made sets
dbborroughs8 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Gary Cooper goes from Italy to China in a manner that only old Hollywood could manage with make believe sets and white actors pretending to be Asian. The plot has Coper being sent from Venice to China by his father in order to open up lucrative trade with the far Eastern country. In true Hollywood style its a radical rewrite of what actually happened, but then gain Polo's story was a Puff piece in its own right so I'm guessing turn about is fair play. Cooper, a good actor in the right part, is completely out of place as Polo. He looks more like a western star in dress up then a Venetian merchant.The rest of cast doesn't fair much better, but at least there is the joy of knowing that everyone is in the same boat. Perhaps this all would have worked better if there had been something approaching real sets and not so much rear screen projection. An amusing movie that walks the fine line between being fun on its own terms and camp, the film is enjoyable for what it is, a (wrongheaded) Hollywood epic of the old school. Taken for what it is you'll have a good time. Taken on anything other than its own terms you're in for a laugh fest. Worth seeing at least once.
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Mark This One As Something To Skip
bkoganbing19 November 2007
Gary Cooper had a most interesting relationship with Sam Goldwyn. He did seven films with Goldwyn and a cursory glance at the titles shows that Goldwyn was constantly giving him better and more suitable material for him. With The Adventures of Marco Polo he could hardly have done worse.

How can I say it, Gary Cooper just does not suggest a renaissance Italian Man. Unless they all had that Montana drawl. Contrast his performance here with Tyrone Power in Prince of Foxes or in The Black Rose where he plays an Englishman in the China of Kublai Khan. Power in this part would have made it believable. But Darryl Zanuck wasn't giving Ty Power's services away.

To complete the film, cowboy Cooper is given a Smiley Burnette like sidekick in Ernest Truex. The two of them as the history books tell us, go off to the court of Kublai Khan to negotiate a trade agreement for Venetian merchants, particularly the House of Polo.

There the real history stops as Cooper gets involved in all kinds of palace intrigue.

Here's some of where Sam Goldwyn's casting gets positively zany. George Barbier is Kublai Khan and Goldwyn must have seen Cecil B. DeMille's The Crusades where Barbier played King Sancho. Worked for C.B. it'll work for me. Sigrid Gurie was another Scandinavian import, another one trying to be another Greta Garbo. If Anna Sten didn't work, we'll make Sigrid a Scandinavian Mongol Princess.

Best of all is Basil Rathbone as Ahmed, his Saracen adviser who plays the part just as if he was playing Guy of Gisborne. Rathbone carried it through however, he must have seen how all around him looked so he could hide in the crowd.

H.B. Warner had the year before played the High Lama Chang in Lost Horizon. Here he's a clever fellow who shows Marco Polo this latest thing the Chinese have invented called gunpowder. Actually they'd had it for some time and the west had had it also, a fellow named Roger Bacon had written extensively and experimented even more extensively with the stuff a couple of centuries before. Never mind it took Gary Cooper to see its possibilities.

Sam Goldwyn's sets were lavish and the battle scenes at the end very well staged. That it has nothing to do with any history is only a minor criticism, it does not succeed because of the unbelievable plot and incredible casting.
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Comedy or drama
bruno-3217 September 2006
I didn't know how to take this movie. There are times when one thinks that its going to be a serious historic drama, and the next, there are moments of laughter...where I suppose they were not meant to be. Sigrid Gurie was indeed exquisite and sensual...with all that makeup..which brings up the point that I noticed that there were at least 5 'hangover' actors from the far superior "Algiers"...There was Alan Hale, Robert Grieg ( Hedy's fiancée from Algiers ) Sigrid, the actor ( name escapes me ) but for Algier fans, he was the one that always confronted Chas. Boyer with "OK,OK!", and the informer, whose name also escapes me. They were both made in 1938, the same release studio "United Artist", but this was a personal one because of Samuel Goldwyn, the other was Walter Wanger. Ten years later this movie would of starred Maria Montez, Sabu and Jon Hall and in Technicolor. Thats all I can say for this movie.
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Typical schlock that Hollywood put out too frequently
salweir29 December 2006
Everyone is miscast: a Caucassian actress born in Brooklyn, herself billed as a "Norwegian beauty" cast as a weak sister Chinese princess; Alan Hale as the western Chinese rebel leader; Gary Cooper as Polo. This is an awful movie. High handed attempt to pass off a third rate piece of junk as entertainment. Historically inaccurate doesn't even begin to describe how bad this movie is -- and I happen to like Gary Cooper. But he looks uncomfortable in this worthless celluloid. This type of film is what makes so many people who are not uncritical admirers of Hollywood criticize its racism, its stereotyping and its insulting of peoples not European.
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