Archive | June, 2012

THE MOUNTAIN ROAD and CHINA DOLL: Rare Hollywood Films about the War in China

30 Jun

I’ve been on a World War II kick lately, seeing lots of movies and documentaries, with an emphasis on the war in the Pacific and the war in China. I watched “The Battle of China” (1944), the sixth film in the Why We Fight series, and followed up with FLYING TIGERS (1942), the John Wayne film about the famed unit of volunteer American pilots who fought the Japanese in defense of China well before the U.S. entered the war. This led to two films in my collection that were among the very few postwar Hollywood films to focus on the war in China–CHINA DOLL (1958) and THE MOUNTAIN ROAD (1960).  The two films offer contrasting portrayals of Chinese women. I’ll deal with MOUNTAIN ROAD first, because it took great pains to avoid the usual formulaic approach of Hollywood war films. It’s about an American demolition crew working to blow up roads and bridges that the Japanese might use in their advance through China. There are eight men in it, driving four trucks and led by Major Baldwin, an engineer who had requested this assignment because he wanted to have at least one command on his belt before the war ended. He’s played by James Stewart as an ordinary American, a builder who’s put in with other American working joes in the interior of a country they know nothing about. He’s not used to having the power that comes with leading such a crew and making decisions that impact so many lives—there are hundreds of Chinese refugees seen constantly flowing by as they flee the Japanese—and he comes to relish that power. He picks up a Chinese officer, Colonel Kwan (Frank Silvera), to act as interpreter and liaison with local Chinese units they encounter, along with a Chinese woman, Madame Sue-Mei Hung (Lisa Lu), an officer’s widow seeking transport to the same destination as the Americans. Madame Hung was educated in America and speaks fluent English.

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THE PRICE OF POWER: Italian western about a presidential assassination

23 Jun

I first heard about THE PRICE OF POWER (1969) at a table selling videotapes of Italian genre films at a Chiller Theater convention some 30 years after the film’s release. It was described as an Italian western that was a thinly disguised allegory about the Kennedy assassination with Van Johnson as President James A. Garfield (who was himself assassinated). I didn’t purchase it at the time even though it sounded right up my alley. (I think I might have already reached my limit of purchases at that convention.)

Long story short: I didn’t see the film until last Sunday, June 17, when it played at the Film Forum in Manhattan as part of their Spaghetti Western series. The film was shown in Italian with English subtitles, which I found pretty jarring, especially since Van Johnson and a couple of other actors are clearly mouthing their lines in English. Like most Italian films, the entire thing was post-dubbed. I would have preferred an English dub, which is how I’ve experienced pretty much all other Italian westerns I’ve seen. (Given the international makeup of so many of the casts involved in these films—Italian, Spanish, French, German, American, etc.—I find it difficult to consider Italian the original language for such films .)

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