China and the Chinese in Popular Film: From Fu Manchu to Charlie Chan 9781350985681, 9781786730640

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China and the Chinese in Popular Film: From Fu Manchu to Charlie Chan
 9781350985681, 9781786730640

Table of contents :
Cover
About the author
About the book
Title
Copyrights
Contents
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgements and Note on Chinese Names
Dedication
1 Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese
2 ‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu
3 The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu
4 Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong
5 Chinatown Nights
6 The ‘Real’ China
7 Miscegenation Melodramas
8 Allies and Enemies
9 The Oriental Detectives: Charlie Chan, James Lee Wong and Mr Moto
Notes
Index

Citation preview

Jeffrey Richards is Emeritus Professor of Cultural History, Lancaster University. His many publications on cinema and its history include The Age of the Dream Palace:  Cinema and Society in 1930s Britain; Best of British: Cinema and Society from 1930 to the Present; the British Film Guide to A Night to Remember (all I.B.Tauris); and Mass Observation at the Movies. He is General Editor of I.B.Tauris’ Cinema and Society Series.

‘Jeffrey Richards’ latest book is a characteristically wide-ranging, thorough and richly detailed study that sheds new light on both familiar classics and forgotten films. Informative and accessible, China and the Chinese in Popular Film will appeal to specialist and non-specialist readers alike.’ – Mark Glancy, Reader in Film History, Queen Mary University of London

JEFFREY RICHARDS

CHINA AND THE CHINESE IN POPULAR FILM FROM FU MANCHU TO CHARLIE CHAN

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published by I. B. Tauris in 2017 This paperback edition published in 2021 Copyright © Jeffrey Richards 2017 Jeffrey Richards has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as Author of this work. For legal purposes the Acknowledgements on p. vii constitute an extension of this copyright page. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. ISBN: HB: 978-1-7845-3720-3 PB: 978-1-3502-1213-8 ePDF: 978-1-7867-3064-0 eBook: 978-1-7867-2064-1 To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

Contents List of Illustrations Acknowledgements and Note on Chinese Names

vi vii

1

Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese

2

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

12

3

The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu

33

4

Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong

57

5

Chinatown Nights

81

6

The ‘Real’ China

105

7

Miscegenation Melodramas

125

8

Allies and Enemies

150

9

The Oriental Detectives: Charlie Chan, James Lee Wong and Mr Moto

196

Notes Index

229 240

v

1

List of Illustrations 3.1. Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu (MGM, 1932)

42

3.2. Christopher Lee in The Face of Fu Manchu with Tsai Chin (Anglo-Amalgamated, 1965)

50

3.3. One of many Fu Manchu clones: Joseph Wiseman as Dr No with Sean Connery and Ursula Andress (United Artists, 1962)

51

3.4. Myrna Loy as Fah Lo Suee in The Mask of Fu Manchu (MGM, 1932)

52

4.1. Anna May Wong (publicity photograph, 1935)

58

5.1. The opium den in Broken Blossoms (United Artists, 1919)

84

6.1. Luise Rainer and Paul Muni in The Good Earth (MGM, 1937)

117

7.1. Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther in The Bitter Tea of General Yen (Columbia, 1933)

137

7.2. Paul Lukas and Kay Walsh in The Chinese Bungalow (British Lion, 1940)

144

8.1. Gregory Peck and Richard Loo in The Keys of the Kingdom (20th Century-Fox, 1944)

157

8.2. Richard Todd defying Communists in Yangtse Incident with Richard Leech and Keye Luke (British Lion, 1957)

189

8.3. Clifton Webb and William Holden defying Communists in Satan Never Sleeps (20th Century-Fox, 1962)

192

8.4. David Niven defying the Chinese Empress (Flora Robson) in 55 Days at Peking (Rank-Bronston, 1962)

193

9.1. Warner Oland as Charlie Chan (publicity still, undated)

198

9.2. Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan (Monogram, 1945)

207

vi

Acknowledgements and Note on Chinese Names This book has been many years in the making and I have had the opportunity of honing various chapters in lectures given in a variety of institutions. But I  also owe debts of gratitude to many individuals for help and advice of different kinds and would like to thank in particular Robert Bickers, James Chapman, Mark Glancy, Joel Hockey, Linda Persson, Anthony Slide, Richard Taylor, Deborah Williamson, Anne Witchard and Peter Yeandle. Thanks are due to Jane Robson for her copy-editing and to Zoe Ross for compiling the index. Two long-standing friends have been especially helpful, Sir Christopher Frayling and Professor Kevin Harty, and I dedicate the book to them. Throughout I have used the Wade-Giles system for the Romanisation of Chinese names rather than the pinyin system which has replaced it, because it was the Wade-Giles system which operated during the period under review. Similarly, where the terms ‘Oriental’ and ‘Asiatic’ are used they reflect the prevalent contemporary usage at the time the films were made. All stills are from the author’s collection.

vii

For Sir Christopher Frayling and Kevin Harty

1 Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese

The oldest and most enduring image of China and the Chinese in the West is of numberless yellow hordes swarming out of the East to engulf Western civilisation. This constituted a folk memory and derived directly from the eruption in the thirteenth century of the Mongol armies, led by the grandson of Genghis Khan, who appeared suddenly from the mysterious heart of Asia and rampaged through Russia, Eastern and Central Europe before being halted at the gates of Vienna in 1241–2. It lurked in the collective consciousness to be reawakened periodically by events such as the Taiping Rebellion, the Boxer Uprising and the Korean War which were seen and reported in the language of vast and apparently unstoppable hordes. A more positive image emerged from the narratives of Western travellers to China in the later medieval and Renaissance periods, the Italian Marco Polo, Spanish and Portuguese travellers, Franciscan friars and Jesuit missionaries. They reported on a peaceful, prosperous and well-ordered empire with a modest, hard-working and law-abiding population. But a darker side to the civilisation surfaced in reports of slavery, footbinding, female infanticide and the castration of male children to create eunuchs, tales which created a belief in a tendency to cruelty as an inherent character trait of the Chinese. Sinophilia reached a zenith in the eighteenth century, particularly in France, with admiration and imitation of the style 1

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

dubbed Chinoiserie which embraced items such as blue and white porcelain, ornamental pagodas and pavilions, lacquered furniture, Chinese lanterns, Chinese screens, Chinese wallpaper and embroidered silk, and in the celebration of an idealised Chinese Empire which was utilised as a means of critiquing contemporary Western society. This all changed in the nineteenth century in the context of the rapid and apparently irreversible development of European empires and the transformation of Western society by the industrial revolution. Apart from the enclaves of Macao and Hong Kong, China never became part of the formal European empires but it was integral to an informal imperialism based on Western trade and commerce. The European powers, in particular the British, took up residence in Shanghai and the so-called treaty ports and participated in the Imperial and Maritime Customs service, which was the principal source of revenue for the Chinese imperial government, and which was run by a succession of Britons.1 Compared to the dynamic and expanding European empires, China came to seem stagnant, backward, hidebound and firmly opposed to progress and innovation, its government system corrupt, sclerotic and autocratic, its people cruel, cunning, superstitious and xenophobic. The horrors of the Indian Mutiny, graphically reported in a rabidly racist press, had instilled a generalised fear of Asiatics in the Western population and this was apparently confirmed by the Boxer Rebellion and the siege of the foreign legations in Peking in 1900. As Paul A. Cohen has written of the Boxers: ‘In film, fiction and folklore, they functioned over the years as a vivid symbol of everything we most detested and feared about China.’2 Although the bulk of the people of Britain and America never went anywhere near China, they were to come into contact with the Chinese as a result of immigration and, as with all immigrant groups, popular attitudes towards them would be crucially shaped by the issues of work and sex. These practical issues reinforced the fears and hatreds associated with the images of invasion and the yellow horde. The invasion fear was given practical form by an influx of Chinese labourers into California in the late 1840s and 1850s, first to work in the mines opened up in the California Gold Rush and later to help build the transcontinental railway. A  toxic combination of attitudes (the competition for jobs with the native white population, the presumed inferiority of 2

Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese

Asiatics prescribed by the prevailing theories of racial hierarchy, the fear of miscegenation diluting the pure blood of the dominant white race) led from the outset to discriminatory rules aimed at the Chinese. They were forbidden to own real estate or give evidence in court cases, and they were not permitted to become naturalised American citizens. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act specifically banned the immigration of Chinese labourers into America and in 1924 all Asian immigration was banned by the National Origins Act. Thirteen states passed anti-miscegenation laws. From the 1850s onwards, negative stereotypes of the Chinese developed in fiction, theatre and cartoons, fed by a steady stream of negative accounts by American traders, diplomats and missionaries stressing the moral degeneracy of the Chinese, who were characterised by ‘deceit, cunning, idolatry, despotism, xenophobia, cruelty, infanticide and intellectual and sexual perversity’.3 Although writers like Bret Harte and Ambrose Bierce showed some sympathy for the Chinese in their stories and opposition to anti-Chinese prejudice, the dominant trend in popular fiction was to reinforce the negative stereotypes. There was, for instance, a now forgotten subgenre of Chinese invasion narratives by writers such as Atwell Whitney, Robert Woltor, Pierton W. Dooner and Oto Mundo.4 As the existing Chinese residents clustered together in so-called Chinatowns for mutual protection and support and found work operating laundries and restaurants, popular fiction followed them. William Wu concludes that American Chinatowns became the primary setting and subject for the fiction about Chinese Americans after 1882.5 Much of it centred on criminality, particularly involving wars between the tongs, rival Chinese secret societies, opium dens and gambling joints, all laced with characteristic Chinese cruelty. The Chinese community in Britain was comparatively small (not much over a thousand) and concentrated in specific locations such as the dockland area of London, Liverpool and Cardiff. It grew up particularly from the 1880s onwards and the population was largely transient, mainly seamen, but boarding houses, eating houses, laundries, social clubs and shops sprang up to cater for them. Like all other immigrant groups down the years, they suffered from allegations that they were taking over English jobs and English women and that they were bringing with them criminality in the form of drugs and gambling. These prejudices were fed by certain 3

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

indisputable facts. The Chinese population was predominantly male. Their favoured recreations included gambling and opium smoking. The recruitment of Chinese seamen at very low wages did undercut English seamen and they were used as strike-breakers in the 1911 seamen’s strike. But these facts were made the basis of lurid fantasies. A commission of inquiry set up by Liverpool City Council reported in 1907 that ‘the Chinese appear to much prefer having intercourse with young girls, more especially those of undue precocity’ and ‘the evidence of seduction of girls by Chinamen (was) conclusive’.6 This conclusion was directly contradicted by the testimony of the Chief Constable that the Chinese community gave the police no cause for concern in the matter of criminal behaviour. He told the Home Office in 1906 that the Chinese ‘treat their women well, they are sober, they do not beat their wives and they pay liberally for prostitution’.7 To the spectre of rampant inter-racial and under-age sex was added the image of the opium den which became a symbol of Oriental depravity. Although it figured rarely in the pre-war popular press, the opium den appeared in Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1870), Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story The Man with the Twisted Lip (1892). In each case, opium was associated with the degradation of a respectable white man. Virginia Berridge, who has looked into the truth behind the myth, has concluded that there were not many opium dens, that many of them were actually more like social clubs; that the local people most in touch with opium tolerated it and that there was little association with white society.8 But the link between opium, gambling and sex was simply too juicy a story for the journalists to leave alone and so the popular press, then as now happy to pander to prejudices, reinforce stereotypes and stir up sensationalist reactions, continued to promote this image. The Sunday Chronicle (2 December 1906) ran a story headed ‘Chinese Vice in England. A View of Terrible Conditions at Close Range’ featuring accounts of English girls plied with opium and seduced by evil Orientals. On 1 October 1920 The Daily Express ran a story headlined ‘Yellow Peril in London – Vast Syndicate of Vice and its Criminal Master – Women and Child Victims’. On 4 October 1929, The London Evening News ran a story ‘The Lure of the Yellow Man’, declaring ‘Drugs, gambling and appeals to every human passion have their place in Limehouse. It is the distributing centre for opium and cocaine … The time has come to draw 4

Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese

a cordon round this area of London and forbid any white woman from frequenting it.’9 As Sascha Auerbach has shown, it was the competition for jobs that initially fuelled the growth of anti-Chinese sentiment in late Victorian Britain. The ‘Chinese Labour’ question originated not in England but in Australia in the 1880s and South Africa in the period 1903–6, where there were campaigns against Chinese immigration and Chinese labour which, it was claimed, was taking the jobs of white workers. Laws were passed in both countries to restrict Chinese immigration and, as part of the agitation, negative stereotypes of the Chinese as ‘vicious, immoral and unclean’ surfaced in the popular press both in the form of news stories and cartoons. The same stories and images surfaced in Britain after the number of Chinese sailors employed in British ships trebled between 1905 and 1907. Although the Chinese only constituted 5 per cent of the workforce by 1915, the National Sailors and Firemen’s Union (NSFU) campaigned vociferously against Chinese labour and their agitation led to direct attacks on members of the Chinese community. The 1911 Seamen’s Strike featured significant anti-Chinese rhetoric and anti-Chinese violence. The sexual threat inevitably cropped up once the Chinese were becoming vilified. It was in 1911 that The London Magazine published the first of many similar articles warning of the dangers posed by the immigrants. Titled ‘The Chinese in England: A Growing National Problem’, the author Herman Scheffauer focused on the evil of miscegenation, the racial mixing through sex, and raised the spectre of race wars and of an international conspiracy within the Chinese diaspora in London, Singapore, Australia, America and Japan to subjugate the white race.10 It was not until the First World War that the drug threat was added to the mix and there was a steady increase in legal persecution as the inter-racial sex, gambling and opium smoking now indelibly associated with the Chinese were seen to pose a threat to the moral and physical health of the young men needed to fight the war. Opium and opiates had been freely available in Victorian England. There was no restriction on their sale until 1868 and after that only minimal restraints. The 1916 Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) criminalised possession and sale of cocaine and opium by anyone but licensed professionals. The police stepped up raids on gambling houses and although no evidence of Chinese opium selling or Chinese-run 5

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

gambling in the wider white population was found, the raids continued. In the immediate post-war period, there was a moral panic, centred on the idea of white women in the West End being corrupted by Chinese drug pushers. This was stimulated by a handful of sensational cases which received widespread press coverage, notably the deaths in West End flats from drug overdoses of shipping heir William Gibson Jr and actress Billie Carleton. Marek Kohn believes that Carleton’s symptoms suggest an overdose of a sleeping potion, perhaps veronal, rather than cocaine poisoning.11 The newspapers ran lurid stories like that in The Star (9 January 1919) ‘The Evil Trade in Opium: English Girls as the Chinaman’s West End Agents’. In the press reports of the drug underworld, the habit became associated with deviant and criminal figures: liberated women, effeminate or gay men and ethnic minority criminals, chiefly black or Chinese. The popular hostility to the Chinese and other ethnic minorities, based on racial, sexual and economic fears, stoked up by sensationalised press reports, lurid popular fiction and the very real competition for jobs and housing provoked by mass demobilisation of the forces led to race riots in 1919, aimed at black and Chinese men, in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull, Newport, Cardiff and other urban centres. The 1920 Dangerous Drugs Act made permanent the emergency powers regulating narcotics, prohibiting the importation of prepared opium, except under license and the import, export or manufacture of raw opium, cocaine, morphine and heroin. The climax of the moral panic was the trials of ‘Brilliant’ Chang and Edgar Manning on drugs charges. Chang, a prosperous Chinese playboy and Manning, a Jamaican petty criminal and jazz musician, represented perfect archetypes of the alien ‘other’. The press dubbed them ‘Dope Kings’. Both were said to be involved in corrupting white girls with drugs and both ended up in prison. Chang was tried in 1924 for supplying drugs to Freda Kempton. Manning who had supplied drugs to several addicts who died was sent to prison in 1923 for three years. Freda Kempton, who came from a well-to-do family in Stoke Newington, was drawn into the world of London nightclubs, jazz bands and drugs and eventually died of a cocaine overdose in 1922. Chang was sentenced to fourteen months in prison and deportation.12 By the late 1920s, both the police and journalists were declaring the threat from Chinatown over. The number of arrests of Chinese dwindled. By the 6

Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese

mid-1930s, many of the Chinese residents had left and a large part of the neighbourhood was demolished to allow for the widening of Limehouse Causeway. The Blitz completed the destruction of the old Chinatown. But the image of Chinatown as an exotic centre of crime, vice and Oriental villainy was much harder to erase, having become lodged in the popular consciousness, thanks to sensational journalism and to the books, plays and films inspired by it. Events and developments in the Far East decisively changed attitudes towards China. China had been turbulent and unstable since the Boxer Uprising. Imperial rule had been overthrown in 1911 and a republic proclaimed under Sun Yat-Sen aimed at restoring China’s national integrity. But its hold on the country was fragile and by the 1920s the country had collapsed into warlordism and banditry. The reaction to this was the emergence of the Communist Party, founded in 1921, and a nationalist movement which resulted from the development of an urban proletariat, an influential bourgeoisie and an articulate student body. There were a series of strikes and boycotts of foreign interest. The British response was one of conciliation as they made concessions and sought to secure a policy of cooperation with the moderate nationalists. By 1928, Chiang Kai-Shek’s National Party, the Kuomintang, had eliminated its rivals and established a national government based in Nanking. The nationalist government ended labour unrest, implemented important reforms and sought to create a modern business environment. Japan was a far more serious threat in the interwar years than China. Japan had been an ally of the United States in the First World War. But Japan had decisively beaten Russia in the 1904–5 Russo-Japanese War. It took over Korea in 1910 and Manchuria in 1931. It also established the largest network of foreign banks in China and numerous cotton mills. Japan single-mindedly modernised and militarised its society. It was in the 1930s that American attitudes to China underwent a dramatic transformation. T. Christopher Jespersen dates the change to three epochal events that occurred in 1931:  the conversion to Christianity of General Chiang Kai-Shek, the publication of Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.13 Each of these events was imbued with a dramatic significance and portent for the future. Chiang Kai-Shek was seen to be uniting and modernising 7

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

China and with his American-educated Christian wife Soong Meiling (Madame Chiang Kai-Shek) provided the hope that China – with American help and encouragement  – could look forward to a modern, democratic Christian future on the American model. The best-selling novel The Good Earth, in the words of Robert Bickers ‘made ordinary Chinese people, peasants, real for the first time to the mass western public’.14 The unprovoked invasion of Manchuria by Japan spectacularly signalled the transfer of ‘The Yellow Peril’ from peaceful China to aggressively militarist Japan. These events lent force to the campaign being waged by Henry R. Luce, proprietor of the influential periodicals Time and Life and their associated cinema newsreel and radio programmes. Luce, brought up in China, the son of a missionary, firmly believed in China’s future as a democratic Christian country and deployed all his media outlets to promote this vision. These media outlets regularly stressed the closeness of the United States and China and their similarities, regularly reported the Nationalist government in favourable light and lavished praise particularly on Chiang Kai-Shek and his army. The sympathy for China intensified after 1937 when the Japanese bombed Shanghai and captured Nanking amid an orgy of atrocities. Sympathy for the Chinese, as measured by the Gallup Poll, rose from 43 per cent in August 1937 to 74 per cent in May 1939.15 Luce played a major role in creating United China Relief in 1941, merging various existing organisations to provide a single outlet for fund-raising and actively promoting the cause of China. Symbolic of the celebration of Nationalist China in the United States was the 1943 pageant ‘China’, produced in Hollywood by David O. Selznick. It was narrated by Walter Huston, featured Edward G. Robinson as the voice of Chiang Kai-Shek and had Madame Chiang Kai-Shek explaining the current situation in the country. It presented a romanticised picture of a modern, united, progressive, Americanised China.16 The reality behind the romantic image dubbed by Karen Leong ‘The China Mystique’ was very different. China was far from democratic. The Nationalist government was riddled with corruption and inefficiency. It completely neglected the needs of the peasantry, a neglect epitomised by its lack of reaction to the famine in Honan province in 1943 when 5 million people died of starvation. The Chinese were not united under 8

Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese

Chiang Kai-Shek and his regime in west and central China. Many of the peasants supported the Communists under Mao Tse-Tung in the north and there was a collaborationist Chinese government, headed by Chiang’s former Foreign Minister Wang Ching-Wei, in Nanking, working with the Japanese. There were also fundamental disagreements between Chiang Kai-Shek and the Americans. Once America entered the war, Roosevelt wanted the Nationalists to commit their forces totally to the campaign to defeat the Japanese. Chiang Kai-Shek wanted to keep some of his troops back in preparation for the civil war with the Communists which he knew would come after the defeat of Japan. Ambassador Clarence Gauss put it bluntly in 1942 on the fifth anniversary of the all-out Japanese invasion of China: It is unfortunate that Chiang and the Chinese have been ‘built up’ in the United States to the point where Americans have been made to believe that China has been ‘fighting’ the Japanese for five years, and that the Generalissimo, a great leader, has been directing the energetic resistance of China to Japan and is a world hero. Looking the cold facts in the face, one could only dismiss this as ‘rot’.17

But the positive image was one which it was necessary to project for the war effort. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, China and the United States became war allies and President Roosevelt ensured that China was included along with the United States, Britain and Russia as the ‘four policemen of the world’, committed to the defeat of the Fascist empires of Germany, Italy and Japan. The Chinese cause was represented in America by Madame Chiang Kai-Shek who was seen not only as beautiful, fashionable, intelligent and educated but a supportive partner to her husband and a symbol of the progressive new China. She was hailed as ‘China’s First Lady’ and became only the second woman to address the two Houses of Congress. The newsreels widely reported Japanese atrocities. Documentaries such as The Battle of China (1942) and Inside Fighting China (1942) celebrated the heroic Chinese struggle against the enemy. Feature films showed individual American heroes committing themselves to the Chinese cause (China Girl, The Flying Tigers, God is My Co-Pilot). 9

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

The Second World War was barely over before the Communists moved to take over China. The Nationalists were beaten, Chiang Kai-Shek retired to Taiwan in 1949 and Mao Tse-Tung proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. China then supported the Communist North Korean attempt to take over US-backed democratic South Korea and there was war in Korea from 1950 to 1953. Thereafter, the Cold War divided the world between the Communist East and the democratic West and China, so recently an ally in the struggle against Fascism, was firmly cast as a global villain. Japan, the erstwhile enemy, was thoroughly and rapidly rehabilitated as a modern, democratic state and an ally of the West. For all the books and films and newsreels dealing with China, Harold Isaacs could write in 1958: Vagueness about Asia has been until now the natural condition even of the educated American. There has been little in his total setting to equip him with much knowledge or information … relating to Asia or things Asian. There is certainly nothing to compare with the intricate web of bonds that tie him in so many ways to Europe and things European.18

Between 1945 and 1961, the United States saw an unprecedented flood of works dealing with Asia and the Pacific: books, plays, films, travel writing, non-fiction studies. Christina Klein in her perceptive analysis of the period explains it: The Cold War made Asia important to the United States in ways that it had not been before. Between 1945 and 1961 the United States expanded its political, military and economic power in the region to an unprecedented degree … Hundreds of thousands of Americans flowed into Asia during the 1940s and 1950s as soldiers, diplomats, foreign aid workers, missionaries, technicians, professors, students, business people, and tourists. Never before had American influence reached so far and so wide into Asia and the Pacific.19

This coincided with the retreat of the British, French and Dutch from their Eastern empires and the emergence of forty new independent countries. President Truman declared in a speech in 1947 that the United States must assume leadership in the ‘worldwide struggle between ‘free peoples’ 10

Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese

who believed in ‘individual liberty’ and ‘totalitarian regimes’ that ruled with ‘terror and oppression’.20 In seeking to shore up the non-Communist world, the United States established treaties with South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Malaya and Pakistan, and poured billions of dollars in foreign aid into those countries. Christina Klein, examining influential magazines such as Reader’s Digest and The Saturday Review, best-selling writers such as James A. Michener (who wrote eleven books on Asia and the Pacific) and the hit musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein (South Pacific, The King and I and Flower Drum Song), demonstrates that the focus of the great outburst of literary and cultural interest in the East was specifically the non-Communist countries of Asia. It had little to say about North Korea, North Vietnam or mainland China. The battle against Communism abroad extended to rooting out Communist subversion at home and the McCarthyite witch hunt of the late 1940s and early 1950s targeted liberals and radicals as well as Communists, provoking black lists, loyalty oaths and purges in government, universities and Hollywood. In this context Chinese Americans came under suspicion. As Klein writes: The U.S.  government also focused its coercive energies after 1949 on Chinese Americans as potential spies and subversives. Chinese family organizations sometimes ran afoul of the FBI for maintaining ties to similar organizations in communist China, while the Immigration and Nationalization Service used deceptive tactics to deport Chinese who it thought might be sympathetic to the mainland government. In 1956 federal agents swept through Chinatowns on the East and West coasts in an effort to track down suspected communists who it feared had entered the country illegally. Domestic containment policies revived latent ‘yellow peril’ fears of a combined Chinese threat from both within and outside the nation.21

