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Townsend Harris is sent by President Pierce to Japan to serve as the first U.S. Consul-General to that country. Harris discovers enormous hostility to foreigners, as well as the love of a young geisha.Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Barbarian And The Geisha (John Huston, 1958) **1/2
Star and director are not exactly in their element throughout this period piece (set in mid-19th century Japan and based on real events) – though John Wayne gets to brawl with a dwarf/giant combination!; apparently, Huston became fascinated with the country and its culture after viewing Akira Kurosawa’s RASHOMON (1951) and Teinosuke Kinugasa’s GATE OF HELL (1953) – in fact, he obtained the services of the latter as a “script supervisor” on this one!
Still, the film is interesting in its depiction of the clash of traditions – especially involving two countries which, a little over a decade earlier, had been deadly enemies – and, in any case, Japan was a popular venue with Hollywood during this time: witness the two back-to-back Marlon Brando vehicles THE TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON (1956) and SAYONARA (1957). The glossy production values (courtesy of Fox) make the most of the exotic locations, but the plot itself is rather melodramatic – Wayne’s initially hostile reception, an outbreak of cholera, the assassination of a supportive Japanese leader (which threatens to throw the country into Civil War), an attempt on Wayne’s own life and the failed aggressor’s subsequent seppuku (which also terminates Wayne’s subtle romance with the geisha of the title), etc.
Finally, though as I said this is one of Wayne’s most uncharacteristic films (which I had missed out on countless times in the past but was determined to catch now in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Huston’s passing), it’s certainly not worthy of the same level of disdain as his other Asian flick – Dick Powell’s camp classic THE CONQUEROR (1956).
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