Archive | September, 2014

Hollywood Looks at China: Two Films from 1955

26 Sep

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE and BLOOD ALLEY are two Hollywood films made in 1955 with contemporary Chinese settings. SOLDIER OF FORTUNE starts out in Hong Kong and moves to Mainland China late in its narrative before coming back to Hong Kong. BLOOD ALLEY takes place almost entirely in Mainland China before ending up in Hong Kong. Both are in color and Cinemascope. Both are based on best-selling novels and both were adapted for the screen by their authors, Ernest K. Gann and A.S. Fleischman, respectively, a practice that was not very common in Hollywood. Both had top movie star pairs at the head of their casts, Clark Gable and Susan Hayward in SOLDIER and John Wayne and Lauren Bacall in BLOOD, all American and all playing Americans. Both films had large supporting casts of Asian-American performers. The lead male characters in both films speak Chinese, Cantonese in SOLDIER and, I’m assuming, Mandarin in BLOOD, although I’m not sure, given how awkward the actors are with their phonetically spoken lines. The lead female character in BLOOD speaks it also. Chinese-American actors Victor Sen Yung and James Hong are in both films. Hong plays a Communist soldier in both. (SOLDIER was Hong’s film debut.) Both were produced by major studios: SOLDIER by 20th Century Fox and BLOOD by Warner Bros. and both are out on DVD from their respective studios, which is how I watched both films. I’d seen parts of each film before, on television, but these DVD viewings marked the first time I’ve seen each of them in its entirety.

 

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Maltin’s Movie Guide: The End of an Era

9 Sep

I’ve had a copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (or TV Movies as it was originally called or Movie and Video Guide as it was later called) by my TV set since sometime in the early 1970s when I got the very first edition, published in 1969, as a bonus from some movie book-of-the-month club. Maltin was already well known among film students and buffs at the time for the magazine Film Fan Monthly and assorted film books that he’d already had published by his early 20s, including the very first book I bought from that book-of-the-month club, The Disney Films (1973), which offered an in-depth survey of feature films produced by the Walt Disney Studio from 1937 to 1973. He would add more incredibly useful film books to his accomplishments in the years that followed, including Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Shorts and The Great Movie Comedians. Once they started publishing the Guide regularly, I would get a new edition every year and give the older one away. It was useful to have a handy guide where you could find cast members, running time, year of release, director, brief description and critical overview from a trusted source. This was at a time when you had to rely on TV Guide’s movie listings and various newspapers’ TV pages for whatever info was available on each film being shown on TV. Those listings were often provided by reviewers with absolutely no appreciation for the genre films my friends and I loved so much. I can’t recall offhand the scathing dismissals these films got, but they were pretty infuriating. Actually, I remember one. For the film, FROM HELL IT CAME (1957), the New York Times listing simply said, “Back send it.”

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