China would continue to occupy that ‘yellow peril’ role until President Nixon sought a rapprochement with China in 1972 and the Cold War thawed as the old rivals, Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse-Tung, left the stage, Chiang dying in 1975 and Mao in 1976. 11

2 ‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

Chinese opium dens in Limehouse, half-naked Burmese dacoits in the back streets of Wapping, beautiful slave girls with fur coats thrown hastily over scanty harem dress, mysterious drugs hitherto unknown to Western science, religious stranglers, exotic perfumes, fog: the unmistakable, unforgettable world of Dr Fu Manchu, the sinister Oriental mastermind created by the writer Sax Rohmer. In a series of thirteen novels published between 1913 and 1959, Rohmer gave us one of fiction’s gallery of immortals, an enduring archetype of Oriental villainy, a name instantly recognisable and evocative of a time and a mindset. Rohmer called Fu Manchu ‘The Yellow Peril incarnate in one man’. What was the ‘Yellow Peril’? The term originated in Germany as the title of an 1895 painting by Hermann Knackfuss, suggested by Kaiser Wilhelm II himself. It showed the archangel Michael defending the Western races against the approach from the East of a yellow Buddha seated on a dragon in the midst of a storm cloud. That Rohmer was familiar with this painting is evidenced by the fact that the image, with Fu Manchu substituted for Buddha, features in the dreams of the hero Alan Sterling in the 1933 novel The Bride of Fu Manchu.1 But Rohmer was not the first to dramatise the idea of ‘The Yellow Peril’; it was the novelist M. P. Shiel who did so in a series of books beginning with 12

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

The Yellow Danger (1898). But Shiel’s novel belongs to a different genre from Rohmer’s: the invasion narrative. One of the great paradoxes of British imperial history was the twin attitudes of confidence and fear, confidence in the rightness of British presence in far-off lands and at the same time fear that British rule would be violently overthrown. There was ample justification for such fear. Imperial rule in Africa had only been established in the face of a succession of revolts. The Indian Mutiny and the Jamaica Revolt traumatised British society and left indelible imprints on the imperial psyche. The fear of conspiracy was one of the dominant themes in both novels and films of Empire. The successful suppression by the British authorities of a plot or rebellion featured regularly in imperial fiction. But it was not just the Empire that was threatened. Suspicion of the intentions of the great continental powers, France, Germany and Russia, gave rise to a flourishing genre of invasion fiction. It was inaugurated by Colonel Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking in 1871 and reached a positive frenzy in the last two decades before 1914 with Max Pemberton’s monumental Pro Patria (1901), William Le Queux’s best-selling The Great War in England in 1897 (1893) and The Invasion of 1910 (1906) and Erskine Childers’s classic The Riddle of the Sands (1903). Shiel’s novel is part of this genre. France, Germany and Russia are given extra concessions in imperial China and stirred up against England by the machinations of Dr Yen How, the half-Chinese, half-Japanese man who has made himself chief minister of China. As a result, the three European powers form an alliance and attack England, precipitating a general European war. With Europe ablaze, Yen How forges an alliance with Japan, massacres all the Europeans in China and forms an Oriental army that sweeps through Russia into Western Europe. The British hero is naval officer John Hardy who tries to kill Yen How and is hideously tortured but escapes and, back in Europe, leads an Anglo-Spanish-American fleet to defeat the Japanese-Chinese fleet in the Channel, killing Yen How. He has Chinese prisoners injected with plague and put ashore in Europe to infect the Chinese horde. Hardy is killed and England rallies the Western armies to defeat what remains of the Chinese forces. The novel is full of real people (the Kaiser, Emile Zola, A. J. Balfour, T. P. O’Connor and Lord Charles Beresford among 13

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

them) and features extensive descriptions of land and sea battles. But where it looks forward to Rohmer is in its Chinese villain, evil genius Dr Yen How, with his expansive brow, his doctorate from Heidelberg, his hatred of the white race, his genius and his mastery of torture. There is no doubting the racism underlying the story. Shiel describes the principal points of the Chinese character as ‘an immeasurable Greed, an absolute Contempt for the world outside China, and a fiendish love of Cruelty’. He adds: ‘It is impossible for the vilest European to conceive the dark and hideous instincts of the Chinese race.’2 But there were other inspirations for the character of Dr Fu Manchu. There are elements of the once popular and now long forgotten character, Dr Nikola, created by Guy Boothby. In a series of five best-selling novels, published between 1895 and 1901, Boothby charted the exploits of a master-criminal with hypnotic powers and a world-wide organisation, who is of perhaps Russian origin. But the second novel, Dr Nikola, is set in China and Tibet and has Nikola successfully passing as a Chinese man and penetrating a Tibetan lamasery in search of the secret of eternal life. There are unmistakable elements of Conan Doyle in Rohmer’s work. The first three novels are written in the first person and the narrator is the partner of the leading detective. The characters who head the cast are Commissioner Nayland Smith and his old friend Dr Petrie. Here we have the two syllable/one syllable name Nayland Smith to equal Sherlock Holmes and similarly a Dr Petrie to parallel Dr Watson. In Nayland Smith, we might see an echo, conscious or otherwise, of the Anglo-Saxon folk hero Wayland Smith and Dr Petrie’s name was undoubtedly chosen in honour of one of Rohmer’s heroes, the Egyptologist Sir Flinders Petrie. Fu Manchu’s counterpart is master-criminal Professor Moriarty. He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson. He is the organiser of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city. He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker. He has a brain of the first order. He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows very well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized.

14

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

When he describes Moriarty’s appearance, Doyle might be writing of Fu Manchu. He is extremely tall and thin, his forehead domes out in a white curve, and his two eyes are deeply sunken in his head. He is clean-shaven, pale and ascetic looking … His shoulders are rounded from much study, and his face protrudes forward, and is for ever slowly oscillating from side to side in a curiously reptilian fashion.3

Rohmer described Fu Manchu thus: Imagine a person tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources … of a wealthy government  – which, however, has already denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being and you have a mental image of Dr Fu Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.4

Also inspired by Doyle is the irascible, stubborn leonine archaeologist Sir Lionel Barton, named after a long-time friend of Rohmer’s but unmistakably modelled on Doyle’s Professor George Edward Challenger. The chase by police launch down the Thames at the climax of The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu and the involvement of a murderous Andaman Island pygmy in The Island of Fu Manchu both suggest a familiarity with Doyle’s Sign of Four. Rohmer is a fascinating writer. He was born Arthur Henry Ward in Birmingham in 1883, the son of Irish immigrant parents. The family moved to South London when he was 2 or 3 and his alcoholic mother died when he was 18. An only child, he had read voraciously and sought refuge in a fantasy world. He is one of those writers like John Le Carré and Patrick O’Brian who reinvent themselves and who are such compelling storytellers because they convince themselves by their stories. Arthur’s mother Margaret claimed descent from the seventeenth-century Irish general Patrick Sarsfield, so young Arthur began calling himself Arthur Sarsfield Ward. In 1912 he adopted the name Sax Rohmer, which he thought meant 15

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

free lance in Anglo-Saxon and he was known by that name for the rest of his life. Having failed the Civil Service examinations and failed as a bank clerk, he became a junior reporter and worked for various newspapers, as well as submitting short stories to the many weekly magazines that flourished then. He also wrote lyrics and comic sketches for the music hall. It was in 1911 that he was sent to Chinatown to research a mysterious drugs and gambling boss called Mr King. He found nothing but his imagination got to work. He claimed that the sight of a tall dignified Chinaman attended by a beautiful Arab girl gave him the ideas for Fu and his Eurasian slave girl Karamaneh. This may have been the trigger but the detail and incidents undoubtedly owe something to his earlier reading. Rohmer’s novels conform to the timeless qualities of romance, as defined by Northrop Frye, who suggests that sensation is integral to it, that it avoids the ambiguities of ordinary life in which everything is a mixture of good and bad, presents us with a hierarchical social order, is informed by a conservative, mystical strain of social and religious acceptance, and it involves questions of identity and disguise, patterns of aristocratic courage and courtesy. The classic structure of romance is one of descent and ascent – descent from an idyllic world to what Frye calls ‘a night world’ of exciting adventures which involve separation, loneliness, humiliation and pain before a final return to the idyllic world.5 The books consist of a series of sensations. They are fast-moving, gripping and vividly and atmospherically written. They evoke the existence of a hidden world, exciting, frightening, compelling, behind the ordinary everyday patterns and surfaces of life in early twentieth-century London. There is something dreamlike in Rohmer’s writing. Dreams, drugged and otherwise, visions and hallucinations feature regularly in his narratives. Rohmer himself claimed to have dreamed some of his plots and he invented a character, Morris Klaw, the dream detective who solved criminal mysteries in his dreams. His writing is intensely visual, almost cinematic, with his descriptions of furnishings, weather and atmosphere. Marek Kohn, in his book Dope Girls charting the growth of the drug culture in London before and after the First World War and its link with the Chinese community, concluded: ‘The principal theme of the British discourse upon its Chinese communities in the first quarter of the twentieth century was the intrinsic evil of sexual contact between the races.’6 Yet 16

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

strikingly in Rohmer’s Fu Manchu books there is none of the horror of inter-racial sex that figures in much popular fiction. The first three books have Dr Petrie falling in love with Fu’s Arab slave girl Karamaneh and eventually marrying her. Alan Sterling falls for Fleurette, the daughter of Petrie and Karamaneh. Bart Kerrigan, the hero of Drums of Fu Manchu and Island of Fu Manchu, falls in love with and eventually secures the hand of the beautiful Ardatha, who works for Fu. She is described as being of ‘mixed Oriental and European blood. On her father’s side she was descended from generations of Eastern rulers.’7 Here perhaps rank negates racial origin. But even Fu’s own daughter, Fah-Lo-Suee, who falls for Nayland Smith, is of mixed race, her mother being a White Russian. In some of his non-Fu Manchu novels Rohmer did draw on the lurid press reports of the corruption of upper-class girls by Chinese criminal gangs, making a direct link between race, sex and drugs. His failed assignment to track down Chinese criminal mastermind Mr King and his imagined Chinese underworld of opium dens and gambling houses provided the background to his 1915 novel The Yellow Claw in which he detailed the corruption of upper-class men and women by a drug ring headed by a mysterious Mr King, whose real identity is never uncovered, who barely appears but whose malign presence permeates the book until he is drowned fleeing down the Thames to escape the police. Rohmer evokes a sinister labyrinthine world of secret vaults, sliding doors and hidden passages behind apparently innocuous shop fronts and lodging houses. This became the indelible image of Chinatown in the collective popular consciousness. Sascha Auerbach suggests that there was a real Mr King, Charles King, who was the most prominent Anglo-Chinese property owner in the East End during this period but who ‘had never been convicted of anything more serious than violating London County Council regulations for the management of seamen’s lodging houses’.8 It was another real person who provided the inspiration for Dope. First published in 1919, reprinted in August, September, October 1919 and January 1920, issued in a cheap edition in August 1920 and a popular edition in January 1924, it was unquestionably based on the Billie Carleton case. Rohmer, allegedly writing from an address in Limehouse, appended a prefatory note, stating disingenuously that Dope ‘was not inspired by, nor is it distantly concerned with, any cause célèbre, recent or remote’. While the 17

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

story was based on established facts, ‘it were idle to suppose this model or that to have served for the figures of “Rita Dresden” and “Sir Lucien Pyne’’ ’. He conceded that his principal Chinese villain Sin Sin Wa had ‘a living prototype’, as did Inspector Kerry. However, the course of the narrative and the characterisation makes it quite clear that musical comedy actress Rita Dresden is Billie Carleton and her admirer and corruptor Sir Lucien Pyne is based on Raoul Reginald de Veulle. Their supplier of cocaine, Ada Lau Ping, a Scots woman married to a Chinese man in Limehouse, is transformed into the more exotic ‘Cuban Jewess’ Mrs Lola Sin. Sin Sin Wa, the Chinese mastermind, is pure invention. But Rohmer’s biographers suggest that Inspector Daniel ‘Red’ Kerry was based on the real-life Inspector Yeo.9 In Rohmer’s version, Rita is saved and cured of her addiction and the drug ring broken up by the efforts of Inspector Kerry and undercover agent Seton Pasha, who, like Nayland Smith in the Fu Manchu stories, arrives from the East (Egypt in his case) to tackle the Oriental menace that is defiling London. Rohmer’s fictionalised characters came to more decisive ends than their real-life counterparts. Where De Veulle was sent to prison for eight months for supplying drugs, Pyne is murdered, and where Ada Lau Ping got five months at hard labour, Lola Sin is strangled by her Chinese confederate Sin Sin Wa. The Yellow Claw became the first Rohmer novel to be filmed in 1921, its theme now highly topical. The Freda Kempton case inspired another film, boldly titled Cocaine (1922). Directed by Graham Cutts, it told the very moral tale of a young innocent girl Jenny who comes up from the country and is lured into the exotic and sensual world of nightclubs with their cocktails, drugs and frantic jazz music. An actress who befriends her is already addicted to cocaine. ‘Cocaine’ as the inter-title tells the audience, ‘The Mirage of Life … The Poison which promises Spring and brings Winter … that destroys Life and Love … glorifies the Devil … and scoffs at the peace God alone can give’. The drug is supplied by a syndicate secretly headed by the young girl’s father. His hunchbacked Chinese agent, Lo Ki, seeking revenge on him after he is arrested, plots to enslave the daughter to drugs. When her father discovers she is taking cocaine, he shoots Lo Ki and commits suicide. The actress dies of a drug overdose. The girl is saved by the love of a faithful suitor. The British Board of Film Censors, who thought it glamorised drug-taking, banned it. But producer Herbert 18

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

Wilcox sought to get round the ban by appealing to the local authorities in London and Manchester who had the power to override the BBFC. London upheld the ban. But Manchester showed the film, regarding it as a powerful warning against the evil of drugs. The film was a success and the BBFC was compelled to reverse its decision but only after there had been some cuts, some rewording of inter-titles and a title change from Cocaine to While London Sleeps.10 What is striking about the Fu Manchu novels is the way in which they are triggered by events not in Chinatown but in China. The novels are not continuous. They come in cycles. The first cycle, the trilogy The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu (1913), The Devil Doctor (1916) and The Si-Fan Mysteries (1917), was undoubtedly stimulated by the 1911 Revolution and its implications. But then there is a long gap until 1931 when The Daughter of Fu Manchu begins a sequence of novels which lead up to the Second World War: The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), The Bride of Fu Manchu (1933), The Trail of Fu Manchu (1934), President Fu Manchu (1936), The Drums of Fu Manchu (1939) and The Island of Fu Manchu (1941). The trigger for this sequence was probably the rise of the Kuomintang. The final sequence The Shadow of Fu Manchu (1948), Re-enter Dr Fu Manchu (1957) and Emperor Fu Manchu (1959) follow on from the victory of Communism in China. Rohmer locates Fu Manchu precisely in the spectrum of Chinese politics in The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu: What group can we isolate and label as responsible for the overthrow of the Manchus? The casual student of modern Chinese history will reply:  ‘Young China’. This is unsatisfactory. What do you mean by Young China? In my own hearing, Fu Manchu had disclaimed, with scorn, association with the whole of that movement; and assuming that the name were not an assumed one, he clearly can have been no anti-Manchu, no Republican. The Chinese Republican is of the mandarin class, but of a new generation which veneers its Confucianism with Western polish. These youthful and unbalanced reformers, in conjunction with older but no less ill-balanced provincial politicians, may be said to represent Young China. Amid such turmoils as this we invariably look for, and invariably find, a Third Party. In my opinion, Dr Fu Manchu was one of the leaders of such a party.11

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China and the Chinese in Popular Film

The first three Fu Manchu novels, The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu (called The Insidious Dr Fu Manchu in America), The Devil Doctor (called The Return of Dr Fu Manchu in America) and The Si-Fan Mysteries (called The Hand of Fu Manchu in America) were written as serials, appearing first in magazines in Britain and America, and later in novel form in 1913, 1916 and 1917. They are more or less continuous and can be read as a sequence. They were written when memories of the Boxer Rebellion were still vivid and when the rise of the Chinese nationalist movement was causing unease in the West. The plots of the first three novels are very similar. They see Commissioner Nayland Smith and Dr Petrie attempting to halt the murderous career of Dr Fu Manchu, who on behalf of the mysterious organisation known as the Si-Fan seeks to silence all the important men aware of the awakening menace of China. The list of the Doctor’s actual or intended victims reads like a roll call of the Empire’s great men: Sir Crichton Davey of the India Office, the only man to understand the importance of the Tibetan frontier; Reverend J. D. Eltham, better known as ‘Parson Dan’, the fighting missionary whose teachings had been partly responsible for stirring up the Boxer Rebellion and who, ‘aided only by a dozen cripples and a German doctor’, had held the hospital at Nan-Yang against the Boxers; Sir Lionel Barton, the explorer, the first white man to enter Lhasa; Graham Guthrie, British resident in North Bhutan, and Henry Stradwick, Lord Southery, the finest engineer of his day. Intertwined with these episodes are a succession of attempts by the Doctor and his minions on the lives of Smith and Petrie by a menagerie of horrors bred by the Doctor in his laboratories or mysterious poisons or lethal torture devices. They include the Zayat Kiss, the Coughing Horror, the Snapping Fingers, the Green Mist and the Flower of Silence. The novel sequence is constructed upon a stark racial opposition of East and West, with Fu Manchu and Nayland Smith archetypal embodiments of Oriental villainy and Occidental heroism. When Nayland Smith first arrives in London, he tells Petrie:  ‘I have travelled from Burma not in the interests of the British Government merely, but in the interests of the entire white race, and I honestly believe, though I pray that I may be wrong, that its survival depends largely upon the success of my mission’. 20

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

Rohmer suggests the contrast between the sinister power of the East and the straightforward strength of the West, as a wave of exotic perfume sweeps into a room: It was a breath of the East – that stretched out a yellow hand to the West. It was symbolic of the subtle, intangible power manifested in Dr Fu Manchu, as Nayland Smith – lean, agile, bronzed by the suns of Burma – was symbolic of the clean British efficiency which sought to combat the insidious enemy.12

The sequence beginning in 1931 is much more cosmopolitan than the original trilogy. Reflecting Rohmer’s own travels, the novels are set in Egypt, America, the South of France, Venice, Haiti, with just one return to the old stamping ground in London, where Trail of Fu Manchu distinctly recalls the feel and atmosphere of the first three books. Nayland Smith, now a baronet and Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard, still pursues Fu but he has a succession of assistants, British and American. There is also a distinct change of image for Fu. Daughter of Fu Manchu is narrated by Shan Greville, who is in love with Rima, the niece of Sir Lionel Barton. In this book the Si-Fan, dormant since 1917, are reactivated by the mysterious Madame Ingomar, in reality Fah Lo Suee, the daughter of Fu Manchu. She plans to unite all the dangerous Eastern sects with the Si-Fan, and they include the brotherhood of Kali and the Ancient Order of the Hashishin (the Assassins) and then enter into an alliance with Russia, subdue Japan and Turkey and control the Near East and the Far East. Then at the end of the book Fu Manchu appears, reasserts control of the organisation and delivers himself to Nayland Smith of the following speech: Yes, now, by a paradox, we stand together … My methods are not your methods. Perhaps I have laughed at your British scruples. Perhaps a day may come, Sir Denis, when you will join in my laughter. But, as much as I  have hated you, I  have always admired your clarity of mind and your tenacity. You were instrumental in defeating me, when I had planned to readjust the centre of world power. No doubt you thought me mad  – a megalomaniac. You were wrong … I  worked for my country. I saw China misruled, falling into decay; with all her vast resources, becoming prey for carrion. I hoped to give China the place in the world to which her intellect, her industry, and her

21

China and the Chinese in Popular Film ideals entitle her. I hoped to reawaken China. My methods, Sir Denis, were bad. My motive was good.

He goes on to denounce his daughter for reawakening the Si-Fan: Misdirected, at such a crisis of history as this, it could only mean another world war! I dragged myself from retirement … to check the madness of Fah-Lo-Suee. Some harm she has done. But I have succeeded. Tonight, again, I am lord of the Si-Fan.13

The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) was set entirely in the Middle East. It opens following the discovery near the Persian–Afghan border of the lost tomb of El Mokanna, the eighth-century Muslim leader known as ‘The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan’, a character in Thomas Moore’s 1817 poetic cycle Lalla Rookh, which was probably Rohmer’s inspiration for his inclusion in the book. Sir Lionel Barton’s expedition has recovered from the tomb the mask, sword and other relics of the Prophet. But now fanatical imams all over the Middle East preach of the return of the Prophet and unrest is reported everywhere from Afghanistan to Egypt. Fu Manchu seeks to obtain the relics, causing the murder of expedition member Dr Von Berg. Assistant Commissioner Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard flies to Basra and heads an expedition up country to help foil Fu Manchu. After many encounters and narrow escapes, Fu Manchu kidnaps Barton’s niece Rima and she is exchanged for the relics in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid at Giza. But Smith and Barton have substituted fakes for the real relics and when this gets out, the rebellions subside. However, Fu has the last laugh by switching the fakes back for the real relics and sending a wedding present to the nuptials of Rima and her fiancé, the young action hero of the book Shan Greville. For the next two novels, Rohmer introduces a new hero now that Greville and Rima are settled but their story duplicates that of Petrie and Karamaneh. The Bride of Fu Manchu (1933) is set largely in the South of France where Dr Petrie has been summoned by the authorities to deal with an outbreak of a mysterious disease, to which he himself succumbs. It turns out that Fu Manchu is experimenting with plague germs. The hero is an American orchid hunter Alan Sterling (whose father was a Scottish doctor who migrated to America). He cooperates with Nayland Smith to thwart Fu. The romantic theme has him fall for the mysterious beautiful Fleurette, 22

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

who turns out to be the daughter of Petrie and Karamaneh. She had been stolen away in childhood and was intended by Fu as his bride, to provide him with a son, in place of his unreliable daughter. There is nothing remotely erotic about this relationship; it is a purely scientific arrangement. He says ‘Neither love nor passion will enter the union.’14 A large part of the book has Sterling a prisoner in Fu’s lair, encountering his various creatures and outlandish experiments, confirming the image of Fu as mad scientist. But Rohmer is now going out of his way to stress that Fu is not typically Chinese. He has Alan Sterling say: ‘I knew something of the Chinese, having met and employed many of them. I had found them industrious, kindly and simple.’15 Fu, however, is now moving into the realm of eugenics. Why has he created his new plague? He tells Sterling: Millions of useless lives cumber the world to-day … The ideal state of the great Greek philosopher took no count of these. There can be no human progress without selection; and already I have chosen the nucleus of my new state. The East has grown in spirit, while the West has been building machinery … My new state will embody the soul of the East … The Plagues of Egypt I hold in my hands.16

However, Petrie is revived, Fleurette rescued and Fu captured, only to escape, ready for the next book. The Trail of Fu Manchu (1934) takes up the story where it ended with Bride. Fu has got Fleurette back into his clutches again and returns to England, pursued by Sterling and Smith. With this novel, we are back in the Edwardian world of the earliest novels with London smothered in fog, and Smith penetrating Limehouse opium dens and Chinatown flophouses in disguise. This time Fu’s headquarters is a series of disused tunnels under the Thames where he is using a blast furnace to produce gold from dead bodies which are fed into the flames – apparently a formula of the medieval philosopher Paracelsus. When Nayland Smith is captured by Fu, Fu’s daughter Fah Lo Suee expresses her love for him, tries to rescue him and is forced by her father to take poison when she is foiled. At the end, Fu releases Fleurette from his hypnotic power in return for Petrie administering to him the life-giving elixir which allows him to fight again, after his under-river base has been destroyed and his latest plans foiled. 23

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In 1935, Rohmer visited America and in 1936 there appeared President Fu Manchu. This centres on a plot by Fu Manchu to gain control of the United States through the presidency. Nayland Smith, a baronet ‘for his services not only to the British Empire but to the world’,17 is Federal Agent 56, given special powers by the American government. His aide in all this, Captain Mark Hepburn, a young American secret service agent, provides the romantic subplot – falling in love with and rescuing Mrs Moya Adair, one of Fu’s agents. Fu’s aim, as he himself puts it, is ‘selfless’. He says: My crimes, so termed, have been merely the removal from my path of those who obstructed me. Always I have dreamed of a sane world, yet men have called me mad; of a world in which war should be impossible, disease eliminated, over-population checked, labour found for all willing hands – a world of peace.18

He seems to be working through Harvey Bragg, rabble-rousing Southern demagogue, renowned for his scandalous private life – he is known as the Bluebeard of the Backwoods  – but the founder of the League of Good Americans, numbering some 15 million people, a nativist organisation through which Bragg has provided jobs for the homeless and the hopeless. Fu has gained control of the underworld in the USA. As Fu says, In the United States, I have found a crude, but efficient organization ready to my hand. Prohibition attracted to this country the trained law-breakers of the world. They had no purpose but that of personal gain. The sanity of President Roosevelt has terminated some of these promising careers. Many spiders are missing, but the webs can be mended.19

He uses the forces of organised crime to support the ambitions of Bragg. Bragg argues the advantages of dictatorship and is seen as ‘the coming Hitler of the United States’. Fu has his Republican rival for the presidency, Dr Orwin Prescott, kidnapped and brainwashed, so that he loses a vital Carnegie Hall debate with Bragg. Bragg is in pole position for the presidency when – on Fu’s orders – he is assassinated by a brainwashed assassin. His confidential secretary, Paul Salvaletti, a creature of Fu, steps into his place and capitalises on the nationwide shock and grief to propel him 24

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

towards the White House. Smith manages to use radio to defeat Fu’s plot. He gives vital information to Dom Patrick Donegal, Abbot of Holy Thorn, the celebrated radio priest, who in a broadcast reveals that Fu Manchu is the force behind the League of Good Americans and the assassination of Harvey Bragg, and that Salvaletti, an Italian-born unfrocked priest is Fu’s creature. The police close in on Fu but once again demonstrating his quixotic nature, he cures Moya Adair’s son of diphtheria, before being apparently swept away over the Niagara Falls while trying to escape in a small boat. Once again, Rohmer has drawn on real-life politics for his story. Harvey Bragg is undoubtedly modelled on Huey Long, the demagogic populist Governor of Louisiana, who was indeed assassinated in 1935 and Dom Patrick Donegal on Father Charles Coughlin, the influential Catholic radio priest, pastor of the shrine of the Little Flower in Royal Oak, Michigan. During the early 1930s, he broadcast regularly attacking the Republicans, bankers, socialists and the uneven distribution of wealth and supporting Roosevelt. But in 1935, he broke with Roosevelt and thereafter launched violent attacks on him for failing to drive the moneychangers from the temple and arrogating dictatorial powers to himself. He was formally reprimanded by the Pope in 1937 for his vehemence. But in President Fu Manchu he is a convenient vehicle for exposing the plot. Even more intriguing, the story totally foreshadows the plot of Richard Condon’s The Manchurian Candidate which was turned into a hit film in 1962. Could Condon have been giving us a clue in his title? Should it have been The Fu Manchu-rian Candidate? There is, however, a constitutional flaw in Rohmer’s narrative. Salvaletti was born in Italy and is under the American constitution ineligible to stand for president, a rule which has prevented the advent of President Henry Kissinger or President Arnold Schwarzenegger. Drums of Fu Manchu, published in 1939, is a very strange book indeed. Nayland Smith has a new assistant, Bart Kerrigan, writer and journalist, and Kerrigan provides the romantic interest, duplicating the romance of Dr Petrie and Karamaneh. The narrative which combines the familiar litany of chases, escapes and rescues is a positive roman à clef. Sir Denis Nayland Smith enlists Kerrigan, explaining: 25

China and the Chinese in Popular Film The thing most desired, Kerrigan, by all women, by all sensible men, in this life is peace. Wars are made by few but fought by many. The greatest intellect in the world today has decided that there must be peace! It has become my business to try to save the lives of certain prominent persons who are blind enough to believe that they can make war.20

The greatest intellect is Fu Manchu and he and the Si-Fan have decided to deal with the fifteen men who they consider most likely to provoke an international war. Two of them are Rudolf Adlon, the dictator of Germany, and Pietro Monaghani, the dictator of Italy, clearly Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. The technique is to send the fifteen men three notices warning them to retire or give up their warlike plans or they will be killed. At the start of the book General Quinto, right-hand man to Monaghani, receives the three notices ordering him to resign and retire. He refuses and is mysteriously murdered while in London. Smith, who describes Fu as ‘Satan incarnate – a deathless spirit of evil dwelling in an ageless body’, admits that the aim of the Si-Fan to avert war ‘must enlist the sympathy of any sane man’ and that the removal of these fifteen would avert war. But it is his job to prevent that removal. The racial paranoia creeps in when Smith declares ‘the Si-Fan is the most formidable secret society in the world; fully twenty-five per cent of the coloured races belong to it’.21 Using the most up-to-date methods, Fu Manchu appears to Nayland Smith on a television set and urges him to join in the campaign for peace, making a powerful speech declaring that war only benefits profiteers.22 To gain his ends, Fu utilises Thugs, Zombies, the Green Death and the Thing with Red Eyes, a malignant dwarf. When Kerrigan captures Ardatha and declares piously that it is the duty of every decent Christian to arrest members of the Si-Fan, she defends the actions of the organisation by reference to the Italian bombing of Abyssinia: If the Si-Fan kills a man, that man is an active enemy. But when your Western murderers kill they kill men, women and children – hundreds –thousands who never harmed them – who never sought to harm anybody. My whole family … was wiped from life in one bombing raid. I alone escaped.23

26

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

Fu gives Kerrigan visions of the effects of war on China, Spain and in the future London to persuade him to join his campaign. Adlon arranges to meet Monaghani in Venice to concoct plans for war. Fu forbids the meeting and has Adlon seized. Kerrigan witnesses a confrontation between the captured Rudolf Adlon and Fu Manchu. Fu Manchu tells the German leader: Dictators … hitherto have served their appointed purpose. Their schemes of expansion I have been called upon to check … My agents inform me that a great majority desires peace. There are no more than twelve men living today who can cause war. You are one of them. Your ideals cross mine. You would dispense with Christ, with Mohammed, with Buddha, with Moses. But not one of these ancient trees shall be destroyed … You have been ordered by the Council of Seven not to meet Pietro Monaghani – yet you are here! … I forbid this meeting. I speak for the Council of which I am the president. A European conflict would be inimical to my plans. If any radical change takes place in the world’s map, my own draughtsmen will make it.24

Adlon defies Fu and refuses to abandon his meeting with Monaghani. As a consequence, he is murdered, though his death is given out as being from natural causes. Monaghani abandons his warlike plans and the ruler of Turkey retires (‘a bloodless victory for Fu Manchu’). The final encounter involves the French statesman Marcel Delibes, who has endangered peace by mobilising the French army. He ignores Fu’s warnings. To save his life, Nayland Smith drugs him and cancels the mobilisation in his name, effectively carrying out Fu’s plans. The Island of Fu Manchu, which is one of the most exciting stories of the series, is set largely in Haiti, where Fu with his headquarters on an extinct volcano becomes involved in the use of zombies and voodoo. Once again, Sir Lionel Barton is kidnapped because he has a chart revealing the hiding place of the treasure of Henri Christophe, first black ruler of an independent Haiti. It is a huge cave which Fu wants to use as a submarine base for his newly developed fleet of submarines. Rohmer seems to be going out of his way to acquit himself of charges of racism. He has several characters praise Christophe as ‘a negro genius’ and he includes this passage about two blacks who dally in the forest on their way to a voodoo ceremony: ‘She had woven a chaplet of flowers into her hair, and watching them as they passed 27

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

and were lost to view, I  knew that although a woman missionary might have been shocked, there was nothing bestial and nothing vile and nothing of shame in the strange reversion to primitive type.’25 He is at pains to point out that the Si-Fan is not exclusively Chinese: ‘it is an ancient organization, and a very powerful one. It is controlled by a Chinese genius. It includes all races and creeds – all shades of colour.’26 Father Ambrose also confirms that voodoo has both black and white followers. Then again Fu is mellowing further. He refuses to deal with the Nazis and offers his services to the Allies and the United States, saying to Smith: ‘dismiss from your mind your picture of myself as a common criminal. I am no more a criminal than was Napoleon, no more a criminal than Caesar.’27 But before anything can be done, his headquarters is blown up. In 1947, Sax Rohmer and his wife moved to New York, eventually settling in White Plains, Westchester County. His reason for moving was the high taxes in Britain and the diminution of outlets for his work as many magazines had closed during the war due to the paper shortage. His work was still in demand in the USA and so they remained there for the rest of Sax’s life. This had an effect on his fiction. He wrote a stage play based on Fu’s adventures but when he failed to find a producer turned it into a novel, The Shadow of Fu Manchu (1948), though it remains obstinately stagebound in its nature and extent. Smith, now the ex-chief of the CID, is in New York at the request of the FBI and has been given ‘almost autocratic powers by Washington’. Dr Morris Craig, one of the most brilliant physicists Oxford University ever produced, is in America working for a private organisation, the Huston Electric Company, run by Michael Frobisher. He has developed a device which can tap into the ultraviolet rays 100 miles above the earth and use them to neutralise the power of atomic warfare. So Britain, the Soviet Union and Fu Manchu, posing as a Viennese psychiatrist, are all after the plans. Rohmer is now definitely softening his stance to Fu, saying: ‘He doesn’t work for personal gain. He’s a sort of cranky idealist.’28 He plays down the Oriental origins of the Si-Fan with Smith saying: ‘Fu Manchu’s organization isn’t primarily Chinese, or even Oriental. He’s head of a group known as the Council of Seven. They have affiliations in every walk of society and in every country, as I believe.’ When Fu confronts Smith, he declares: ‘My mission is to save the world from the leprosy of Communism. Only I can do this. And I do 28

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

it, not because of any love I have for the American people, but because if the United States falls, the whole world falls.’ Smith replies: ‘I appreciate your aims. I don’t like your methods.’29 Fu has become a Cold War warrior. He makes anti-Communist speeches throughout the book, eventually gains the plans and exposes the industrialist Frobisher as an agent of the Kremlin, before escaping. Re-enter Doctor Fu Manchu (1957) is basically a rehash of Shadow. Brian Merrick Jr., son of a US senator, recently graduated from Oxford University, is recruited to assist Nayland Smith, once again working for Washington by arrangement with London. Smith has rescued world-famous physicist Dr Otto Hessian from behind the Iron Curtain. He has developed a system utilising sound-waves to counteract nuclear weapons. Fu, who is pretending to work for the Communists on a plot to assassinate the US president, is in fact aiming to use the sound system to make US bases invulnerable to attack. This would render the Communists powerless and enable Fu to raise his vast anti-Communist underground movement in the East and wrest control of the East from the Communists. ‘There’d be no holding him’ says Smith, ‘I assure you, Merrick, that Hitler and Stalin were babes and sucklings compared to Dr Fu Manchu.’30 But this is one of the periodic statements Smith makes, as if to reassure himself, that Fu is a mad genius, whereas his politics seem completely sane. The novelty in the story is that for much of the narrative Nayland Smith is in fact a double, an actor altered by plastic surgery, and planted to replace Smith, who is held prisoner. The final Fu Manchu novel, Emperor Fu Manchu (1959) was the first to be set in China and it brought the politics of the series full circle. Fu Manchu tells his ally, provincial governor General Huan Tsung-Chao: ‘I shall restore this ancient Empire to more than its former glory. Communism, with its vulgarity, its glorification – and enslavement – of the workers, I shall sweep from the earth! What Bonaparte did, I shall do, and as he did, I shall win control of the West as well as of the East.’31 He proposes therefore to make himself Emperor, with the help of the Si-Fan, of whose existence Peking is unaware. Much of the action centres on the existence of a secret base in Szechuan province where the Russians, as allies of the Communist Chinese, are developing new strains of germ warfare. Fu plans to take over the base with the aid of an army of Chinese zombies, known as the Cold Men. 29

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

Fu seizes the medical missionary Dr Cameron-Gordon and seeks to put him to work, saying to him: Your mulish obstinacy in ignoring my high purpose begins to annoy me … You are well aware of the fact that I do not strike at random. Only the guilty suffer. You persist in confusing my aims with those of the crazy Communist fools who wrecked your mission hospital. You presume to classify my work with that of the ignorant, power-drunk demagogues who have forced their way into the Kremlin … Dr Cameron-Gordon, I respect your knowledge. I respect your courage. But I cannot respect your blindness to the fact that our ideals are identical. My methods of achieving them are beyond your understanding.32

He says of the Si-Fan:  ‘It is unavoidable, Doctor, if the present so-called civilization is not to perish, that some intellectual group, such as that which I mention, should put an end to the pretensions of the gang of impudent impostors who seek to create a Communist world … And the Si-Fan can do this.’33 Once again Nayland Smith, who wrongly believes him to be the power behind the Communist regime and the germ warfare plot, is on Fu’s trail and as so often is captured. He tells Smith: I hope to make you understand that it is my methods and not my ideals against which you have fought, without notable success, for many years. In England, I agree, those methods were unusual. In consequence, your Scotland Yard, branded me a common criminal. My political aims were described as ‘The Yellow Peril’ … You are perfectly well aware that the Si-Fan is international. Ridding China of Communism is one of its objectives – yes. But ridding the world of this Russian pestilence is its main purpose. In this purpose do we, or do we not, stand on common ground … Work with me, for we labour in a common cause, not against me.

Smith declares that collaboration is impossible. Fu replies resignedly: ‘I never despair of convincing you one day that your government, and others, must accept me, as they have accepted the puppet regime at Peking.’34 Fu and his minions destroy the Soviet base; Smith and his 30

‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu

cohorts escape, taking with them the Si-Fan Register which lists all the members of the secret organisation and which Smith believes may help smash Fu’s dreams of Empire; and there the saga ends. But the Fu of Emperor is very different from the Fu of Mystery. He and Smith are on the same side in essence and what has happened with Rohmer and Fu is what happened with Galsworthy and Soames Forsyte. In The Man of Property and the early novels of the Edwardian era Soames is the villain, cold, possessive, ruthless, a man who rapes his wife when she resists his sexual demands. But by the end of the novel cycle in the 1920s, the now elderly Soames has become a symbol of all the vanished virtues and certainties of the pre-war world, a man of integrity and devotion to his daughter. There is another fascinating development too. Nayland Smith’s agents have hitherto been British or American. His agent in Emperor is indeed American, Captain Tony MacKay of the US army, but he has a Chinese grandmother, speaks Chinese and looks sufficiently Chinese to pass as a native. One of the sub-plots of the book is his love affair with a fugitive Chinese girl Yueh Hua (Moon Flower), whom he takes up with. She turns out to be in reality Jeanie Cameron-Gordon, the daughter of Dr Cameron-Gordon and his Chinese wife. So we have a part-Chinese hero and heroine. By a final irony in 1959, Rohmer contracted Asian Flu and was so enfeebled by it that he died later in the year. But this was not the end of Fu Manchu. The novels were revived in the 1960s in paperback and sold very well. They remain in print to this day. It is impossible to overestimate the influence of Rohmer in shaping the popular image of the Chinese. Robert Bickers has suggested of Rohmer:  ‘it is unlikely that many British men reached adulthood in the two or three decades after 1913 without having read works like his Fu Manchu novels’.35 Rohmer was as popular in America as he was in Britain. William Wu, who has made a study of Chinese Americans in American fiction between 1850 and 1940 called The Yellow Peril, says that Fu Manchu was ‘the first Asian role of prominence in modern literature to have a large American readership’.36 It played to fears and prejudices already well-established: fear of invasion and subversion from Asia; belief in the biological inferiority of the Chinese in racist theory and ingrained conceptions of the moral 31

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degeneracy of the Chinese, promoted by decades of nineteenth-century accounts by American traders, diplomats and missionaries. American Chinatowns in cities like San Francisco, the criminal activities of the tongs, opium, revenge narratives and the threat of miscegenation all featured in popular fiction involving the Chinese. This inevitably spread from literature to the cinema.

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3 The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu

From the 1920s onwards, the cinema became intertwined with the novels in the unfolding saga of Dr Fu Manchu. Having been written as magazine serials, the first three novels were ideally designed for adaption as film serials. The first screen adaptations of the Fu Manchu stories appeared in 1923 in Britain; the fifteen-episode serial Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu and its follow-up in 1924, the eight-episode The Further Mysteries of Dr Fu Manchu. The first series was directed and written by A.  E. Coleby and starred H. Agar Lyons as Fu Manchu and Fred Paul as Nayland Smith. For the second series, Fred Paul also took on the job of writing and directing. The two serials were based on the first three novels but with the various episodes reordered. The National Film Archive recently recovered and restored fourteen of the fifteen episodes of the first serial (episode one no longer exists). But of the second serial only two episodes survive. The fourteen episodes were shown at the National Film Theatre in 2003. The series turned out to be a quite faithful screen transcription of the books. For the most part the direction is unimaginative  – the director cuts from one medium shot set-up to the next with an occasional change of camera angle and in most episodes only a handful of close-ups. The interiors are stagey, the lighting flat and humdrum. In one episode, number twelve, there is a much greater use of close-ups and this increases the 33

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

dramatic intensity. There is a striking sequence done effectively in long shot in which Dr Petrie escapes on a ball and chain hanging from a crane and swings back and forth shooting at Fu and his gang. Interest is sustained by the non-stop action, the variety of incidents and fascinating use of outdoor locations which include scenes shot on the Thames, in docklands, Waterloo Station, the British Museum, Madame Tussaud’s, the Tower of London, Harley St, the West End and various suburban streets, probably in Cricklewood where the film’s production company Stoll had their studio. Fred Paul makes a sturdy, pipe-smoking and authoritative Nayland Smith but the Irish actor H.  Agar Lyons is extraordinarily hammy even for a silent film villain, sneering, cackling, gloating and screwing his eyes up with excessive relish. He does not look remotely Chinese and comes across more as a pantomime villain than a sinister mastermind. Although often in Oriental garb, he appears from time to time in frock coat, cape, broad-brimmed hat and spats, looking for all the world like an out-of-work Edwardian actor-manager with a disconcerting resemblance to Wilfrid Brambell. There is little overt racism and in fact Stoll Studios seemed desperately short of Chinese extras. There are three in episode five but they are never seen again and for the most part Fu’s followers are Occidentals in black-face makeup. One explanation for this may be the campaign inaugurated in the 1920s by Chinese students to persuade their fellow Chinese not to participate as extras in films seen as anti-Chinese. None of the other film versions were to provide faithful adaptations of the books. In fact the most faithful versions of the books came on radio. In 1931, the NBC Blue Network in America broadcast a twelve-episode adaptation of The Daughter of Fu Manchu with Arthur Hughes as Fu Manchu. In 1932, CBS in Chicago produced a Fu Manchu serial in thirty-one episodes with the British actor Charles Warburton as Nayland Smith and John C. Daly (later replaced by Harold Huber) as Fu. Rohmer himself attended the broadcast of the first episode and gave a short talk and the cast performed in costume as a tribute to the author. In Britain from 6 December 1936 to 28 November 1937, the commercial station Radio Luxembourg ran a fifty-two episode Fu Manchu serial, based on the first three books. The entire series was rebroadcast on Radio Lyons between 7 March 1937 and 6 March 1938. Rohmer himself scripted 34

The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu

the first half of the series and supervised the scripting of the second half which was by his wife Elizabeth and his future biographer Cay Van Ash. D. A. Clarke-Smith played Nayland Smith. Petrie was successively played by Jack Lambert, John Rae, Gordon MacLeod and Cameron Hall, all of them Scottish, suggesting that for this version Petrie was performed with a Scottish accent. Frank Cochrane, veteran stage performer of Chinese roles, played Fu. Cochrane told Radio Pictorial (19 February 1937) that he was thoroughly enjoying the part: Fu Manchu has a definite personality, and a definite purpose. He is a keen wit and possesses a quick Oriental brain. He is a demon for power and wants to mould the world to his way of direction and thinking. The adventures of Dr Fu Manchu are full of unlikely happenings which have been so well treated that they convince the listener as being highly probable. Before settling down to listen, I suggest you turn out the lights in the room the moment you hear the gong, and take your mind into serious channels. This will help you enormously to catch the illusion.

Although these programmes have not survived, they remain vivid in the memory of at least one listener, the writer Mary Cadogan, who recalled: My brother and I  were absolutely enthralled by these programmes. Dr Fu Manchu was described as ‘arch-fiend of the Orient’, and every 15 minute episode began with a fearful crashing of what seemed like multi-layered glass. A  tremendous amount of drama seemed to be packed into those short radio episodes. Apart from fairly regular Saturday cinema visits, Radio Luxembourg was the highspot of my week’s entertainment and the brilliant and baffling Chinese doctor held top place … My mother always gave us a special ‘high tea’ on Sundays so that we could absorb Dr Fu Manchu’s exploits whilst savouring the delights of exotic foods like kippers and pomegranates.1

The evidence suggests that Fu Manchu was one of the most popular programmes on Radio Luxembourg.2 Where the Radio Luxembourg programmes have not survived, almost miraculously an American counterpart has. The Shadow of Fu Manchu was 35

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

broadcast in seventy-seven fifteen-minute episodes, first heard on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 May to 1 November 1939. It was made available in transcription and rebroadcast in various parts of the country, running in New York, for instance, from 18 March to 9 November 1940. Forty of the episodes have survived on elderly disks. The British actor Hanley Stafford played Nayland Smith, the American actor Gale Gordon played Dr Petrie and although Fu was uncredited, the role was played by Ted Osborne. The programme was based on the first three novels and The Bride of Fu Manchu. The series is a pitch-perfect realisation in atmosphere, incident and urgency of the original novels, comprehensively realising Rohmer’s vision and intention. It utilises much of Rohmer’s original dialogue which plays perfectly and the serial structure of the novels fits the fifteen-minute episode format. It breathes the ethos and atmosphere of Edwardian England with the campaign against Fu conducted by trains, taxis and telegrams, and sound effects memorably evoking the fogbound streets, the mysterious river, the remote country houses and the waterfront dives of Limehouse.3 The Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu (1929), directed by Rowland V. Lee and scripted by Lloyd Corrigan and Florence Ryerson, was Hollywood’s first sound film to tackle the doctor and was based on the original Rohmer novel. There is a fire-breathing dragon behind the credits and warning cards bearing a dragon smeared with blood are sent to those marked out for death. But this version subverts Rohmer’s novel completely. It transforms Fu from a criminal mastermind seeking world domination for the yellow races and the subjugation of the whites to a grief-crazed husband and father seeking individual revenge for the deaths of his wife and son, victims of European imperialism. The scriptwriters provide a backstory which takes place during the Boxer Uprising in 1900, and the relief of the foreign legations by an allied army, here represented by contingents of British, French, German and American soldiers marching behind their national flags. The film introduces Dr Fu Manchu as a scientist and humanitarian, dedicated, benign and trusting. He declares ‘the white men are kind and generous. They would not harm the house of Fu.’ He gives refuge to little Lia Eltham daughter of the English missionary Dr Eltham who is killed during the siege of the legations. But when the relieving European armies arrive and fleeing Boxers enter Fu’s garden, British troops under 36

The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu

Colonel Petrie bombard the house and garden, killing Fu’s wife and son. He swears to revenge himself on the officers leading the armies to the third generation. Fu denounces the whites as barbarians, devils and thieves and over ten years eliminates German, French and Russian commanders. His grief has turned him into what Smith calls a ‘diabolical genius and a madman’. He turns up in London. Rohmer’s Dr Petrie becomes the grandson of General Petrie and son of Sir John Petrie and they are marked out as victims of Fu. Fu uses a hypnotised Lia to help facilitate his vengeance and despite the activities of Inspector Nayland Smith of Scotland Yard succeeds in eliminating General Petrie and Sir John. Lia, who falls in love with Petrie and manages to resist Fu’s hypnotic power, is eventually captured along with Nayland Smith and Petrie. Fu plans to despatch them all with poisoned tea but the old Chinese ayah Fai Lu, who raised Lia and loves her, alerts the police. The police arrive in time to save them and Fu drinks the poisoned tea. Interestingly, Smith receives the cooperation of the Chinese Embassy in the hunt for Fu. The film incorporates from Rohmer the raid on Singapore Charlie’s and the mysterious events at the remote, windswept manor of Redmoat, secret passages, poison darts, fog, a mummy case and the river. The danger of miscegenation is removed by substituting English missionary’s daughter Lia Eltham for Arab slave girl Karamaneh as Petrie’s romantic interest. Australian character actor O. P. Heggie makes a sturdy, no-nonsense Nayland Smith. Throughout Warner Oland, who is entirely the wrong shape physically for Fu, imbues the role with enormous dignity and presence, suffusing his habitual politeness with an ever-present menace. Wholly unnecessary comic relief is introduced in the person of Sir John Petrie’s effeminate and idiotic secretary, Sylvester Wadsworth, played by William Austin. He turns up again in the sequel. The introduction of humour is invariably disastrous in the intense nightmare world of Rohmer. The Return of Dr Fu Manchu (1930), made back to back with The Mysterious Doctor Fu Manchu by the same director and same screenwriters, is deeply disappointing. Static, slow-moving and talky, it contains limited action, is devoid of background music and takes place mainly in three interiors (the country house, the abandoned dye works and the riverside warehouse). It opens effectively enough with an elaborate Oriental funeral for Fu Manchu, during which he slips out of the coffin and escapes to continue his 37

China and the Chinese in Popular Film

quest for vengeance, having previously not taken poison but a death simulation drug. Then Nayland Smith sits down with a journalist and outlines the plot of the previous film. Dr Petrie and Lia Eltham prepare to marry at the country house of her aunt. But there using the ‘Call of Siva’ (a device in the original novels), a gang of thugs in Fu’s service lure Lia’s police bodyguard to his death and kidnap her. Fu threatens to torture her unless Petrie surrenders himself. But Nayland Smith takes Petrie’s place and is flown to Fu’s headquarters in an abandoned dye works. In an elaborate game of cat and mouse, Fu threatens to destroy Smith’s mind with a new potion. But Lia, escaping from her imprisonment, disables Fu with a garrotte. Smith signals to searching planes with his cigar case which converts into a signal gun. As the police close in, Fu escapes with Lia again but is shot in the head. Increasingly paralysed by his wound, Fu sends for Petrie to come to his warehouse hideout and operate, promising in return to release Lia from his hold on her mind. After the operation is successful and Lia is freed, Fu prepares to escape holding a bomb to threaten his pursuers, but Smith pushes him into the Thames, the bomb explodes and he is apparently killed. The lovers are reunited. These two films were comparatively well received by the press. Variety (24 July 1929) called The Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu: ‘A first class mystery story, shrewdly built up with new twists of the familiar devices, rich in surprises and suspense and splendidly acted and produced.’ It praised the ‘flawless performances’ and ‘lavish’ production values. Film Daily (28 July 1929) thought the direction ‘very good’, the photography ‘fine’ and Oland’s acting ‘superlative’. It predicted success, given the popularity of the stories. The New York Times (28 July 1929) rather condescendingly commented that ‘for melodrama – it is quite entertaining’. The Times of London (1 October 1929) thought it: a good magazine thriller aiming at no subtleties of plot or direction. Mr Roland Lee (sic) has managed his material with skill, and has emphasised the refined cruelties so as to give us the maximum of suspense and excitement. The film is well cast, particularly in the case of Mr Warner Oland as the unctuous Chinaman and Miss Jean Arthur as the heroine.

Variety (7 May, 1930) took a less charitable view of the sequel saying: 38

The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu As a picture it’s absurd, being Hollywood imposed on a really skilfully made story with the excellences of the book written down to the dumbest level in the audience mass. Best that can be said of the production is that this audience didn’t laugh at its creepy sequences and that is a fair test. Whole affair rates program material, nicely played, and a good technical production, but gosh awful literary quality.

The London Times (16 August, 1930) noted that the chief merit of the film was the fact that ‘its excitements surpass its improbabilities’. The third of the trilogy, Daughter of the Dragon (1931), although ostensibly based on the novel Daughter of Fu Manchu bore no relation to the book. It was co-scripted like the previous two by Lloyd Corrigan and Florence Ryerson, with Corrigan taking over directing duties from Rowland V. Lee. It has Fu returning twenty years after the action of the previous film to complete his quest for vengeance on the Petrie family. Dr Jack Petrie (now Sir John) is poisoned by Fu who is mortally wounded as he escapes. He dies and his daughter, Princess Ling Moy, swears to complete his work by killing Ronald, Sir John Petrie’s son. But the central conflict of the film is that she is torn between her genuine love for Ronald and her duty to her father. Instead of Nayland Smith, the central detective Ah Kee, is Chinese. He also falls in love with Ling Moy. Eventually she has Ronald and his girlfriend Joan captured and plans to kill them. With a refinement of cruelty, she threatens to disfigure Joan with acid unless Ronald stabs her to death. Joan implores him to do it, to save her from the pain. But they are rescued in the nick of time by the police. Ling Moy escapes to make one final attempt on Ronald’s life. She is shot dead by Ah Kee, himself badly injured during his escape from captivity. He dies declaring his love for her. With a top-billed Chinese-American Anna May Wong playing Ling Moy and Japanese Sessue Hayakawa playing the heroic Chinese detective Ah Kee, it is a much more sympathetic and authentic portrayal than other film versions, though only tangentially related to the novels. Harold Minjir, playing the nervous, effeminate secretary Rogers, seemed to be there to give an impersonation of William Austin’s Wadsworth in the previous films. The London Times (2 November, 1931) said: 39

China and the Chinese in Popular Film Judged solely as a study in crime and its detection, Daughter of the Dragon is a quite pathetic failure … Luckily for film audiences Ling Moy is played by Anna May Wong and a magnificent struggle she puts up in her efforts to wrest some kind of interest and coherence from the welter of rubbish with which she is faced.

The critic noted that Sessue Hayakawa ‘supports her nobly’. But Film Daily (23 August 1931) proclaimed it ‘weak entertainment, owing to preposterous and draggy story … The players are much better than the story. The picture will have its best chances when shown before undiscriminating audiences.’ Variety (25 August 1931) said: ‘Youngsters may get a kick out of the incongruous and silly action of part of this picture, but are likely to take badly to it, making it screen fodder that’s fit mostly for combo programmes.’ That terminated Paramount’s series of Fu Manchu films. It was in 1932 that Irving Thalberg, the ‘boy wonder’ of MGM, decided to seek to emulate the success enjoyed by Universal Pictures with Dracula and Frankenstein. He authorised the production of three films that were to be a potent combination of sadism and sex. MGM – of all studios – formally announced in 1932 that they would ‘go all out for sex’.4 The films then produced were Tod Browning’s Freaks, with its story of betrayal and revenge amongst circus freaks; Kongo, directed by William Cowen and starring Walter Huston, a lurid melodrama in which a crippled ivory trader in Africa, Deadlegs Flint, seeks revenge on the man who crippled him by kidnapping the man’s daughter and having her brought up in a Zanzibar brothel until she turns into a drink-addicted prostitute; and the third of the trio was The Mask of Fu Manchu. But MGM seemed to have gone too far. Freaks had preview audiences fleeing from the cinema. The film was banned in Britain for thirty years. A horrified Louis B. Mayer sold it off to an independent distributor to remove its taint from the company. Of Kongo, film historian John Baxter wrote in Hollywood in the Thirties ‘few Hollywood films are so relentless in their sadism’.5 Then came The Mask of Fu Manchu. Rohmer’s novel had been serialised in Collier’s Magazine in 1932 and MGM purchased the film rights. The process of scripting Mask conformed to MGM’s new credo. Producer Hunt Stromberg devised a series of exotic and terrifying torture scenes, none of them in Rohmer’s book, and then instructed a team of 40

The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu

screenwriters to build a scenario round them derived from elements of Rohmer’s book. The three writers eventually credited were John Willard (author of the classic comedy-horror old dark house play The Cat and the Canary), Edgar Allen Woolf, co-writer of Freaks, and the otherwise unknown Irene Kuhn. They make the battle over the ancient relics central to the plot but unlike the book include the expedition to and opening of the tomb. The relics now become the mask and scimitar of Genghis Khan (presumably deemed more familiar to audiences than Thomas Moore’s early nineteenth-century poetic creation El Mokanna). Fu plans to use them to raise the East in a war against the West, posing as the reincarnation of Genghis Khan. This necessitates changing the location of the story from the Middle East (Egypt, Syria, Persia and Iraq) of the book to the Far East (China, Mongolia). Dr Von Berg, murdered at the start of the book, survives in the film to be one of the band of heroes who thwart Fu. It is Sir Lionel Barton who is tortured, mutilated and eventually murdered as Fu seeks to extract the location of the tomb. The expedition, accompanied by Barton’s daughter Sheila (replacing Rima the niece) and her fiancé Terry Granville (replacing the book’s Shan Greville) find the tomb and the relics. Terry, at Sheila’s prompting, takes the relics to Fu to exchange for Sir Lionel. Fu discovers they are fakes substituted by Smith and has Terry flogged and injected with a serum making him the slave of his will. Terry then arranges for Fu’s minions to seize the relics and capture Sheila and Von Berg. Smith manages to get into Fu’s palace, only to be captured. But he escapes and frees Terry and Von Berg. Just as Fu, wearing the mask and carrying the sword, is about to sacrifice Sheila to his gods amid a great gathering of his followers, Terry kills him and Smith and Von Berg turn a ray gun on the followers, wiping them out en masse. The film is a deliriously camp masterpiece, perversely erotic and melodramatically exotic. It boasts some stunningly effective, intricate and ornate Chinoiserie sets by Cedric Gibbons, atmospheric photography by Tony Gaudio and bravura performances from Boris Karloff and Myrna Loy. Karloff borrowed from Universal to play Fu, evil, leering, long-finger-nailed, introduces himself in sardonic style when the captured Sir Lionel Barton declares ‘You’re Fu Manchu, aren’t you?’ ‘I am a doctor of philosophy from Edinburgh, I am a doctor of law from Christ’s College, I am a doctor of medicine from Harvard. My friends out of courtesy call me Doctor.’ He 41

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Figure 3.1. Boris Karloff in The Mask of Fu Manchu

subsequently presides with relish over hideous tortures. Myrna Loy reaching the end of the exotic vamp phase of her career and appalled by the part, as she recalled in her autobiography, plays Fah Lo Suee, Fu’s daughter as a sadistic nymphomaniac, rather than the quixotically romantic figure she is in the books.6 Lewis Stone plays the stalwart pillar of the Empire, 42

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Nayland Smith. Scene after memorable scene follow each other in rapid succession: bandaged mummies emerge from mummy cases to kidnap Sir Lionel Barton in the heart of the British Museum; Barton is subjected to the horrific torture of the Bell; the finding and opening of the tomb, modelled on the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 (to which reference is made); Terry, a captive of Fu, is stripped and flogged by two half-naked black men while Fah Lo Suee cries ‘Faster, faster’ and later caresses his bruised and bleeding body, cooing, ‘he is not entirely unhandsome is he, my father’, to which Fu snorts: ‘For a white man’; Nayland Smith visiting an opium den and starting a fire; Smith precipitated through a trap door into a snake pit; Terry, naked but for a loin cloth, strapped to a block and injected with serum which we see being drawn from a horrifying menagerie of snakes and spiders; the torture of Von Berg and Smith, the former tied between two spiked panels which close in on him and Smith tied to a seesaw over a crocodile pit. There might have been even more of this sex and sadism were it not for the fact that the MGM front office, badly rattled by the Freaks affair, were appalled by the rushes they saw from The Mask of Fu Manchu. Production was suspended. Hungarian-born director Charles Vidor was sacked and replaced by the Englishman Charles Brabin, who was himself hauled in from Rasputin and the Empress which he was in the middle of directing. Several roles were recast (Gertrude Michael was replaced by Karen Morley in the role of Sheila Barton, Herbert Bunston by C. Montague Shaw as Lord Fairgyle). Script amendments were hastily made and sequences reshot. A scene in which Terry, freed from the thrall of Fah Lo Suee, strangles her after she tries to stab him was cut, so Fah Lo Suee now vanishes from the narrative without explanation.7 For the most part the critics were appalled or indifferent. The trade paper Variety (6 December 1932) did not conceal its distaste: Everybody is handicapped by the story and situations. It is strange how bad such troupers as Stone and Hersholt can look when up against such an assignment as this. Miss Morley, miscast, is … disappointing… That Karloff is still doing the Frankenstein monster is hardly concealed by a mandarin’s robe.

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New York Post (12 March 1932) opined: it is difficult to accept what goes on in this latest of the Fu Manchu series as having anything to do with reality … Pictures of this kind are effective only when the human element predominates. ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu’ looks as if it had been directed by an interior decorator who … thought he was Cecil B. De Mille.

New York Herald-Tribune (3 December 1932) on the contrary said: ‘Some of the sets are good, and so is Lewis Stone as the valiant Nayland Smith. But both Mr Karloff and his vehicle are more fatiguing than dramatic.’ New  York News (4 December 1932)  recorded:  ‘In spite of the mystery, the tortures, the horrors, our fellow perusers at the Capitol didn’t seem awed – only bored. The movie is awfully long, and, for its length and plot, decidedly inconsequential.’ The Brooklyn Eagle (5 December 1932) called it ‘a pallid and fairly monotonous spectacle’. The public seem not to have agreed. The seventy-two-minute long film cost $327,627 to produce and grossed $377,000 in domestic rentals and $248,000 in foreign rentals. The film was rejected outright by Switzerland, Straits Settlement (Malaya), and Finland. Japan, New Zealand and Australia cut various whipping and torture scenes. Britain cut the scene of Terry being flogged, the opium den, the scene of a snake biting a native. France and Japan cut the most inflammatory anti-white speeches of Fu. In addition to the sadism and eroticism, the film is blatantly racist, far more so than the book. In the book, Nayland Smith concedes a nobility of motive to Fu. Shan Greville says: No desire for personal aggrandizement inspired him, Nayland Smith had assured me. He aimed to lift China from the mire into which China had fallen. He was, according to his peculiar lights, a great patriot. And, this I knew, according to these same peculiar lights, he was scrupulously honourable. True, the terms he had extorted upon the strength of the abduction of Rima had been blackmail at its vilest, but blackmail of a kind acceptable to his own code. We had agreed to his terms and set our names to that agreement. Such implicit trust had he placed in our English honour that he had met us alone – the gesture of a great man if a great villain. And in all good faith on the part of

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The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu Nayland Smith and myself we had tricked him! Would he have tricked us in quite that way?8

In the film, Nayland Smith says of Fu: ‘He is insane for power … Should Fu Manchu ever put that mask across his wicked eyes and take that scimitar into his bony, cruel hands all Asia rises. He’ll declare himself Genghis Khan come to life again and he’ll lead hundreds of millions of men to sweep the world.’ That is the authentic voice of imperial paranoia. Later Fah Lo Suee is called before a gathering of Fu’s followers to expound her vision: I have seen a vision. The prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Genghis Khan … comes back to us. I’ve seen a vision of countless hordes swarming to recapture the world. I’ve seen them victorious. I hear the shouts of the dead and dying drowned by the victorious shouts of our people. Genghis Khan comes back. Genghis Khan leads the East against the world.

It was the racism that was to cause the film problems in its subsequent life. In 1972 when MGM considered reissuing the film as part of a triple bill of classic horror films, the Japanese American Citizens League urged MGM to suppress the film as ‘offensive and demeaning to Asian Americans’ (Variety, 1 May 1972). Later when in 1992 MGM released the film on video – and it is the same version that has been shown on television in recent years – the film was cut to remove what were considered the most offensive racist comments. This might be a good thing for modern susceptibilities but it is disastrous for the historian who needs to work with the original text or at least the one released on 2 December 1932. The cuts include: Fu snarling to Terry after the discovery of the fake scimitar: ‘You accursed son of a white dog’; Fu’s derogatory references to Christianity; Fu’s reply to Smith’s peremptory demand: ‘In the name of the British government I demand the release of this boy’. Fu says: ‘British government! I’ll wipe them and the whole accursed white race off the face of the earth when I get the sword and the mask.’ Most notably Fu’s inflammatory final speech is cut: The skies are red with the thunderbolts of Genghis Khan. They rain down and burn them. The sacrifice to our God. Would you all have maidens like this for your wives? Conquer and breed. Kill the white man and take his women. In the blood of Shiva’s bride I baptise this sword.

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The visual image of Fu created by Karloff became the model for all subsequent incarnations. There is no record of the Fu Manchu films being banned in China but it is unlikely that there was any attempt to export them there. Warner Bros withheld the Boris Karloff vehicle West of Shanghai from export to China. The Chinese Embassy in Washington apparently protested about MGM’s The Mask of Fu Manchu and Rohmer’s biographers believe that this prevented MGM from producing sequels.9 It is more likely that any potential sequel succumbed to Louis B. Mayer’s orders for MGM to abandon this vein of sensationalism and the tightening of the Hays Code in 1934 to purge the screen of excess. Certainly, MGM were very careful to consult the Chinese Consul in Los Angeles at every stage of the filming of the Chinese epic The Good Earth and the Nanking government supplied a senior army officer, General Ting Hsiu-Tu, to supervise the shooting of the revolutionary sequences in the film. As a result The Good Earth was not banned. When Drums of Fu Manchu was being filmed, the scripts were submitted to the Production Code Administration (PCA) and approved. But getting wind of the film, the Chinese Consul in Los Angeles, T. K. Chang, wrote to PCA chief Joseph Breen (22 January 1940) to say: It will be recalled that the picture bearing the name The Mask of Fu Manchu made several years ago had caused considerable resentment both to Chinese and American friends. Since the outbreak of hostilities in my country, there has been exhibited a genuine sympathy and anxious desire of the American people to understand our people in a better light. The allowance of the making of such a picture would hardly be conducive to good will and mutual understanding.

Breen reassured him (23 January 1940): ‘I am reasonably certain that there will be nothing in the picture that is likely to give you, or your people, any serious offense.’10 The consul might have been reassured by the evidence of Henry Brandon, who played Fu. He recalled: When I played Fu Manchu in the Republic serial DRUMS OF FU MANCHU, I’d go to a theatre nearby here in Hollywood, where they showed it and sit among the kids (they never recognized

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The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu me) – and I loved their reactions. Within two or three episodes, they were on my side! It was because I  was brighter than the others, and the kids went for intelligence, whether it was bad or good. But the PTAs – they didn’t like it at all, because the kids would wet the beds after seeing it. And the Chinese government raised plenty of hell! And that’s childish because I consider Fu Manchu as a fairy tale character – it’s not to be taken seriously.11

Protests still continue whenever the films are revived. Protests from AsianAmerican groups in 1972 caused the CBS television network to cancel a proposed showing of The Vengeance of Fu Manchu and KTLA television of Los Angeles did run Brides of Fu Manchu but with a disclaimer: ‘This feature is presented as fictional entertainment and is not intended to reflect adversely on any race, creed or national origin.’12 In 1940, Republic produced a fifteen-part serial Drums of Fu Manchu directed by William Witney and John English and scripted by no fewer than six writers. Although it bears the title of Rohmer’s 1939 novel, it takes nothing from it. In fact, it resembles closely the 1932 MGM film The Mask of Fu Manchu. The credit is ‘suggested by stories of Sax Rohmer’ and that gives an accurate impression of it. Certainly the authors are familiar with the corpus of Rohmer material. The story opens in Los Angeles where Sir Denis Nayland Smith, now a special representative of the British Foreign Office, teams up again with his old colleague Dr Petrie, now located in America, and Allen Parker, son of an American archaeologist Professor Parker. The story also involves Fu’s daughter, Fah Lo Suee, the Council of the Si-Fan, Fu’s band of murderous dacoits, and the familiar repertoire of Fu’s weaponry: the six gates of joyful wisdom from The Si-Fan Mysteries, the incense of obedience, a gelatinous poison dart, a deadly lizard, a trap door leading to a pool with an octopus in it, the thugee noose, a swinging pendulum knife inspired by Poe, time bombs, dynamite and television to spy on his enemies. The plot hinges on Fu’s plan to stir up revolution in Central Asia and to seize power there. The key is to obtain the sacred sceptre of Genghis Khan, which the native hill tribes of India regard as a talisman and they will follow the lead of whoever possesses it. Fu needs to locate the lost tomb of Genghis Khan and to do this seeks three ancient scrolls with the vital information:  the first he already had obtained by murdering Sir Lionel Barton; the second is in the possession of Professor 47

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Parker and he is kidnapped and murdered for the scroll; the third is held by an antique dealer Dr Chang who is seized and tortured for its whereabouts. He is rescued and reveals that the document contains the information that the key to the finding of the tomb is the Kardac Segment, part of the altar of the Temple of the Blind Dragon which when restored to its proper place will reveal the tomb’s location. Fu and his men steal the Segment, though its impression in the mud after being dropped during a fight is recorded in a plaster cast which the heroes take with them to British India, flying by plane. The heroes obtain the sceptre. ‘You’ve done magnificent work for the Empire’, Major Carlton, commander of the British fort at Branapuhr, tells them. For the plan is to hand the sceptre over to the High Lama of the Temple of the Sun who will lead the hillmen into the ways of peace and avert war and revolution. Fu gains the sceptre and provokes revolt but the regiment, Nayland Smith and Parker hold them off. Fu is apparently killed in a car crash escaping from the scene and the High Lama denounces him as a false prophet, proclaims the English the friends of the hill tribes and peace as the approved attitude. But Fu has survived the crash and at the tomb of Genghis Khan swears to return and fight again. In 1943, the serial was edited into a sixty-eight-minute feature film and rereleased. The scene of Fu’s revolt being the hills of Northern India may have less to do with a desire by Republic to promote the British Empire and rather more with the fact that they were able to incorporate into the serial scenes of tribal unrest, a car crash and a plane crash lifted directly from their 1938 British India imperial melodrama, Storm Over Bengal (which was of course set nowhere near Bengal but in the hills). Serial experts Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut consider it one of the best Republic serials from their peak period.13 The serial was the perfect format for a Rohmer adaptation because the stories consist of a series of cliff-hangers. It is atmospherically shot, menace memorably evoked by the sound of Fu’s drums presaging the next outrage. Henry Brandon makes a gleefully devilish Doctor, soft-spoken and calculating, ruthless and cunning. The heroics are shared by the young action man American Parker and the stolid, moustached, pipe-smoking middle-aged Englishman Smith. But their aim is to preserve the peace. The High Lama endorses British rule (‘There was no peace in the Hills of Nihala until the British came’) and 48

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when they return the Kardak Segment declares: ‘This is further proof of your great friendship for my people.’ The foreword of episode one calls Fu ‘the most sinister figure of all time. Schooled in the ancient mysteries of the Orient, he is as modern as Tomorrow. Ruthless, ageless, holding himself above human law, he embarks upon his most stupendous crime – the conquest of Asia.’ A 1950 television pilot starring John Carradine as Fu and Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Smith, directed by William Cameron Menzies and produced by NBC, failed to find a sponsor. Republic Pictures reportedly paid Rohmer $4 million for television rights and produced The Adventures of Fu Manchu in 1956 as a syndicated television series starring Glenn Gordon. But it survived for only thirteen inferior half-hour episodes.14 The Adventures of Fu Manchu was poorly written, cheaply made and badly acted – very badly in the case of Glenn Gordon whose shaven-headed Fu Manchu was a grotesque caricature. The stories had an anti-Communist Cold War slant. The sparse sets were fleshed out with stock footage of the Orient. Each half-hour episode featured a grandiose plan for world domination by Fu, foiled by Sir Dennis Nayland Smith of the British secret service, played by veteran British character actor Lester Matthews, and his associate Dr John Petrie (Clark Howat), here transformed into an American doctor attached to the Surgeon-General’s office. Budgetary limitations evidently dictated the fact that Fu’s gang seemed to consist of two people – glamorous slave girl Karamaneh (Laurette Luez) and a faithful dwarf (John George). It was the success both of the 1960s paperback reissues of the Rohmer novels and of the first of the James Bond films, Dr No, with its sinister Oriental mastermind, that convinced the enterprising and inventive producer Harry Alan Towers that there was potential for a Fu Manchu film series. Towers himself (under his customary writing pseudonym Peter Welbeck) wrote the scripts. None was based directly on a Rohmer novel but they all utilised themes, elements and atmosphere from the originals. Christopher Lee was cast as Fu Manchu, having already donned Oriental makeup for the Hammer film The Terror of the Tongs (1961). Sax Rohmer’s widow Elizabeth Sax Rohmer, who accompanied the film unit on location, told Lee that he exactly resembled the mysterious Chinaman Sax had spotted in Limehouse and who allegedly gave him the idea for the character.15 49

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Figure 3.2. Christopher Lee in The Face of Fu Manchu with Tsai Chin

The first and best of the series, The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), directed by top action director Don Sharp, was filmed on location in Ireland. The script of this and all the others in the series is singularly free of racial vituperation, with no one calling Fu ‘a hideous yellow monster’ as they had in Mask. He is an Oriental master-criminal seeking world domination but for himself rather than for China. As far as the plots are concerned, he could have been any nationality. Where Fu was played superbly by Englishman Christopher Lee,  his daughter Lin Tang played by Tsai Chin was genuinely Chinese. Tsai Chin was brought up in Shanghai and completed her education in Hong Kong after the Communist takeover of the mainland. She became the first Chinese student at RADA and made her breakthrough by playing the lead in The World of Suzie Wong which ran for two years in the West End. But her major screen appearances were her five appearances as Lin Tang in the Fu Manchu films. In her autobiography, she said she felt she had let her race down by taking the role but that she needed the work and the money. ‘All I had to do was follow my father around and say a few banal 50

The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu

Figure  3.3. One of many Fu Manchu clones:  Joseph Wiseman as Dr No with Sean Connery and Ursula Andress

lines while trying to look evil. How I envied Myrna Loy … She was allowed to pepper up her part by being a nymphomaniac, while I  was just plain wicked.’16 But she does herself an injustice. Her part is quite substantial and she makes a splendid and stylish villainess. The first of the series also 51

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Figure 3.4. Myrna Loy as Fah Lo Suee in The Mask of Fu Manchu

boasted the perfect Nayland Smith in Nigel Green, whose incisive manner and barely suppressed nervous intensity, were exactly right. He was replaced for the second and third films by Douglas Wilmer. Wilmer subsequently dismissed the films as ‘preposterous twaddle’ and described his role as ‘a filleted Sherlock Holmes but conceived, written and certainly acted, without the spark of life’.17 Wilmer had just finished starring in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series and while authoritative was too good-humoured and well-balanced for Rohmer’s Smith, who is completely humourless and rather obsessive. His casting also underlined the Holmes-Watson parallels, already hinted at in the casting of Howard Marion-Crawford as Dr Petrie, who for the series becomes the Home Office pathologist. Marion-Crawford had played Dr Watson to Ronald Howard’s Sherlock Holmes in the 1955 TV series. There is also a strong German presence in all the films, not only in the presence of Towers’s girlfriend and later wife, Maria Rohm, but in the fact that the romantic leads in all the films were played by leading German 52

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actors, Joachim Fuchsberger (Face), Heinz Drache (Brides), Horst Frank (Vengeance), Götz George (Blood) and Günther Stoll (Castle). There were also several other prominent German character actors in supporting roles, notably veteran actor Walter Rilla in Face. This was explained by the fact that German money was prominent in the international financial package that Towers put together to pay for the series.18 It was an inspired decision to set the stories in the 1920s because it gave them exactly the right flavour of vintage melodrama. In The Face of Fu Manchu, Fu seeks to develop a poison gas from a distillation of the seeds of the rare Black Hill poppies from Tibet. To assist in this, he kidnaps the German Professor Müller and his daughter. He wipes out the village of Fleetwick in Essex to demonstrate his power but before he can make an even bigger demonstration to force the world to submit to his domination, his headquarters is discovered by Commissioner Nayland Smith and his associates and he flees to Tibet, where Smith tracks him down and apparently blows him up with his supply of poppies in a lamasery. But his voice is heard at the end declaring: ‘The world will hear from me again.’ The film opens with a bang  – Nayland Smith witnessing apparently the beheading of Fu Manchu by the imperial Chinese authorities. The executed man turns out to be a double. The fast-moving and atmospheric film is full of delights; Burmese dacoits invading the vaults of the Museum of Oriental Studies through the sewers; Fu’s subterranean headquarters entered through a mausoleum in St Luke’s churchyard, Limehouse; vintage car chases through the streets of Georgian Dublin (standing in for London); the finale in the Tibetan lamasery. Tom Milne in The Monthly Film Bulletin declared: ‘Don Sharp has been on the verge of making a really good film for some time now, and this is it. Resourcefully directed and inventively scripted, The Face of Fu Manchu is a first-class thriller.’19 Four more films followed, but Lee felt in retrospect that they should have stopped after the first, pointing to ever decreasing budgets and declining production values.20 The second one, Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), again effectively directed by Don Sharp, was at least entertaining, although it was basically a rerun of the script of its predecessor. This time Fu, having survived the Tibetan explosion, now kidnaps scientists and their daughters to help him perfect a weapon using wireless waves. He gives an object lesson by destroying the liner Windsor Castle and later plans to destroy the 53

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world leaders at an arms conference in London. But Nayland Smith and his associates track him down to his new lair, an underground temple in North Africa, which blows up when he overloads his wireless system. The abduction of the heroine by dacoits during a ballet performance at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith; the temple headquarters with its snake pit and chained female prisoners; the Foreign Legion attack at the end; the running theme of early wireless experimentation all give the film a distinctive charm and appeal. Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967) the third in the series, was shot in part at Shaw Brothers Studios in Hong Kong and had the advantage of genuine Chinese locations. But Jeremy Summers, a journeyman television director, had taken over directing and although perfectly competent lacked the zest and dash of Sharp. This time Fu Manchu, back in a palace in his home province in China, is elected head of the organised crime syndicates of the world and plans his takeover by substituting for the key police chiefs of the world doubles, altered by plastic surgery, who will then, under hypnosis, commit murder and be hanged while the real police chiefs are kidnapped and transported to China. He begins with Nayland Smith. But facing execution in China, he is rescued by FBI agent Mark Weston and a detachment of the Shanghai International Settlement Police. With a background of the founding of Interpol and scenes in the International Settlement in Shanghai, it retains a nice period flavour. But Douglas Wilmer as Nayland Smith is required to spend most of the film playing his double, effectively a hypnotised zombie and so we lose the battle of wits between the hero and villain that was so characteristic of the two previous films. However, after this outing, the series plunged to a nadir with the last two, Blood of Fu Manchu (1968) and Castle of Fu Manchu (1968). After the critical and financial success of the first film, the second and third had proved increasingly less profitable. By the time he was producing the last two films, Towers had reduced the budgets (from $10 million on Face to $3 million on Blood and Castle) and the shooting schedules (from six to three weeks). The waning appeal of the Fu Manchu name led to Blood being released in America as Kiss and Kill and Castle as Assignment Istanbul.21 Towers also unwisely engaged as director for the final two films the Spanish filmmaker Jess Franco, a rival to Edward D. Wood Jr. as the world’s worst director and someone who has therefore in recent years become a 54

The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu

cult figure. The attraction for Towers seems to have been the rapid turnaround rate of his productions. He may have been fast but he was no good, as Towers later ruefully admitted. In a 2002 interview, Towers said of the Fu Manchu series: The first three all did very well. I made the mistake of entrusting the last two to Jess Franco. I told Jess that he had finally succeeded where everyone else had failed – he’d killed Fu Manchu. Franco is still working today but why is anyone’s guess! As long as there is a zoom lens left in the world, he’ll be working, I imagine.22

Nayland Smith is marginalised in the last two films and Richard Greene, who plays him, is billed as guest star. Petrie has been turned into a caricatured Blimpish Englishman abroad, constantly complaining about everything. Blood of Fu Manchu, largely filmed in Brazil, has Fu Manchu kidnapping young girls, impregnating them with a deadly South American poison and sending them off to kiss and thereby kill world leaders who oppose Fu Manchu. Nayland Smith is kissed and goes blind, and is taken by Petrie to Brazil in search of an antidote. It is provided by the blood of one of the infected girls. Inadequately scored, badly acted and slackly directed with far too much use of the zoom lens, no period feel, no rhythm or narrative drive and far too much footage devoted to the tedious antics of a caricatured bunch of comic opera South American bandits, the film is so bad that on its initial release it was cut from ninety minutes to sixty-one and put out as a B picture. It was so incompetently made that they forgot to include one of the stars (Götz George) in the credits. Even so it was not as bad as its dire sequel, Castle of Fu Manchu made in 1968 but not released until 1971 and then only sporadically. This time, Fu has discovered a means of freezing the sea and proposes to use this to secure world domination, operating from the castle of the Governor of Anatolia opposite Istanbul, which his dacoits seize with the aid of local gangsters. The poverty of budget is emphasized by the fact that the opening sequence is made up of footage from the finale of Brides and tinted black and white sequences from Roy Baker’s Titanic film A Night to Remember (1958), as Fu sinks a liner in the Caribbean to prove his power. Howard Marion Crawford 55

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overacts frantically as Petrie. Jess Franco himself in a fez plays Turkish Inspector Hamed  – very badly. The poorly dubbed supporting cast is utterly inept. The slapdash directing is epitomised by a lengthy and badly shot escape sequence through the tunnels of Fu’s castle that would disgrace a home movie. The full-length version of Blood only became available in 1994 on video in a double bill with Castle in a series called ‘British Classics’ – a misnomer if ever there was one. At the end of Castle, Lee as Fu Manchu intones ‘the world will hear from me again’. But when it did it was in a rather different guise in what is to date the latest Fu Manchu film, The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu (1980) in which Peter Sellers played both Fu Manchu and Nayland Smith. This limp parody of the Rohmer stories emerged as a sort of expanded Goon Show sketch, with Sellers as Fu declaring ‘Call me Fred’ and Nayland Smith inexplicably devoted to his lawnmower. With supporting characters called Sir Nules Thudd, Lady Warrington Minge and Dr Arnold Wretch and Nayland’s cottage taking off to fly to Tibet, we are squarely in Goon Show Territory. With its magnificent sets designed by veteran Alexandre Trauner and lovely scenes set in Kew Gardens, at the Russian Exhibition in Washington and Fu’s lair in the Himalayas and an excellent supporting cast (Helen Mirren, David Tomlinson, Simon Williams, John Le Mesurier), it would have been much better if it had been done as a straight adaptation. By a sad irony, the plot centres on Fu searching for the elixir of life; Peter Sellers died shortly after completing the film. It was a fraught production, shot mainly in France, with director Piers Haggard sacked half way through and Sellers himself directing the rest of the film. It is a sad finale to a distinguished cinematic career and an apparent end to the series of film adaptations that began in 1923.23

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4 Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong

There were two classical stereotypes of Chinese women in the heyday of Hollywood, the ‘China Doll’ and the ‘Dragon Lady’. The ‘China Doll’ was the fragile, passive, submissive, childlike female who falls in love with a white man and usually ends up committing suicide. The most celebrated incarnation of this role was actually Japanese, Madame Butterfly, but she had many Chinese counterparts. The ‘Dragon Lady’ was the powerful, cruel, treacherous and ruthless female ruler, modelled on the popular Western image of the Dowager Empress Tsu-Hsi who effectively ruled China from 1861 to 1908 and was described by the New York Times as ‘the wicked witch of the East’.1 Both archetypes would be incarnated by Anna May Wong in the course of her career. But she would seek in the late 1930s to break free from them and to incarnate a new kind of Chinese woman – intelligent, capable and modern. There remained the ban on miscegenation which ensured that many of her films ended with her death by accident, murder or suicide preventing inter-racial marriage. Anna May would die in Song, Piccadilly, Tiger Bay, Java Head, Flame of Love and Daughter of the Dragon. Anna May Wong was the only Chinese star in the cinema in the heyday of Hollywood and defined the Chinese Woman for several generations. She was an exotic object of desire but one destined to remain unattainable 57

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Figure 4.1. Anna May Wong

because of the censorial enforcement of racial taboos. Her beauty was undeniable and her desirability emphasised by the sinuous dances she was frequently called upon to perform in her films and the exquisite costumes she wore in her leading roles in the 1930s.2 She was born in 1905 in the Chinatown of Los Angeles to ChineseAmerican parents, her Chinese name being Wong Liu Tsong (‘Yellow Frosted Willow’). It was her grandfather who had first emigrated from China to America in the 1850s, to escape the Taiping Rebellion. Her father like many Chinese immigrants owned a laundry. Growing up in Los Angeles, she became fascinated with films and would skip school to watch them being shot. At 14, she was one of 300 Chinese extras recruited to appear in The Red Lantern (1919), a drama of inter-racial love set during the Boxer Rebellion. After playing a succession of extra roles and bit parts, she was chosen by director Chester Franklin to play Lotus Flower in The Toll of the Sea (1922), a variation on the story of Madame Butterfly, transposed to China. In this version, youthful Chinese Lotus Flower marries a much older white American merchant, 58

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who impregnates but then abandons her to marry a white American wife, leaving her with their son. Lotus Flower hands her child over to the second wife to raise and drowns herself in the sea. Shot in an early form of Technicolor, the film was well received by the critics and the public. Douglas Fairbanks spotted her potential and cast her in his Orientalist extravaganza The Thief of Bagdad (1924), described by Film Daily (23 March 1924)  as ‘probably the most magnificent production of this kind ever made’. With its towering sets, rich fabrics, dazzling acrobatics and state of the art special effects, it evoked a world of wonders, among them dragons, mermaids, winged horses, flying carpets and giant bats, and preached an impeccable moral (‘Happiness must be earned’). Anna May did not play the central female role of the Princess but a Mongol slave acting as a spy for the sinister Mongol Prince (played by the Japanese actor Sojin). Beautiful, cunning and resourceful she stood out from among the Princess’s other handmaids and completely eclipsed the passive and docile Princess of white actress Julanne Johnston. Thief did not lead to starring roles, however. She spent 1925 touring in vaudeville and developing her talents for singing and dancing. In 1926, she returned to the screen but only in small supporting roles in Orientalist dramas in which the leading roles were invariably taken by white actresses in ‘yellow face’. Playing Chinese girls, she did get to appear in major studio productions with leading stars, Lon Chaney in Mr Wu (1927), Warner Oland in Old San Francisco (1927) and Ramon Novarro in Across to Singapore (1928). However, she was frequently cast as a nautch girl, a honky-tonk girl or a saloon girl, cinematic shorthand for prostitute. In search of more substantial roles and the unqualified stardom denied her by Hollywood, she accepted an offer of a five-picture contract from the German director Richard Eichberg, who had a taste for exotic melodrama and had admired her performance in Thief of Bagdad. In Europe, she announced: ‘There seems little for me in Hollywood, because, rather than real Chinese, producers prefer Hungarians, Mexicans, American Indians for Chinese roles.’3 Having arrived in Europe, she starred in a trio of films for Eichberg, who had entered into an arrangement with British International Pictures (BIP) as part of the ‘Film Europe’ project that sought to make international 59

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co-productions as an alternative to Hollywood’s American cinema.4 The first two Eichberg films were shot in Germany. In Song (US Wasted Love; UK Show Life) (1928), Anna May played a mixed-race German/Malayan dancer who falls for a painter John (Heinrich George) working as a knife-thrower in a cabaret when he saves her from rape. Although John is in love with ballerina Gloria, it is Song who nurses him devotedly when he is temporarily blinded and pays for an operation to restore his sight. Returning to the stage, she is accidentally killed performing her sabre dance, dying in the arms of the man she loves who has belatedly realised he also loves her. The Bioscope (19 September 1928) called Anna May’s acting ‘a masterpiece of subtlety’ and the film ‘a veritable triumph’ for her. In Pavement Butterfly (US The City Butterfly) (1928), set on the French Riviera, Anna May played a Chinese circus artist Mah who becomes the model of a painter Kusmin, falls in love with him but renounces him when she finds out that he loves someone else. Wong’s subtle silent-screen mime acting drew praise from the critics but social convention required the avoidance of miscegenation, so in all her films at this time she either renounces her love or dies. Between the two Eichberg films, she made a film for British International Pictures in London with the German E. A. Dupont directing. Like Eichberg he was part of the ‘Film Europe’ movement and was seeking to make films acceptable in various countries and not just aimed at the domestic market. Piccadilly like Variety (1925) and Moulin Rouge (1928) explored the universal theme of the emotional difficulties caused by a romantic triangle with a show business setting. Dupont’s films were notable for conveying everything by movement, gesture, posture and visual expression and with a minimum use of inter-titles, giving them remarkable fluidity and the quality of pure visuality. Piccadilly was his final and perhaps greatest achievement with this approach. It utilised the only film script by the eminent novelist Arnold Bennett and had significant input from cinematographer Werner Brandes and art director Alfred Junge. It starred the Polish-born Hollywood star Gilda Gray and British actor Jameson Thomas along with Anna May Wong. The film alternates between the glittering West End world of the Piccadilly nightclub with its jazz music, dancing and evening-suited denizens, and shabby Limehouse with its narrow streets, cheap restaurants and seedy lodging-houses, as it unfolds the story of the upper class nightclub 60

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owner Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) who falls for the Chinese scullery maid Shosho (Anna May Wong) whom he promotes as the principal dance attraction at the club. She replaces his previous lover, Mabel Greenfield (Gilda Gray), whose appeal is waning. When Shosho is shot dead, Wilmot and Mabel are both suspected but at the inquest, her Chinese accompanist and former boyfriend confesses to having murdered her and shoots himself. As in Thief of Bagdad, the ostensible female star Gilda Gray is completely eclipsed by Anna May, who had now thoroughly mastered the delicate art of silent film acting. As her biographer Anthony B. Chan records, Anna May’s performance is ‘pure eroticism’5 from the scene in which she, clad in her laddered jumper and stockings, is dancing with abandon in the kitchen through her exotic nightclub dance in quasi-Indonesian costume to her final transformation into an elegant woman of the world and her calculated seduction of Wilmot. The camera visually caresses her body and she conveys by the subtlest gestures and movements her willingness to respond to Wilmot’s growing infatuation and then to exert her increasing control over him. Although they embrace in this seduction scene, the climactic kiss, though filmed, was cut to protect the susceptibilities of white audiences.6 These films transformed her from a supporting player to an undoubted star. Within a year, the silent era was at an end and sound films were taking over. Dupont became one of the most spectacular casualties of the changeover. His early British-made talkies (Atlantic, Two Worlds and Cape Forlorn) were agonisingly slow, something director Victor Saville attributed to Dupont’s limited knowledge of English which slowed down the British casts: ‘the actors had to speak deliberately so that the director himself could understand the dialogue’.7 Although he eventually moved to Hollywood, he never again equalled his achievements in silent cinema. Anna May’s final film for Eichberg was her first talkie, The Flame of Love (1930), and it was an example of a phenomenon that briefly flowered after the coming of sound and before techniques of dubbing were perfected. For several years, studios would produce parallel versions of the same story in different languages, incorporating footage that required no dialogue and utilising the same sets, though sometimes with different casts. The Flame of Love was filmed at Elstree Studios in England in English, French and 61

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German language versions. Eichberg directed all three but for the English and French versions was given a co-director, Walter Summers for the English version and Jean Kemm for the French. Anna May, top-billed, played the leading role in all three versions delivering her lines in the requisite language but she had three different leading men, John Longden in the British version, Franz Lederer in the German and Robert Ancelin in the French. The film was set in pre-revolutionary Russia against a background of aristocratic libertinism. Anna May, as Chinese singer-dancer Hai-Tang, falls in love with Russian officer Lieutenant Boris Borisoff. She is asked to perform privately for the lecherous Grand Duke Pavel who attempts to seduce her in a private room. Her brother Wang Hu (her father in the French version) tries to shoot the Grand Duke and is condemned to death. Hai-Tang agrees to sleep with Pavel to gain a reprieve for her brother and, after he has been released, she takes poison and dies in Boris’s arms. It was remarkable for the fact that she received her first screen kiss from John Longden as Boris. Although The Bioscope (18 March 1930) thought Wong gave a ‘very effective performance, in which her grace and skill as a dancer are supplemented by her skill as a vocalist’ and that ‘the scenes in the theatre and at the cabaret are admirably directed and mounted’, the story was dismissed as conventional and the characters as stagey. This seems to have been the general reaction and the film flopped at the box office, ending Anna May’s first foray into European cinema.8 According to her biographer Graham Hodges, the kiss caused considerable controversy and was eventually cut.9 A curiosity related to her English sojourn is her participation in BIP’s all-star revue film, Elstree Calling (1930) in which Anna May appeared in an amusing sketch opposite Donald Calthrop parodying the recent Douglas Fairbanks-Mary Pickford Shakespeare film, The Taming of the Shrew. It involved Anna May appearing in her dancer’s costume from Piccadilly, throwing custard pies at Calthrop and yelling at him in Chinese. But another London experience proved transformative. Leading London producer Basil Dean staged a Chinese folk drama The Circle of Chalk in 1929. It was an English translation of a German play by the left-wing playwright Klabund and was later to be reworked by Brecht as The Caucasian Chalk Circle. Dean summarised the plot in his autobiography: ‘The story 62

Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong

is of a tea-house girl, sold to a rascally proprietor and of her subsequent elevation to princely splendour:  a Chinese Cinderella in fact, with serious overtones.’10 Tea-house here was a euphemism for brothel and it took Dean several months to persuade the Lord Chamberlain to license production. Seeking an actress to play the tea-house girl, Dean was impressed by the ‘tremendous publicity’ Anna May was getting for her appearance in Piccadilly and by her photographs (‘She … was a celestial beauty’). He signed her for the role and came to regret it: She was certainly lovely to look at and possessed natural grace of movement. The voice was low, not unpleasing … But oh! That Californian accent! as thick as the smog that now smothers their cities. Try as she might – and she did try – Anna May couldn’t get rid of it … In the event, Anna May failed to make Chang Hi-Tang comprehensible either to stalls or gallery, save in the ecstatic movements of the Lotus dance, which she did to perfection. This was pure Chinese and the audience recognised its integrity at once.11

Despite the presence of Laurence Olivier co-starring as the Prince, the play failed at the box office and closed after forty-eight performances, an expensive flop. But, as Dean conceded, ‘Anna May was intelligent, anxious to learn and possessed a natural instinct for drama’.12 She therefore took intensive elocution lessons and by the time she returned to America in 1930 she had acquired an impeccable English accent with a slight continental inflection and an air of European sophistication and elegance to go with her natural grace and beauty. It was while she was crossing the Atlantic aboard the Aquitania that she was contacted by a Broadway producer and asked to take the role of Minn Lee in a production of Edgar Wallace’s On the Spot. Inspired by a visit to Chicago and the stories he had heard about Al Capone, Wallace had written On the Spot in four days flat. His biographer Margaret Lane wrote: Without doubt it is Wallace’s best play, and perhaps even the finest melodrama of our time. It differs from all his other crime plays in its complete lack of the element of mystery, and in the economical power with which he built up his characters. The identity of the villain is not concealed from the audience, but

63

China and the Chinese in Popular Film is made abundantly clear in the first scene of the play; we are a witness to his crimes of murder and cruelty, and his extravagant pretensions, his lust, greed and ruthlessness.13

The play was a sensational success, thanks in part to the dazzling performance by Charles Laughton as Chicago gang boss Tony Perelli, who, says Lane, was ‘a conception of convincing villainy in the grand manner, and in the hands of Charles Laughton became a polished and appalling figure of criminality’.14 A key role in the play was that of Minn Lee, Tony’s loyal Chinese mistress, who, when he plans to replace her with a younger woman, another gangster’s moll, kills herself. In London, this role was played by a white actress, Gillian Lind. But Anna May Wong took it on for the successful Broadway production, essaying the part for three months before surrendering it to Kay Strozzi. Crane Wilbur played Tony Perelli. Summoned back to Hollywood she was given a two-picture contract by Paramount. She was top-billed in Lloyd Corrigan’s Daughter of the Dragon (1931), the third and final entry in Paramount’s Fu Manchu trilogy. Ostensibly based on Rohmer’s novel The Daughter of Fu Manchu, it actually bore no relation to the book. It has Fu Manchu (Warner Oland) returning after twenty years to complete his quest for vengeance on the Petrie family whom he holds responsible for the death of his wife and son during the Boxer Rebellion. When Fu is mortally wounded, his daughter, Princess Ling Moy, swears to complete his vengeance even though she is in love with Ronald Petrie, who is marked for death. As The Times (2 November 1931)  noted of her performance:  ‘She is an actress who always seems to be acting with her mind, and it is possible in her performance to see not the stilted movements of a melodramatic puppet but the transformation, through the fanatical love of her father and her race, of a sensitive and kindly girl into a woman possessed by the twin forces of hate and bloodlust.’ The hero, Chinese detective Ah Kee, was played by Japanese actor Sessue Hayakawa. Where Anna May’s Hollywood career would continue through the 1930s, this would be Hayakawa’s last Hollywood film until 1949. In fact it was also his first Hollywood film since 1922. Sessue Hayakawa 64

Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong

(1889–1973) had burst onto popular consciousness in 1915 playing the Japanese villain in Cecil B.  DeMille’s sensational drama The Cheat (see Chapter 7). The Lasky Company found themselves with a star on their hands and as Daisuke Miyao points out in her penetrating study of Hayakawa’s career, they devised a four-part strategy to develop his stardom within the accepted racial and sexual norms of the era. They regularly stressed his assimilation to the American way of life and values both in his personal life and in his film roles. In his film stories they returned repeatedly to the theme of self-sacrifice in the interests of white women and white American families. This – and the ban on kissing in his films – helped to avoid any hint of inter-racial sex. The alliance of the United States and Japan in the First World War was regularly underlined. Finally, the refinement in his acting was continually emphasised as representative of Japanese taste and manners. ‘All these tactics were mainly meant to heighten Hayakawa’s (and his characters’) racial and cultural status beyond that of other nonwhites in the middle ground position, but not necessarily to equal that of white American characters’ concludes Miyao.15 The nearest equivalent male star in the Hollywood pantheon was Rudolph Valentino who was regularly cast in exotic roles (Argentine, Spanish, Russian, Indian, Arab). So too was Hayakawa who besides Japanese roles played Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Arab and American Indian characters.16 In 1918, he set up his own company (Haworth) to provide a more authentic picture of the Japanese for film audiences. But his popularity waned, and in 1922, he left Hollywood to make films in England and France. Miyao attributes the decline in his popularity to the rise in hostility towards Japan, stimulated initially by the development of nativism, an extreme form of American nationalism which saw Japan as an economic, cultural, political and racial threat. The practical results of this development were tighter immigration controls and from 1923 until the end of the decade no films dealing with Japan or the Japanese came out of Hollywood.17 His sole return to Hollywood in 1931 for Daughter of the Dragon failed to revive his career in America, though this may have been in part due to his very thick Japanese accent. Whatever the reason, he returned to Japan and made films there until Japan attacked China in 1937. At this point he settled in France, where he had always had an appreciative following, making ten films before returning to Hollywood in 1949 65

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as a character actor, winning an Oscar nomination for his role as the Japanese Commandant in Bridge on the River Kwai in 1957. There would be no other male Asian star in Hollywood until the emergence of James Shigeta in the late 1950s. But after the coming of sound, a small group of Asian-Americans played virtually every significant Asian character part for which an Asian actor was sought, though many Asian roles continued to be played by white actors in ‘yellow face’, notably Warner Oland, the Swedish actor who played the most substantial Asian character parts during the 1920s and early 1930s. But beyond Oland, five actors became ubiquitous in Hollywood films, playing both Chinese and Japanese parts during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s: Hawaiian Chinese Richard Loo (1903–83), Korean-American Philip Ahn (1911–78), and Chinese-Americans Keye Luke (1904–91), Victor Sen Yung (1915–80) and Benson Fong (1916–87). Anna May played the lead in Daughter of the Dragon. But it was essentially a routine programme picture. Her other Paramount film was an indisputable masterpiece. In Shanghai Express (1932), third-billed, she played a major supporting role. Directed by Josef von Sternberg, scripted by Jules Furthman and ravishingly photographed by Lee Garmes, Shanghai Express was one of a series of exotic melodramas, directed by Sternberg and celebrating the beauty and mystique of Marlene Dietrich. It is a visual symphony of smoke, silk and shadow. Adopting the classic ‘Grand Hotel’ formula, it places an assorted group of passengers aboard the Peking to Shanghai Express and then subjects them to an ordeal as they are stopped and held by Chinese rebels. This was not an implausible premise. In 1923, the Tientsin-Pukow Express had been attacked by bandits and twenty-six foreigners taken prisoner and held for ransom. The central theme is the relationship between Shanghai Lily (Marlene Dietrich), ‘the notorious white flower of China’, a well-known adventuress who has ruined the lives of a succession of admirers, and her own great love, the stiff-upper-lip British army doctor, Captain Donald Harvey (Clive Brook). The other passengers include censorious respectables (a boarding house keeper, a Protestant clergyman), people with a secret (an American gambler, an opium smuggler posing as a coal magnate and a cashiered French army officer) and two Chinese, Henry Chang and Hui Fei. Chang (Warner Oland) is a businessman with a Chinese mother and white father who has opted to be Chinese, 66

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prompting the typical Occidental comment from gambler Sam Salt ‘What future is there in being a Chinaman. You’re born, eat your way through a handful of rice, and you die.’ But Chang turns out to be the self-styled ‘Commander-in-chief of the Revolution’, the leader of the rebels against the Nationalist government. But he is no idealist. He is lecherous (propositioning Lily, raping Hui Fei) cruel (branding the opium smuggler, threatening to blind Harvey) and greedy (seeking ransoms for his captives).18 Anna May Wong is excellent as Hui Fei, a high-class courtesan, cool, elegant and self-possessed. She shrugs off the disapproval of the other passengers, finds common cause with Shanghai Lily and, after being raped by Chang, stabs him to death and is hailed as a hero when the train reaches Shanghai. Despite the excellence of her performance, Paramount did not renew her contract. Instead she accepted a role in A Study in Scarlet (1933), a B picture being produced at the independent Tiffany Studio by a minor company (Worldwide) shortly to go bankrupt. The production retained only the title of Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel, ditching the narrative probably because of its unfavourable depiction of the Mormons which would have led to controversy. A  completely new but thoroughly entertaining narrative was devised by the intended director Robert Florey with authentic Holmesian dialogue provided by Reginald Owen, who was playing Sherlock Holmes. Featuring such appropriate settings as Baker Street, an inevitably fog-shrouded Limehouse and a lonely country house at Shoeburyness and a supporting cast of stalwart British character actors, the plot centred on the successive elimination of the members of the Scarlet Ring, a group of criminals formed to dispose of a stolen hoard of Chinese treasure. Second-billed, Anna May played the elegant, confident and sophisticated but enigmatic Mrs Pyke, widow of one of the victims, but who turns out in the end to be involved in the plot and not actually married to Pyke after all. In the event Florey did not direct the film as he moved to a more prestigious and secure job at Warner Bros. Edwin L. Marin directed, faithfully executing Florey’s blueprint.19 Still in search of suitable starring vehicles, Anna May returned to England in 1934 with the cachet of a fully fledged Hollywood star and appeared in three films, though only one of them was memorable. She expressed her impatience with the conventional screen depiction of the Chinese in a 1933 interview: 67

China and the Chinese in Popular Film Why is it that the screen Chinese is nearly always the villain of the piece … and so cruel a villain … We are not like that. How should we be, with a civilization that’s so many times older than that of the West? We have our own virtues. We have our rigid code of behaviour, of honor. Why do they never show these on the screen? Why should we always scheme, rob, kill? I  get so weary of it all – the scenarist’s concept of Chinese characters.20

In two of her British films, both made at Ealing Studios, she was top billed. Associated Talking Pictures’ Java Head (1934) unfortunately, despite a first-rate cast (Edmund Gwenn, Ralph Richardson, John Loder, Elizabeth Allan), was the kind of picture that gave British films a bad name. It was a very bad adaptation of Joseph Hergesheimer’s best-selling novel about rival nineteenth-century sailing ship dynasties, with the action transposed from New England to Bristol. It has none of the epic sweep, dramatic tension or period feel required by the subject. A stilted and cliché-ridden script failed to develop any of the potentially interesting themes (the clash between the older and younger generations on the merits of the new and faster clipper ships, or debating the merits of engaging in the opium trade) which are raised once and then dropped. The direction is flat and static. The credited director, American J. Walter Ruben was taken ill and returned to America, leaving his assistant Carol Reed to complete the shooting. For a film about sailing ships, it has absolutely no feel of the sea and features only a couple of paltry studio mock-ups of ships’ decks and a single very obvious model shot of a ship putting to sea. What is unique about the film is that it has sea captain Gerrit Ammidon (John Loder) returning from China with a dutiful, traditional Chinese wife, Taou Yuen (Anna May Wong), a development greeted with horror by his family. However, when she discovers he really loves Nettie, from a rival shipping family, she kills herself to leave him free to marry his true love. It was notable for allowing John Loder to kiss Anna May, something which Loder later recalled led to censorial interference.21 This probably explains in part why the eighty-five-minute British original running time was reduced to seventy minutes for the film’s US release. It had previously been filmed in Hollywood in 1923 with its authentic New England setting and non-Asian actress Leatrice Joy as Taou Yuen. 68

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Tiger Bay was a low budget B picture, independently produced by Bray Wyndham at Ealing, but it was a compromised project. The original story by J.  Elder Wills and Eric Ansell was set in a London slum and sought to explore the predicament of a cultured Chinese café owner in a low-life English environment. The film’s title derived from an area of London’s dockland which, according to Victorian social explorer Thomas Archer, took its name ‘from the brothels and those who keep them – the harpies and harlots who deal with drugged liquor, and the slinking bullies who come, like foul beasts, about their prey’.22 It is not to be confused with the similarly named area of Cardiff, the setting of the 1958 film Tiger Bay. When the script was submitted to the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC), the senior script examiner Colonel J. C. Hanna reported: The whole story is an exact replica of the worst type of American gangster film with the scene laid in London amidst low and sordid surroundings. The minor characters are drunken sailors and prostitutes of every race and colour. The dialogue savours strongly of American phrases and is frequently coarse. I do not consider that a film on these lines would be suitable for exhibition in this country nor can I suggest any modification which would make it acceptable.23

But he had reckoned without the ingenuity of the script doctor. Miss Billie Bristow of Wyndham Films called on the BBFC secretary J. Brooke Wilkinson on 17 June 1933, accepted the criticism and discussed possible alterations. Two days later, she submitted a list of changes, including cleaning up the dialogue, toning down or deleting the murders, removing the offending minor characters and changing the setting to a foreign country. These alterations were accepted, a revised scenario submitted and approved on 23 June 1933 and the completed film was passed for exhibition on 4 August 1933. It was released in September 1933. The elements worth noting here are the anti-American tone of the comments, the concern with cleaning up the moral aspects and the willingness of the censors to accept a modified measure of sordid mayhem as appropriate to ‘abroad’ when it was found totally unacceptable at home. Tiger Bay was now located in an unnamed South American country, conveyed by straw hats, the odd palm tree and a single street of white-painted 69

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houses. It was still a mixed-race slum, whites, blacks and Chinese, complete with drunken sailors, prostitutes and crooks, an inexplicably large quota of cockney bar staff and riff-raff, and an undercover English police agent working for the French-speaking local police force. As a film, it is slow-moving, generally poorly acted and featuring the typically unconvincing fight sequences of 1930s British films. Anna May, dominating the film totally, plays Lui Chang, a refugee from the Chinese Revolution, beautiful, intelligent, determined and caring, who for nineteen years has struggled to create a business  – a bar/restaurant  – and to raise a white girl Letty (Rene Ray) she has adopted. Lui Chang becomes the victim of a protection racket gang led by a bullying Swede, Olaf. He seeks to intimidate her by starting a fight, frightening off the waiters, murdering her barman and finally kidnapping Letty. Lui hands over her savings to Olaf to get Letty back but then knifes him to death. She insists he was not murdered but executed. When the police agent confirms she will have to go to prison, she kills herself with a poisoned ring to spare Letty the humiliation of her imprisonment. As in Java Head, love for a white person leads Wong’s character to suicide. Anna May’s most notable British film was the lavish Gaumont British sound version of the legendary stage show Chu Chin Chow (1934), previously filmed as a silent in 1923. Anna May starred, second-billed after George Robey and ahead of Fritz Kortner. The stage musical by Oscar Asche and Frederic Norton had opened on 31 August 1916 at His Majesty’s Theatre and ran for a record-breaking 2,238 performances, almost five years, finally closing in 1921. It represented a peak of achievement in the long tradition of theatrical Orientalism, combining the pantomime knockabout of Ali Baba and Aladdin, the high flown parlour poetry of Edward Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the musical comedy conventions of such Eastern extravaganzas as San Toy and The Geisha and the exotic décor and costumes seen in Max Reinhardt’s Arabian Nights mime drama Sumurun (1910) and in Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes production of Rimsky-Korsakoff ’s Schérézade (1910). The film was expertly directed by Walter Forde, handsomely designed in Oriental splendour, complete with exquisite carved screens, minarets and arabesques by Erno Metzner, atmospherically photographed by Mutz Greenbaum and inventively choreographed by 70

Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong

Anton Dolin. It boasted an appropriately disparate cast. George Robey did a music hall turn as a cockney Ali Baba. John Garrick, a robust tenor and dashing musical comedy romantic lead, played his son Nur-al-Din. The beautiful heroine Marjanah was Pearl Argyle whose cut-glass accent smacked more of Roedean than Bagdad. German Expressionist actor Fritz Kortner gave one of the most over-the-top performances in 1930s cinema as robber chief Abu Hassan, rolling his eyes, cackling with glee, and emphasising every line with lip-smacking relish. Two members of the original stage cast (Frank Cochrane as the cobbler Mustafa, and Sydney Farebrother as Ali’s shrewish wife Mahbubah) recreated their stage roles. Anna May Wong with her trademark dance and dubbed song, provided her own brand of glamour and determination as the slave girl Zahrat, a role similar to the one she played in The Thief of Bagdad. She gave the only straight dramatic performance in the film, genuinely loving Abu Hassan, exacting vengeance for his ill-treatment of her but mourning him after he is killed. The familiar story has Abu Hassan and his Forty Thieves, disguised as the Chinese merchant Chu Chin Chow and his retinue, arrive at the house of Kasim Baba in Bagdad planning to rob him. But they are exposed by slave girl Marjanah and forced to flee. Ali Baba discovers the robbers’ cave and removes a hoard of gold, becoming rich. His brother Kasim goes also to gain wealth but is caught and cut to pieces. The robbers make a new attempt to seize the Baba treasures. But this time they are foiled by Zahrat, the thieves boiled in oil and Abu Hassan killed. It is a film which revels in the sensuous luxury of silks, brocades, jewels, flamingos, fountains and exotic foodstuffs. It foregrounds female beauty in the harem and slave auction scenes. But with the songs and dances, there is a dark vein of cruelty (the real Chu Chin Chow buried alive in the desert, blind and demented slaves chained to the wheel, Kasim cut in pieces, the robbers boiled in oil, and Abu Hassan stabbed by a dagger thrown by Zahrat and an arrow shot by Nur-al-Din). In an interview she gave after her first European sojourn, Anna May said she ‘found absolutely no race prejudice in Europe. That’s one reason I  was so happy there … there everyone was lovely to me. That was not always true of America.’24 Although Europe was not of course devoid of race prejudice, it seems that she found greater acceptance there than 71

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in America, as did Paul Robeson. The fact that both were regarded as Hollywood stars seems to have led to celebrity mitigating the effects of race to an extent. Back in Hollywood, Anna May was cast by Paramount in its Londonbased thriller, Alexander Hall’s Limehouse Blues (1934). Although not credited to Thomas Burke, this Chinatown thriller is pure Burke (see Chapter 5), from the title song which contains the line ‘poor broken blossom and nobody’s child’ to the basic theme lifted from the story The Chink and the Child (the basis for D.  W. Griffith’s Broken Blossoms), the unrequited love of a Chinese man for a cockney waif, brutalised by her stepfather. The resemblance is emphasised by the fact that the stepfather Pug Talbot (Montagu Love) is made up to look like and played exactly the same as Donald Crisp’s Battling Burrows in the Griffith film. However, it is developed here as a thriller by transforming the Chinese hero from a Buddhist missionary to a Chinese-American smuggler who also runs a nightclub ‘The Lily Garden’ in Limehouse. Pug Talbot is a rival to Harry Young (George Raft) for control of the smuggling on the Thames. After his step-daughter Toni (Jean Parker) warns Young that Talbot has tipped off the police about a forthcoming smuggling venture, and Young has Pug eliminated, he takes her under his wing and falls in love with her. But Toni falls for a Canadian pet shop owner Eric Benton (Kent Taylor) and Harry plans to have him murdered. Tu Tuan (Anna May Wong), who sings and dances at the nightclub and is by implication Harry’s mistress, is embittered by jealousy and tips off the police about another smuggling raid. When the police close in and shoot Harry, he returns to the club in time to save Benton from being murdered, to unite him with Toni and die before the altar of his gods. Anna May, third-billed, has limited footage as the jealous entertainer but she gets to dance with Raft to the strains of ‘Limehouse Blues’. Raft’s Harry Young is a more interesting and complex figure. A  mixed-race Chinese-American, he dresses and speaks as a New  Yorker, though he wears Chinese dress to sacrifice to his gods. Determined to win the love of Toni, he cuts off the long nail he has cultivated as a mark of his Chinese heritage. But his associate Ching Li frowns on the proposed liaison: ‘She is neither your class nor your colour.’ He acknowledges his failure to pass as white by changing back into his Chinese robe to die. 72

Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong

Just as Wong’s stay in England proved transformative, so too did the events of 1935–6. When MGM acquired the film rights to Pearl Buck’s bestselling novel The Good Earth, Wong lobbied hard for the role of the peasant wife O-Lan and when that bid failed for that of the concubine Lotus. In the event MGM preferred to cast two Viennese actresses, Luise Rainer and Tilly Losch in the roles. Similarly, she had tested unsuccessfully in 1932 for the lead role in The Son-Daughter which went instead to Helen Hayes. Soon after this disappointment Wong paid her first and only visit to China where she was regarded as an American star and criticised for playing demeaning stereotyped Chinese roles. A Shanghai tabloid had denounced her as ‘the female traitor to China’ for playing a prostitute in Shanghai Express.25 She defended herself by pointing to the limited opportunities available to non-white performers. Anna May had emancipated herself from the traditional role of a Chinese daughter, defying her disapproving father to go into films and later refusing to undertake an arranged marriage. She never married but had a succession of affairs with older white men (directors Marshall Neilan and Tod Browning, cinematographer Charles Rosher and the songwriter Eric Maschwitz). But according to her biographer Anthony B. Chan, ‘After 1936 China became an integral part of Wong’s life. It clearly defined her notions about her place in the world.’ Her opinions about Japan’s invasion of China were succinctly articulated in her 1932 article ‘Manchuria’ in which she condemned ‘the Japanese act of military and political aggression’.26 She adopted the Taoist philosophy and devoted much of her time to fund-raising for China. Determined as far as possible to play only positive Chinese roles henceforth, she found the tide of public sympathy turning towards China as news of Japanese atrocities gained publicity. She achieved her goal of playing only strong, intelligent, confident Chinese women in the five films she made in the late 1930s, which although only B pictures were a decided move away from the ‘China Doll’ and ‘Dragon Lady’ roles which had marked her earlier career. She was also fortunate in that her first two Paramount B films were directed by Robert Florey, one of Hollywood’s forgotten visual stylists. First came Daughter of Shanghai (1937), shot in twenty days in October 1937. As Florey’s biographer Brian Taves observed: ‘The direction, set design, and photography are 73

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well above the “B” level and the perils-of-Anna type plot.’27 Florey’s use of shadow, clever camera angles and atmospheric evocations of Chinatown and the tropical island of Port O’Juan all serve to embellish a fast-moving, hard-hitting thriller whose title includes Shanghai to cash in on its topicality following the renewal of the war between China and Japan and the bombing of Shanghai. It is justified by the billing of the heroine as ‘Daughter of Shanghai’ when she poses as a dancer, although the film has nothing to do with Shanghai itself. Daughter of Shanghai deals with the racket of people smuggling and opens with a plane load of illegal Chinese immigrants being dumped in the sea to avoid their interception by the authorities. When her father refuses to cooperate with the smugglers and is murdered, Lan Ying Lin (Anna May Wong) sets out to break the smuggling ring. Cooperating with Chinese FBI agent Kim Lee (played by Korean-American actor Philip Ahn), she traces the smugglers’ base of operations to a Caribbean port. She gets a job as a dancer in order to ferret out information and performs a graceful, erotic dance in the sleazy, sweaty atmosphere of a tropical dive. Later she poses as a boy to get aboard the ship smuggling the aliens into the United States. Threatened with rape, Lan Ying Lin is rescued by Kim, who is also aboard the ship. Both are later captured and face death but manage to alert the police and unmask the brains behind the operation as wealthy American socialite, Mrs Hunt. At the end, Kim Lee proposes to her. Unlike many Hollywood films, Daughter of Shanghai boasts an Asian-American hero and heroine, both of them intelligent, courageous and resourceful. Florey also directed Dangerous to Know (1938). It is based on Edgar Wallace’s play On the Spot and cast Anna May in the same role she had played on Broadway, Minn Lee, the Chinese mistress of the gangster. The casting of Akim Tamiroff necessitated changing his name and nationality from Italian Tony Perelli to Eastern European Steve Recka. The filming of Wallace’s play had had a long gestation. The sensational success of the play made it an immediate magnet for film producers. The play was viewed by the British censors in January 1931 at the request of Warner Bros, for whom the gangster film was a popular staple. The BBFC report read: 74

Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong The dialogue is coarse and full of swearing; the language is far worse than any which we have ever permitted. There is not a single decent character or action in the whole story. It is a sordid tale of crime and lust from start to finish. In our opinion, it would not be possible to produce an acceptable film based on this play.28

Nevertheless it was submitted unsuccessfully not less than five times between 1931 and 1937. Eventually Paramount writers William R. Lipman and Horace McCoy produced an acceptable script which removed most of the murders and the gangland feuding and substituted a narrative in which gang boss Steve Recka, who controls the rackets and city hall, craves respectability, falls for a glamorous socialite Margaret Van Kase (Gail Patrick) and has her fiancé kidnapped and framed to blackmail her into marrying him. It remained, however, a study of the psychology of the gangster. As Kinematograph Weekly (17 March 1938), calling the film ‘a compelling and arresting modern parable’, rightly observed: Akim Tamiroff is superb as the character paradox Steve Recka. In his portrayal there is clearly revealed the inferiority complex of the ‘tough guy’. Behind the façade of brutality, ruthlessness and demonic ambition is the real man, a sorry person, who knows that he is only courted for his power and has no niche in respectable society.

But Anna May, top-billed, matches him in the depth and complexity of her portrayal. Shrugging off the snubs of his high society friends she is loyal and devoted to him throughout. But when at the end, it becomes clear that he is discarding her for his new love, she puts on a record of ‘Thanks for the memory’, pours a cocktail for each of them, gazes at him with tears in her eyes and, when his back is turned, quietly stabs herself to death. In the ironic ending, police inspector Brandon (Lloyd Nolan), who has been in pursuit of Recka for a string of murders, now arrests him for a murder he did not commit, that of Minn Lee. Florey’s biographer Brian Taves rightly thought the film outstanding: Despite being shot – in December 1937 – on only a moderate budget, Dangerous to Know had all the polish and gloss of a

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China and the Chinese in Popular Film more leisurely-made picture. The careful, deliberate direction, the uniformly superlative range of compositions, images, and sequences, all of a high standard, were a testament to Florey’s ability to quickly make a first-rate film on a short schedule, especially when he had a good script and capable players.29

Although the American release print credited Edgar Wallace’s On the Spot as the source of the film, British release prints deleted his credit, in deference to the long-running censorial reservation. Florey was scheduled to direct Anna May’s next film, King of Chinatown (1939) but was shifted at the last minute to another production (King of Alcatraz) and his directorial duties were assumed by Nick Grindé. Opening with the noise and colour of Chinese New Year, this is a lively, pacey gangster film. It again teamed Anna May and Akim Tamiroff, this time playing Frank Baturin, an immigrant crime baron known as ‘King of Chinatown’ because he runs a protection racket among the Chinese traders there. He is opposed by Dr Chang Ling (Sidney Toler) a natural healer, whose daughter Mary (Anna May Wong) is a surgeon at the local hospital. When Baturin is shot in an attempted gangland coup staged by his crafty henchman ‘The Professor’ and taken to hospital, Mary, believing him to have been shot by her father, operates and saves his life. He now insists she supervise his recuperation, promising to fund a Red Cross Unit for China. He falls in love with her and begins to reform, though she loves a Chinese lawyer, Robert Lee (Philip Ahn), who is seeking to break the protection racket. Learning that Baturin is still alive, ‘The Professor’ turns up to kill him. But Baturin dies of a heart attack, ‘The Professor’ is arrested and Mary and Robert marry and leave for China with the Red Cross Unit. Anna May Wong convincingly plays the dedicated surgeon and Chinese patriot. The last of Anna May’s Paramount B pictures, Kurt Neumann’s Island of Lost Men (1939) was a remake of an earlier A  picture, White Woman (1933) starring Charles Laughton, Carole Lombard and Kent Taylor. In the original version, Horace Prin, a camp cockney known as ‘The King of the River’, runs a remote Malayan rubber plantation as a whip-wielding tyrant while eliminating all who oppose him. He marries a singer, Judith Denning, and takes her to the plantation where she falls in love with a fugitive German officer David Von Elst with whom she escapes after a native uprising. In the remake, all three characters are Orientalised and the narrative 76

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given a topical slant. ‘The King of the River’ is now Gregory Prin (J. Carrol Naish), a half-caste Oriental, cruel, cunning and deluded. Judith Denning has become Kim Ling, a Chinese singer known as ‘China Lily’ (Anna May Wong) and the Van Elst character becomes Chang Tai (Anthony Quinn) a Chinese secret agent who has infiltrated Prin’s operation. Kim Ling agrees to visit the plantation in search of her father, a missing Chinese general Ahn Ling (Richard Loo). He has been sent to Singapore with $300,000 to buy army trucks for the struggle against Japan. But he and the money had vanished and he had been accused of embezzlement. She and Chang Tai join forces, discover that Prin has the money and the general is held prisoner. They retrieve the general and the money and escape down river as a native uprising puts paid to Prin. Anna May’s Chinese singer is resourceful and intelligent and while Quinn is unconvincing as a Chinese, there is a bravura performance from Naish and engaging ones from Eric Blore as a cockney manservant and Rudolf Forster, Pabst’s erstwhile Mackie Messer in The Threepenny Opera, as a world-weary professor. During her Paramount period, she crossed to Warner Bros to star in William McGann’s When Were You Born (1938), a conventional B picture detective thriller about a series of murders aboard a liner travelling from the Orient to San Francisco. Its novelty lies in the detective – a Chinese astrologer Mei Lei Ming, played with authority and assurance by Anna May. Having explained the meaning of each character’s birth sign, she accurately predicts the death of one of the passengers and proceeds to solve the mystery. There was talk of a series of films featuring Mei Lei Ming but nothing eventuated. There was one more B picture mystery in 1941, Ellery Queen’s Penthouse Mystery for Columbia Pictures. Ralph Bellamy as Ellery Queen solves the murder of a ventriloquist smuggling Chinese jewels into the United States to purchase supplies to feed the starving Chinese. Anna May had a small supporting role as Lois Ling, an agent of the Chinese government. Richard Loo played the Chinese patriot who commissions the ventriloquist to transport the jewels. This concluded the productive period in which Anna May had consistently projected a positive image of Chinese women, albeit in B pictures. She devoted much of the war to activities associated with the war effort, entertaining the troops for USO and raising money for Chinese War Relief. 77

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But there were two positive pieces of anti-Japanese propaganda, for which she donated her complete fee of $4,500 to the Chinese War Relief Fund. In 1942, she was contracted by the Poverty Row company PRC to star in a pair of films about the war in China. Cheaply made and rapidly shot (two weeks for filming and editing) they were notable chiefly for the strong female roles assigned to her. Bombs Over Burma and The Lady from Chungking were the opportunity to express her patriotic views. In Bombs Over Burma Anna May played Lin Yang, a Chinese school teacher in Chungking, who when Japanese bombing kills one of her pupils, becomes an undercover agent seeking to discover why convoys of supplies are not getting through to the Nationalist capital. During the course of a coach trip to Chungking, she exposes an apparent English aristocrat as a German agent supplying information to the Japanese. He tries to flee but is surrounded by Chinese peasants and killed. Interestingly the working-class American coach driver expresses his solidarity with the Chinese peasantry. Richard Loo plays a Nationalist army officer. In The Lady from Chungking, Anna May gives a moving, powerful and dominant performance as Chinese guerrilla leader, Madame Kwan Mei. She organises the Chinese peasants to resist the Japanese occupiers, rescues captured American ‘Flying Tiger’ airmen, blows up a bridge carrying an enemy troop train and finally shoots the cruel and lecherous Japanese general Kaimura, whom she has been pumping for information while acting as his ‘comfort woman’. She is at the end shot by firing squad, making a defiant speech about the inevitability of Chinese victory: ‘You’ve not killed me. You cannot kill China. Not even a million deaths could crush the soul of China. For the soul of China is eternal.’ The film unsparingly depicts Japanese violence against children, old people and parachutists. Neither film amounted to much cinematically. Joseph H. Lewis, director of Bombs Over Burma, who was at the start of a career that would see him making some notable thrillers in the later 1940s and the 1950s, embellishes his film with a few imaginative visual flourishes. But William Nigh, director of The Lady from Chungking, who had made some notable A pictures for MGM in the late 1920s, among them Mr Wu, had by the 1940s been reduced to churning out Poverty Row quickies with efficiency but little imagination. However, no one can doubt the sincerity and passion communicated by Anna May and her commitment to the cause of Chinese victory. 78

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These films effectively signalled the end of her career as a film star. Her late 1930s Paramount B pictures had seen her break decisively with previous images of Chinese women as ‘China Dolls’ or ‘Dragon Ladies’ to project a series of intelligent, capable and modern women. But this had apparently not been enough to erase the previous years of stereotyping. Although T. K. Chang, the Chinese consul in Los Angeles had approved the scripts of her Paramount vehicles, Anna May was conspicuously omitted from the spectacular all-star pageant organised by David O.  Selznick at the Hollywood Bowl in 1943 in honour of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.30 This was done apparently at the request of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, Mayling Soong, who represented the new image of China. Glamorous, American educated, a fluent English speaker, a Christian convert, she was seen as the epitome of modern Chinese womanhood and the triumph of American democratic values. She represented what Karen Leong has called ‘The China Mystique’, ‘a romanticized, progressive and highly gendered image of China’, a view cultivated by both national governments and broadly held by the American public in the late 1930s and the 1940s.31 Leong singles out three women as promoting this ‘China Mystique’ for the American public: Pearl S. Buck, Anna May Wong and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. Pearl S. Buck, the product of the American missionary experience in China, was the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Good Earth and later novels which earned her the Nobel Prize for literature creating a positive image of the Chinese peasantry. Anna May Wong was the face of Chinese-Americans for cinema-goers and made a conscious effort in her late 1930s films to project a progressive image of Chinese women. Madame Chiang Kai-Shek was the public face abroad of the Nationalist government, which was resisting the brutal Japanese advance. The ‘New China’ of the war years, however, was overtaken by the Communist China established by Mao Tse-Tung, and survived only in the island enclave of Taiwan. This development coincided with the decline of Anna May’s career. After the war, she appeared in only two feature films, playing servants in both. In the excellent noirish thriller, Impact (1949), she played the faithful housemaid Su Lin and in Portrait in Black (1960), one of Ross Hunter’s glossy high-style, all-star melodramas, she played the sinister housekeeper Tani. Most Wong filmographies list among her credits the Anthony Quinn Arctic drama The Savage Innocents (1959) but the actress 79

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playing Eskimo Hiko is a different, much younger Anna May Wong. The same actress played a role in the episode of the British television series Danger Man (The Journey Ends Halfway) also attributed erroneously to the original Anna May. According to Graham Hodges, the young Anna May is an actress whose real name was Marie Yang.32 The real Anna May was able to prolong her acting career on television in the 1950s. Anna May starred as a Chinese detective in the ten-episode 1951 series The Gallery of Madame Liu Tsong. She played the Eurasian mistress of the murdered planter Geoffrey Hammond in a live television version of The Letter in 1956, directed by William Wyler and starring Siobhan McKenna and John Mills. She had been considered too young and sexy for the 1940 film version in which Gale Sondergaard played the Eurasian woman. There were guest appearances in such popular series as Climax Mystery Theatre, Mike Hammer, Adventures in Paradise and Wyatt Earp. Cast in the major role of Madam Liang in the projected film version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Flower Drum Song about the life of Chinese-Americans she was on the verge of a serious cinematic comeback. But before filming began, she died of a heart attack aged only 56 on 3 February 1961. Disowned after her death by Asian-American activists for demeaning the race by her negative screen roles, she has more recently been rehabilitated and revalued as a courageous and talented artist who sought to negotiate a path through the racism and stereotyping of Hollywood and the competing demands of her American upbringing and Chinese heritage to achieve artistic fulfilment and racial dignity. In this she can be seen like Paul Robeson and Sabu as a heroic pioneer in the continuing struggle for ethnic equality.

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5 Chinatown Nights

Thanks to literature and film, Chinatown has become one of the mythic sites of fantasy, drama and adventure. Exotic, alien and mysterious, it is the landscape of dreams and nightmares. As Ruth Mayer has argued: ‘The Chinatown of the early twentieth century stands out from other urban ethnic quarters in that it was always perceived as especially self-contained and unassimilable.’ It had its own structures, organizations, hierarchies and rules.1 Chinatowns existed in both the United States and Britain, chiefly in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, London, Liverpool and Cardiff. They were closely associated with maritime trade and worldwide sea routes, making the fantasy of a global Chinese conspiracy at least plausible. The reality of Chinatown was prosaic and unexciting. It generally consisted of a drab and shabby network of narrow streets and alleyways containing restaurants, laundries, social clubs, grocery stores and lodging houses. But this unremarkable surface merely served to suggest a hidden, forbidden world behind the façade, a world characterized by opium dens, gambling halls, white slavery and the murderous activities of the tongs, the recurrent tropes of Chinatown fiction. The chief locales of such fiction were the Chinatown of San Francisco and the Limehouse district of East London. From the 1890s to the 1940s, 81

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the names Chinatown and Limehouse were synonymous until the wartime blitz and London County Council redevelopment schemes wiped out the area and Chinatown relocated to Soho, the Bohemian quarter of the West End of London.2 There is no better evidence of the penetration of an image into the collective consciousness than its enshrining in popular songs and this occurred in those perennial musical favourites, ‘Chinatown, My Chinatown’ and ‘Limehouse Blues’, which were both in the repertoire of most interwar dance bands. Indeed the image was so potent that it began to attract tourists. Tourist buses arrive in Limehouse and Chinatown in the films Limehouse Blues, Chinatown Nights, A Tale of Two Worlds, The Black Bird – in which a socialite announces that they have come ‘to see the Chinkies smoking’ (opium presumably) – and the 1936 remake of Broken Blossoms. The hero of Chinatown Squad (1935) is even a tourist bus driver, a former policeman who solves a murder committed in a Chinese restaurant. The mythic Limehouse as it regularly appeared is classically evoked in Limehouse Blues (1934): fog, darkness, cobbled streets, narrow alleys, brawling drunks, sailors, Chinese men, a Salvation Army Band, lone patrolling policeman. There is a pub, a chip shop and a nightclub and much of the action takes place at night, the darkness contrasting with the brightly lit West End where the heroine first meets the hero who will rescue her from her Limehouse life. It essentially reproduced the Limehouse first evoked by D. W. Griffith in Broken Blossoms and consistently copied in all subsequent visualizations. Karl Brown was not exaggerating when he wrote in Adventures with D.  W. Griffith:  ‘The whole English-speaking world knew every dark and dangerous alley of Limehouse as well as they knew the way to the corner grocery.’3 But the Limehouse which became notorious world-wide was the creation of two writers, Sax Rohmer and Thomas Burke. Interestingly while Rohmer is still in print today and still read, Thomas Burke (1886–1945) is now largely forgotten. But when his short story collection Limehouse Nights was published in 1916 it created a sensation. It had been rejected by a dozen publishers before Grant Richards took it up. It was immediately banned by the circulating libraries and condemned by The Times for sentimentalizing inter-racial sex. When the book was reissued in a cheap popular edition as part of The Daily Express Fiction Library, the editor argued that the book ‘held up a mirror to a part of society’. He acknowledged that ‘competent 82

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critics – magistrates, ministers of religion and others living in Limehouse’ questioned the accuracy of the stories but he defended them on grounds that they depicted ‘a Limehouse … not the Limehouse type’ and that Burke, having been born and brought up in the East End, was ‘an authority’ on the subject.4 In fact, as Ann Witchard has demonstrated, much of Burke’s autobiography was fictional. He was not born and brought up in the East End and confessed at the end of his life to having little knowledge of the Chinese and Chinatown. He was in fact born at Clapham Junction and spent his early years in the London Orphan Asylum.5 His stories are as much concerned with the sexual precocity of white working-class teenage girls as with the Chinese, who are generally treated sympathetically in the stories. Burke’s is not ‘yellow peril’ fiction. It is rather social realist fiction along the lines pioneered by Jack London. It was the product of a particular era in English writing: the era of the social explorers like James Greenwood, George R. Sims, Thomas Archer and William Booth who wrote about working-class slum life in graphic detail, of the Decadents like Arthur Symons and Ernest Dowson who revelled in tales of Bohemian life, opium dens, drinking houses and underage girls, and of sensational tabloid journalism featuring stories of drug-taking, sexual promiscuity and crime in the East End. Anne Witchard convincingly defends Burke’s work from charges of racism and xenophobia: His strong identification with the human melting pot of proletarian London and its traditional freedoms and pleasures, preserves him from the knee-jerk racisms and fascist inclinations of high-cultural writers of the period. He challenges the assumed unorthodoxies of the bourgeois with his matter-offact, non-judgmental revelations of working-class life. His stories cross the moral threshold and he writes back from this degraded arena showing that hedonistic drug use is not the preserve of decadent members of the privileged classes. Opium and cocaine are a natural release from life’s daily grind for yellow and white alike in Limehouse. Sadistic cruelties are practiced not by Chinese, but by white men. While Limehouse Nights capitalized on contemporary concern about miscegenation, Burke did not temper the romances he spun between teenage white girls and their ‘yellow’ neighbours with high moral tone and distaste that was taken by the establishment press with regard to such transgressions.6

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Figure 5.1. The opium den in Broken Blossoms

Burke’s stories were as successful in America as in Britain and attracted the attention of D. W. Griffith. Griffith was to turn Burke’s story The Chink and the Child into a cinematic masterpiece Broken Blossoms (1919) which was widely hailed as the first work of screen poetry since the invention of the medium. The delicate tinting of the print and the specially composed score by Louis F. Gottschalk complemented the remarkable performances of Lillian Gish and Richard Barthelmess, which nearly a century after the film was shot can still amaze audiences. Particularly notable is Gish’s display of sheer terror: having locked herself in a cupboard, she whirls round and round like a trapped bird as Battling Burrows smashes down the door with an axe preparatory to flogging her. Griffith faithfully followed Burke’s narrative, deriving many of the inter-titles directly from the original text. Even the new title Broken Blossoms was created from a line of Burke’s that when Cheng Huan first saw Lucy Burrows ‘the spirit of Beauty broke her blossoms’ all over his room. Griffith made three major alterations to the story. He turned Cheng Huan from a wandering poet and loafer into an idealistic Buddhist missionary seeking to bring a message of peace and 84

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love from the East to the barbarian West and Griffith’s ending had Cheng shooting Burrows dead rather than putting a poisonous reptile into his bed which killed him. Also the age of Lucy was advanced from 12 to 15 to lessen the potential paedophilic overtones of the tale. The film tells a simple story. Cheng Huan (Richard Barthlemess), a gentle, good-hearted Chinese shopkeeper in Limehouse, falls for the brutalized 15-year-old waif, Lucy (Lillian Gish), daughter of vicious brutal boxer Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp), who drinks and consorts with prostitutes when he is supposed to be in training for a big fight. Reprimanded by his manager, he takes out his rage by beating the terrified Lucy with a whip. After one of these regular beatings, she wanders off, collapsing in the doorway of Cheng’s shop. He takes her in, tends her wounds, dresses her like a Chinese princess, plays the flute to her and adores her chastely. When this development is reported to Battling, his innate racism is triggered and he goes berserk (‘Above all, Battling hated those not born in the same great country as him’). He and his confederates go to Cheng’s shop, smash up his sanctum and Battling drags Lucy back to his hovel and flogs her to death. Cheng follows, shoots Battling dead, removes Lucy’s body reverently back to his shop and commits suicide besides her body. All this takes place in a stylized Limehouse and a succession of dream-like images. On the face of it, Griffith appears here to be seeking to make amends for the racism he was accused of having fostered in The Birth of a Nation by praising the superior morality, gentleness and idealism of the East while at the same time delivering a critique of brutal, racist white male patriarchal tyranny. Griffith is clearly anxious to acquit Cheng of sexual desire for Lucy, describing his love as ‘a pure and holy thing’, and he makes Battling the embodiment of all the worse traits of the white working-class male. But latterly critics have come to interpret the film differently. They have seen it as primarily a film about sex rather than race. Typical is Robert Lee who in Orientals writes: ‘Notwithstanding the apparent liberalism of the narrative, the melodramatic power of Broken Blossoms rests on its play between three powerful taboos:  pedophilia, miscegenation and incest.’7 Feminist critics in particular have interpreted the film in symbolic terms. Both Julia Lesage and Gina Marchetti see the floggings of Lucy as representing incestuous rape by her father and Cheng Huan’s adoration of Lucy 85

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as paedophilic, as she is portrayed essentially as a little girl and is last seen clutching a doll as she meets her fate. Given the fact that the film includes telling vignettes in which Lucy is warned off marriage to a white man by a prematurely middle-aged woman reduced to drudgery with a gaggle of children by a demanding husband and warned off life as a prostitute by a sympathetic streetwalker, the only other option – a happy marriage with the gentle, loving Chinaman is negated by the social taboo on miscegenation. So the only feasible outcome is death for them both. But the feminists also claim that the endorsement of Cheng’s form of masculinity is fatally undermined by the fact that, disillusioned with the failure of his missionary enterprise, he has sought escape from the sordid realities of everyday life in the fever of gambling and the dreams induced by the opium pipe. He emerges as essentially passive, feminized and perverse, identified with the criminal side of Limehouse, in particular the opium den, peopled by Chinese, Malays, lascars and blacks, all consorting with flashy white prostitutes.8 Whatever the critics now make of the film, when it was first released, it was taken at face value. As Edward Wagenknecht wrote in 1962: The enthusiasm which Broken Blossoms awakened in 1919 can hardly be overstated; Griffith was everywhere felt to have opened up new dimensions in the cinema and raised it to the level of great tragic art … What might have been merely a subtly lighted, skilfully directed slum melodrama … was lifted into an ideal world of aesthetic purity and clarity, so that the audience went away from it uplifted as well as terrified.9

For those audiences, Battling Burrows was a sadistic brute whose death would be greeted with cheers, Cheng Huan was a romantic hero, gentle and idealistic, and Lucy was the child-woman, so beloved of Victorian culture and the silent cinema, whose terror and victimhood inspired only tears and sympathy. The most serious criticism by British reviewers was inauthenticity. As Jon Burrows writes: ‘This was the consistent, insistent refrain of the film’s British reviewers.’ He quotes a series of reviews such as The Times’ declaration that ‘this is a Limehouse which neither Mr Burke nor any other man who knows his East End of London will be able to recognize’.10 This became the recurrent criticism of Limehouse melodramas whether made in Britain or in Hollywood. 86

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Seeking to revive his directorial career stalled after the coming of sound, Griffith proposed to various studios a talkie remake of Broken Blossoms and in 1935 he received an offer from Julius Hagen, the head of Twickenham Studios in England, to direct such a remake. Arriving in England and inspired by the performance of Emlyn Williams in his own stage play Night Must Fall, Griffith chose Williams both to play the Chinese man, now Chen (rather than Cheng) Huan, and to write the script, based on Burke’s story and his own 1919 screen adaptation. But the relationship with Hagen broke down when Griffith discovered and wished to cast as Lucy an unknown and inexperienced French girl Ariane Borg. The German star Dolly Haas had already been cast, Hagen refused to change the casting and Griffith was ignominiously sacked.11 If the 1919 Broken Blossoms had been about race rather than sex, the 1936 remake was even more so. It was largely the work of German exiles, Jews and/or leftists and reflected directly the exile experience rather than the psycho-sexual drama of the original. Apart from Dolly Haas, German-born studio head Julius Hagen hired a German director, cinematographer and composer. It would be the first film directed by émigré theatre director Hans Brahm who would go to Hollywood and as John Brahm direct two notable Gothic melodramas, The Lodger and Hangover Square. The cameraman was Curt Courant who had worked extensively in France and Germany. The composer was Karol Rathaus, Polish-born but who had made his name as a pianist and composer in Germany and Austria and had composed the highly praised score for the 1931 German film version of The Brothers Karamazov. Despite having a Welsh-accented Chinaman and a German-accented cockney waif (a line of dialogue given to her father explains that her dead mother had been a foreigner), this is unexpectedly effective, though lacking the poetic brilliance of the original. If the 1919 version was, as Paul O’Dell suggests, ‘impressionist’ in its visual style,12 the 1936 version was Expressionist and heavily Germanic. As Kevin Gough-Yates has written, it has ‘a distinctly European appearance and could have been lit for Fritz Lang. The crowd scenes … suggest the same influence.’13 After a brief opening in China where Chen Huan prepares to leave for England as a Buddhist missionary, an entirely new sequence of events traces the classic exile experience and emphasizes the racism encountered 87

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by the well-intentioned Chinese man. He arrives in England in the pouring rain, is robbed of his money by a white man and when he tries to preach his message of love and peace is barracked by a vicious racist crowd, denounced as a heathen and hit on the head by a brick thrown by one of the onlookers. Held responsible for causing a disturbance, he is sent to prison for seven days and, emerging, seeks consolation in a drinking den, peopled by half-castes, Jews, Chinese, prostitutes and assorted raucous riff-raff. When one of the waitresses declares: ‘I’d sooner drown than marry someone with coloured blood’, she provokes a riot. Chen gets drunk, denounces his own philosophy as false and abandons his mission. The film then follows the trajectory of the Griffith film with Lucy brutalized by her father, Battling Burrows (Arthur Margetson), who is made up to look like Donald Crisp and gives vent to a stream of racist abuse when he first sees Chen. When Burrows learns that Chen has taken her in after she had been beaten by him, he leads a racist mob against Chen’s shop when he is absent. They smash, loot and set fire to it, in an explicit reflection of the Nazi treatment of the Jews. After Burrows drags Lucy home and beats her to death, Chen follows, strangles Burrows and carries Lucy back to his burning shop, where he dies beside her in the flames. The tightening of the censorship code in 1934 means there is no opium den and no opium smoking by Chen, a topic absolutely banned by the code. Also the beatings are notably toned down. The first beating is conveyed symbolically by a window shutter banging against a tree branch while we hear Lucy’s cries in the background. One blow is sufficient to kill her at the end. This means that the emphasis is very strongly on the racism of the English working class. Unlike the 1919 version, the remake was neither a critical nor popular success. Elements of Broken Blossoms, notably the abusive relationship of a cockney thug and his daughter  – found their way into Limehouse Blues but were fused with a gangster narrative centred on George Raft’s Eurasian smuggler and Limehouse nightclub owner (see Chapter  4). Griffith had sought to duplicate the success of Broken Blossoms with a return to Thomas Burke and Limehouse in Dream Street (1921). Griffith’s script was derived from two of Burke’s stories, Gina of the Chinatown and The Spirit of the Lamp. But it turned out to be, as Richard Schickel put it, ‘one of Griffith’s feeblest efforts’.14 Although visually and photographically sophisticated and 88

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taking place in a suitably atmospheric Limehouse, it feels with a running time of 137 minutes absolutely interminable. Griffith appended a preface probably intended to divert British criticism of the authenticity of the Limehouse setting but it served only to underline the role of Limehouse as a dream landscape: Dream Street  – some may say London–Limehouse, Poplar or High Street – but we do not claim any of these. Our people are dream people who look from wistful windows or walk with visions on the street of dreams.

This is wholly disingenuous as the credits give Thomas Burke’s stories as the source, there is an acknowledgement of the help given by Scotland Yard and the London Police on the details of English police procedure and inquest hearings, the opening shot is of the Thames and the dockland area and the sets closely resemble those of Broken Blossoms. It is weighed down by Griffith’s moralistic, pseudo-philosophical musings. These are geared to the periodic appearances of two symbolic figures, a street preacher, symbol of Good (i.e. Conscience), and a masked violinist, trickster of the streets, symbol of Evil (i.e. Temptation). He removes his mask from time to time to reveal a hideous, snaggle-toothed visage beneath. The two symbolic figures are accompanied by images of Christ preaching and the Devil and his demons cavorting in hell. As Arthur Lennig has observed of Griffith:  ‘When he tried to be intellectual and cultured, to preach and be profound, he was in dangerous waters.’15 The leading lady Carol Dempster, playing the dancer Gypsy Fair, is a much more limited actress than Lillian Gish and Griffith, evidently infatuated with her, includes far too many close-ups of her looking winsome. The racial stereotypes are also retrograde. There is a comic cowardly black man Samuel Jones (played by a white man in blackface) who is entirely surplus to requirements. The villain, a far cry from Cheng Huan, is a Chinese man Sway Wan, who runs an illicit gambling establishment. He spies voyeuristically on Gypsy Fair with many leering close-ups. He propositions her and is rejected (‘After this leave white girls alone’). Later he attempts to rape her. The street dancer Gypsy Fair, having calmed the audience at a music hall during a backstage fire, gets a contract to perform on the stage. She is loved by and courted by two brothers: swaggering tough guy Spike McFadden 89

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(Ralph Graves) who works at the docks, is suspected of ‘unlawful deeds’ and is ‘the undisputed King of the District’, and his wilting, sensitive composer brother Billie (Charles Emmett Mack). When Spike tries to force his attention on Gypsy Fair, Billie threatens to kill him but cannot bring himself to do it. Later Billie shoots and kills a burglar in self-defence and flees. Spike is arrested and tried for the crime but Billie appears at the last minute to clear him. Spike and Gypsy marry with Billie’s blessing. Unlike Broken Blossoms, none of Dream Street’s characters are particularly attractive or sympathetic. As Arthur Lennig put it: ‘The girl is a tease, a tittle-tattle, a bigot; Spike, a braggart and would-be rapist; the other brother, a loser – more mouse than man.’16 The film was a critical and box office failure. Despite the box office failure of Dream Street, filmmakers both in Hollywood (Curly Top (1924) and Twinkletoes (1926)) and in England (London (1926)) continued to turn to Thomas Burke for inspiration. His 1917 novel Twinkletoes was adapted for the screen in 1926 with the Englishman Charles Brabin directing. It was a vehicle for Colleen Moore, another of those winsome child-women so appealing to both Burke and to silent film audiences. Twinkletoes is a 15-year-old dancer in a Limehouse music hall, who seeks to do good and make people happy. Chuck Lightfoot, a 29-year-old man married to a drunken harridan, becomes besotted with her and is transformed by his love. But when Twinkletoes discovers that the father she idolizes is a forger and about to be arrested by the police, her world collapses. She goes to a party, gets drunk and allows herself to be seduced by the lecherous music hall manager Roseleaf. When news of her disgrace gets out, Chuck kills Roseleaf and turns himself into the police. The despairing Twinkletoes drowns herself. Although it was subtitled ‘A Tale of Chinatown’, the Chinese make only marginal appearances. Twinkletoes likes the Chinese and cheerfully fraternizes with them, conversing in pidgin English (‘She knew the Chinese and their kindly ways; she had nothing to fear from them’ says Burke). This scene is faithfully reproduced in the film. But after the main outline of Burke’s book is followed, the script departs radically from the denouement. In the film, Twinkletoes fights off the advances of Roseleaf (Warner Oland) and escapes and, although she now loves Chuck, she disappears because he is married. The tacked-on happy ending finds Twinkletoes some years later in the countryside working in the fields and being reunited with Chuck 90

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who has tracked her down to tell her he is free of his wife (how we are not told) and with her father, now released from prison. It lacks both the tragic dimension and the racial angle of Broken Blossoms, though conveying something of the atmosphere of Burke’s Limehouse with its drunken brawls, rowdy music hall, domestic violence and petty crime. The other notable Chinatown was in San Francisco. As Peter Stanfield has written of the films set there: The peculiar American mix of race, class and gender that in many crucial ways defines native cultures of criminality finds its surest expression in mob movies with a Chinatown setting. Underworld gang activities of the tongs and the Triads in Chinatown have repeatedly provided the narrative motivation for action and detective investigations … The ‘alien’ and ‘exotic’ location that Chinatown represents inevitably casts its occupants as ‘other’ … but … American cinema has often deployed images of Chinatown as a way of investing an element of novelty into generic formulas such as the gangster film. The repetitive use of underworld stories with Chinatown settings suggests this is a narrative trope that transcends any particular cycle of crime movies. Although Chinatown may appear peripheral to the concerns of the majority of films within any given cycle, its recurrence within and across cycles conversely suggests its centrality and importance to the production of fictional ganglands.17

Expeditions into San Francisco’s Chinatown to pursue villains or rescue heroines were a regular feature of silent screen crime thrillers, many of them now lost. They included titles such as Checkers (1919), The Imp (1919), The Scrap of Paper (1920), Barriers of Folly (1922), The Pell Street Mystery (1924), The Sky Pirate (1926) and Tearing Through (1925). Chinatown continued to be a conveniently exotic setting for routine B picture crime thrillers after the coming of sound, thrillers such as Law of the Tong (1931), Secrets of Wu Sin (1932), Chinatown After Dark (1931), Secrets of Chinatown (1935), Chinatown Squad (1935), Daughter of the Tong (1939), Shadows of the Orient (1937) and Chinatown at Midnight (1949). The introduction of the censorship code in the 1930s placed a total ban on depictions of the illegal drug trade and drug addiction. But in silent screen 91

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days, drug addiction featured regularly and in particular the opium dens of Chinatown. In The Secret Sin (1916), seamstress Grace Martin frequents Chinatown opium dens and becomes a drug addict. She tries to win her twin sister Edith’s lover Jack Herron by pretending that Edith is the drug addict. But eventually after Edith has been arrested in an opium den while searching for Grace, she and Jack rescue her from the streets of Chinatown and send her to a sanatorium to recover. Blanche Sweet played the twin sisters. In The Seventh Noon (1915), a bankrupt and suicidal lawyer Peter Donaldson discovers a reason to live when he helps Ellen Arsdale rescue her brother Ben who has become an opium addict in Chinatown. In The Sign of the Poppy (1916), the twin brother of Alvin Marston, kidnapped, turned into an opium addict in Chinatown and renamed Chang by Hop Li, abducts Alvin and takes his place in order to claim their father’s fortune. When exposed, he commits suicide. Fighting Destiny (1919), yet another twin-based drama, has a reform politician Larry Cavendish coming to believe that his fiancée is tied up with a notorious crook. When she disappears, he searches for her through the underworld and ends up a prisoner in a Chinatown opium den. When he is rescued by police, he discovers that the girl he had believed was his fiancée was in fact her twin sister, an opium addict whom she was trying to rescue. In The Flower of Doom (1917), the girlfriend of reporter Harry Pearson is kidnapped by a Chinatown tong. So he kidnaps a female member of the tong from a Chinatown opium den in order to effect an exchange of prisoners. In The Midnight Patrol (1918), Fang, head of the Chinese underworld, kidnaps a Chinatown mission worker Patsy O’Connell to deter police from raiding Chinatown when he is expecting a large consignment of opium. Patrolman Terence Shannon tries to rescue her. Both Patsy and Shannon are about to be thrown into a pit of hungry rats when the police arrive in time to save them and Wu Fang is killed in the ensuing battle. Next to opium dens, the activities of the tongs were a favoured subject for Hollywood melodrama. Kevin Brownlow explained their significance: These organizations  – the name comes from the Cantonese pronunciation of t’ang, meaning ‘Brotherhood’ – were organizations exclusive to the Chinese in America. They sheltered behind respectable facades, as did regular gangsters, but they

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The War of the Tongs (1917) was unique in that it was written and possibly directed by a Chinese man and featured an entirely Asian cast drawn from the Imperial Chinese Players. It aimed to expose the methods used by the tongs but also sought to stress the honesty of Chinese merchants in their business dealings. Wong Wing is in love with Suey Lee but she is desired by tong leader Chin Ting. When Suey refuses Ting’s proposal of marriage, her father gives Wong Wing permission to marry Suey if he can raise the dowry of $900. He tries to win the money at Chin Ting’s gambling house but is instead cheated of his entire savings. This precipitates a war between tongs ending with Wong victorious and claiming his bride. The Tong Man (1919) cast Japanese star Sessue Hayakawa as Luk Chan, a San Francisco hatchet man in love with Sen Chee, daughter of a wealthy merchant Louie Toy. She is desired by tong leader Ming Tai. When Louie refuses to pay Ming Tai protection money, hatchet man Luk Chan is ordered to kill him. Luk Chan cannot bring himself to do it. So Ming Tai kills Louie Toy, frames Luk Chan and kidnaps Sen Chee. But Luk Chan and his friend Lucero rescue Sen Chee, kill Ming Tai and sail for China. There was a serious attempt to set up a production company, Wah Ming Motion Picture Company, financed by Chinese businessmen, which aimed to make Chinese films with Chinese casts in Los Angeles. Actor-writer James B. Leong, Shanghai-born but now resident in America, was the leading light in the venture. But it seems only to have managed to produce a single film, Lotus Blossom (1921), which retold a Chinese legend about the casting of a sacred bell.19 So rooted in popular culture was the association between Chinatown, Limehouse and crime that it was possible to make crime films set in both locations but not involving the Chinese. This was the case in three Lon Chaney underworld thrillers, The Penalty (1920) and The Shock (1923), both set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and The Black Bird (1926), set in Limehouse. Alan Crosland’s Old San Francisco (1927), complete with synchronised musical score (Hugo Reisenfeld) and sound effects, was a large-scale Chinatown melodrama. Interestingly, it is based on a clash of immigrant 93

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cultures. On the one side there is white aristocratic Catholic Hispanic culture, motivated by honour, its values reinforced by its Irish hero, and on the other side there is the yellow, pagan Chinese culture, motivated by cruelty and greed. The film opens with a prologue detailing the history of the Vasquez family, who arrive in California and settle in San Francisco in 1769. They construct a noble rancho and raise vines on their extensive estate. But they are affected by the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1848. Many of their peons desert the land in search of a quick fortune in the gold fields. Goldmania is denounced by the Vasquez family but it is the beginning of the decline of their fortunes. The action proper of the film begins in 1906 when a title tells us that San Francisco is flourishing, ‘the Paris of the Pacific, at its heart the Barbary Coast, the mile of hell from Chinatown to the Waterfront’. Chris Buckwell (Warner Oland), the political boss of Chinatown, seeks to acquire the Vasquez rancho from the impoverished family. Apparently white, he oppresses and exploits the Chinese population. He is in fact Chinese and, descending to his basement, dons mandarin costume to pray to the Chinese god. He is taunted by his dwarf brother Chang Loo, whom he keeps imprisoned in a cage. Although he has a devoted Chinese mistress (Anna May Wong), Buckwell desires Dolores Vasquez (Dolores Costello), grand-daughter of the elderly owner of the Vasquez Rancho. When Buckwell is rejected by Dolores, he tries to force his attentions on her and is fought and beaten by the young Irishman Terence O’Shaughnessy (Charles Emmett Mack), who also loves Dolores. Discovering that Buckwell is really Chinese, they inform the Chinatown community of the fact. The community prepare to exact Chinese vengeance for his misdeeds. But Buckwell and his mistress escape, taking Dolores with them. They retreat to the ‘Inner Circle’, a nightmarish labyrinth of narrow corridors and steep staircases which take them ever deeper into the hidden heart of Chinatown. This underworld is presided over by Chang Sue Lee, the richest man in Chinatown, who imports opium and exports white girls to the Orient as part of a white slave racket. Dolores, having rejected Buckwell, is drugged, dressed in Chinese finery and put up for sale at a gathering of leading Chinese merchants. Meanwhile O’Shaughnessy and the dwarf brother, freed from his cage, search for her. Dolores, threatened with a fate worse than death, recites ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and at that moment the San Francisco earthquake strikes, killing Buckwell 94

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and his mistress but sparing Dolores to be rescued by Terence. The film ends with Dolores and Terence married, Chinatown destroyed and a new city rising from the ruins of the old. William Wellman, expert in hard-hitting melodramas and tough thrillers, directed two tong war dramas set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, one for Paramount and one for First National. Paramount’s Chinatown Nights (1929) was completed as a silent film but then effectively remade as a 65 per cent talkie. Some silent sequences were preserved with music, sound effects and dialogue dubbed in and many entirely new dialogue scenes were shot. It is essentially a love story across class lines rather than across racial lines. It opens with a tourist bus visiting Chinatown and the tourists having the gambling houses, opium dens and the Chinese theatre pointed out to them. But they hastily retreat when the tong war banners are unfurled and a tong war breaks out between the Wo Ping tong, headed by Irish-American Chuck Riley (Wallace Beery) and the Ho Yan tong, headed by the Chinese Boston Charlie Wu (Warner Oland), as a result of violations of the treaty existing between them. Slumming socialite Joan Pride (Florence Vidor), caught up in the mayhem, is drawn to the tough, uncompromising Riley and, when he slaps her face, she tells him he is the only real man she has ever known. Abandoning her own class and her world, she moves in with Chuck as his mistress. She tries to get him to make peace with the rival tong and when he refuses, she informs the police that many of his men are illegal immigrants. They will be deported. Chuck throws her out and she takes to drink and goes downhill. When a kid who idolizes Chuck and tries to effect a reconciliation between him and Joan is shot dead and when Boston Charlie’s men dump a down-and-out Joan on his doorstep, Chuck realizes the error of his ways, is reunited with Joan, closes his club and leaves Chinatown. Chinatown Nights is in many ways a remarkable achievement. William K. Everson has written that it was a perfect example of what Hollywood directors themselves envisioned as the talkie of the future. In pacing, mobile camerawork, and overall design, it is essentially a silent film, still using a constant musical score and narrative sub-titles. Much of the dialogue is merely imposed over medium or long-shot scenes where the characters are either in motion or in semi-darkness, concealing the lack of dialogue synchronisation.20

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Frank T. Thompson in his study of Wellman’s career agrees: Wellman proved far better at creating a mood than in conveying much sincerity in the rather hysterical plot. The events are cursorily told, the acting is widely variable, and the ending lacks conviction. Yet, Chinatown Nights remains consistently interesting. Its added sound is, curiously, its greatest asset … The emphatic, deliberate rhythm of the dubbed speech heightens the hallucinatory mood and lends a sense of ritual to the proceedings. Dark and ugly and good in ways that Wellman probably never intended, Chinatown Nights has the essence of a nightmare.21

Wellman returned to the subject of tong wars following his move from Paramount to Warner Bros/First National in a fully fledged talkie, The Hatchet Man (1932) (UK The Honourable Mr Wong). Based on a play by David Belasco and Achmed Abdullah, this film also featured a clash of cultures, this time Chinese and American. It opens in 1917 when the introductory title tells us that San Francisco is the biggest Chinatown in the world with 40,000 inhabitants but the tong wars rage and the tongs’ will is enforced by hatchet men. There is an elaborate Chinese funeral, paralleling a similar sequence in Chinatown Nights. After it, Wong Low Get (Edward G. Robinson), hatchet man of the Lem Sing tong, is ordered to kill his best friend, Sun Yat Ming (J. Carrol Naish), who was responsible for the death of tong member Hop Li. Ming, accepting his fate, forgives his friend and leaves him his business and his 6-year-old daughter Sun Toya whom he hopes Wong will marry. The film cuts to the present and Wong is now a besuited American-style businessman and Sun Toya (Loretta Young) has become a thoroughly Americanized girl, using American slang and dancing to the latest American music. She agrees to marry Wong but falls for his bodyguard, the flashy and fast-talking Chinese gangster from New York, Harry En-Hai (Leslie Fenton). When a tong war breaks out with the rogue Bing Foo Tong, actually led by a white man Malone, Wong seeks a peaceable solution and negotiates a treaty which Malone rejects. So Wong uses his hatchet to eliminate him. Returning to his home, he finds Toya in Harry’s arms. He prepares to kill Harry but remembering his promise to her father that Toya shall always be happy, he allows them to depart together. His failure to avenge his dishonour leads the tong to expel him 96

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and his customers to shun him as a coward. He loses his business and is reduced to working in the fields. But then a letter arrives from China. Harry, convicted of selling opium, has been deported to China and Toya, who went with him, is now living in desperate circumstances. She confesses that she really loves Wong and begs his forgiveness. Wong travels to China, working his passage as a stoker, and reaches the town where Toya is. Harry has become an opium addict and has sold Toya into prostitution in the brothel/opium den/tea-house where he lives. Wong rescues Toya and, hurling his hatchet to demonstrate to the tea-shop owner his prowess as a hatchet man, he penetrates the skull of Harry, leaning on the wall behind the dragon hanging, and kills him. The film demonstrates the triumph of Chinese tradition (marital fidelity, code of honour) over the corrupting efforts of American modernity (jazz, guns, slick suits and slang). As Frank Thompson writes, apart from the incongruity of all the Chinese roles being played by Caucasians, The Hatchet Man is ‘a film of great beauty and style, lavishly decorated, exquisitely photographed and beautifully directed’.22 Wellman’s handling is totally confident and the combination of mobile camerawork, rapid editing and well-paced action, all enhanced by the exquisite Chinoiserie of Anton Grot’s sets, make this an excellent thriller. Wellman mentions neither of his Chinatown films in his autobiography. Edward G.  Robinson in his autobiography dismisses The Hatchet Man as ‘one of my horrible memories’.23 This is presumably because, while he convincingly portrays the honourable nature and noble soul of the hatchet man, he never looks or sounds remotely Chinese. The Son-Daughter is a tragic love story set in San Francisco’s Chinatown. It is yet another of David Belasco’s Orientalist melodramas, this one based on a 1919 play, co-written with George M. Scarborough and originally starring Lenore Ulric. MGM adapted it for the screen in 1932 with Clarence Brown directing and Ramon Novarro and Helen Hayes as the stars. It was a box office flop but this may have been due as much to Novarro’s waning star appeal as to its subject matter. The film, set in 1911, displayed strong sympathies for the Chinese Republican cause. Opening with newsreel footage of the 1911 Revolution, introductory titles declare that after three centuries of oppression by the Manchus, revolution had broken out in China. In San Francisco’s Chinatown, sympathizers were supplying money for weapons and food supplies for 97

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the revolutionaries. They are opposed by Imperial hatchet men, ‘hirelings of the tyrant’, headed by a mysterious individual known as ‘The Sea Crab’. When the captain of a munitions ship demands $100,000 to allow the ship to sail, Sin Kai (H. B. Warner) seeks to raise it. But Republican sympathizers are murdered, captured and tortured and at a fund-raising mass meeting, machine-gunned by Imperialists. The main plot, however, centres on Lien Wha (Helen Hayes), daughter of Dr Dong Tong (Lewis Stone) and her love for student Tom Lee (Ramon Novarro). After a gentle and sensitively handled courtship, she agrees to marry him and Dr Dong Tong gives his consent. But Sin Kai tells him that to raise the $100,000 necessary to release the munitions ship, four rich men must sell their daughters in marriage for $25,000 each. Dong Tong sadly agrees. At this point it is revealed that Tom Lee is in fact the son of revolutionary leader Prince Chun. When news arrives that Prince Chun has been killed by Imperial troops, Tom Lee considers it his patriotic duty to return to China and he and Lien Wha agree to sacrifice their personal happiness. Dr Dong Tong, who had always lamented the absence of a son, now proclaims Lien Wha his son-daughter because of her sacrifice. The Imperialists prevent three of the marriages but Lien Wha forces the bidding for her up to $100,000. The successful bidder is Fen Sha (Warner Oland), wealthy owner of a gambling house. He is in fact ‘The Sea Crab’, the head of the Imperialist faction in San Francisco and is determined to stop the munitions ship leaving. Fen Sha is informed that Prince Chun’s son is in the city and is ordered to eliminate him. He kidnaps Sin Kai for questioning but Sin Kai takes poison before he can be tortured. Fen Sha hands over the $100,000 to Dong Tong but then has his henchmen murder the doctor and retrieve the money. Tom recovers the money for Lien Wha but is mortally injured fighting Fen Sha’s henchmen. He dies in Lien Wha’s arms. She strangles Fen Sha with his own pigtail, hands over the $100,000 to the ship’s captain and sails with the munitions to China to assist the revolution. Although the entire cast is Caucasian, it is beautifully and delicately played by Novarro and Hayes, with dignified performances from Stone and Warner and another of his smiling Oriental villains from Oland. Clarence Brown directs with a nice eye for the Chinoiserie and the visuals. The melodramatic version of Chinatown unexpectedly resurfaced in 1962 in Confessions of an Opium Eater (UK  Evils of Chinatown) despite 98

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protests from the LA Committee Against Defamation of the Chinese. It borrowed the title and little else from Thomas de Quincey’s classic 1822 work. It was directed by Albert Zugsmith who as a staff producer at Universal had been responsible for a number of cinematic masterworks (Written on the Wind, Tarnished Angels and Touch of Evil) but as a director went in almost exclusively for sexploitation (Sex Kittens Go to College, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, Fanny Hill). This aspect was certainly present as the film featured scantily clad women being terrified and ill-treated, screaming a lot, being imprisoned in bamboo cages, bathed and then displayed and sold at a slave auction. It was the image stressed in the film’s advertising. The Monthly Film Bulletin critic could not believe his eyes, writing: ‘This crude piece of claptrap has to be seen to be believed.’24 But there was something more going on. As director Joe Dante rightly observed the film achieved ‘sheer, ingenuous, and possibly unintentional pop poetry … a triumphantly surreal parade of seemingly inexplicable images … take my word for it, this is good stuff ’.25 The involvement of top talents, cinematographer Joseph Biroc and art director Eugène Lourié will certainly have helped with the striking visual imagery, which more than makes up for the pretentiousness of the entirely redundant and frequently incomprehensible musings about destiny and cod-Oriental philosophy mellifluously delivered by Vincent Price in the leading role of Gilbert de Quincey, the seaman descendant of Thomas who arrives in San Francisco in 1902. He has travelled from Hong Kong to assist his old friend George Wah, editor of a Chinatown newspaper, who is leading the tongs, here seen as a benign force, in the campaign to suppress the sale of girls as ‘picture brides’ to the highest bidder at auction. He gets himself hired as a henchman of the unseen boss of the slavery racket by the glamorous Ruby Low (Linda Ho), and finds himself plunged into a nightmare world of sliding panels, secret doors, mysterious elevators and underground sewers, a quintessential romantic fantasy world. He takes opium and is haunted by dreams of evil masks and strange monstrous creatures. He seeks to escape from the opium den, his flight photographed in slow motion to convey the effects of the narcotic on his consciousness. He is helped by a worldly wise female Chinese midget as he attempts to free the captive Chinese girls. He and the midget disrupt with firecrackers the auction where girls are sold for opium and flee with the captive girls, pursued by hatchet men. In the ensuing 99

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melee, the midget is mortally wounded and De Quincey is stabbed in the back. The treacherous Ruby Low, with whom De Quincey is now in love, is unmasked as the secret leader of the slavery racket and trying to kill De Quincey is seized by him in a death grip as they drift together down the sewer towards the sea. From the opening scenes of a mysterious Chinese junk drifting through the fog to the American coast while a white stallion gallops wildly along the cliffs, through to the deadly finale, the whole film has the feel of a fantastic dream. Richard Loo plays George Wah, Philip Ahn a Chinese antiques dealer and Victor Sen Yung, a prospective purchaser at the auction. The myth of the murderous tongs provided ideal material for Hammer Films who had already used the worshippers of Kali as the basis of The Stranglers of Bombay. The Terror of the Tongs (1960), a vivid and vigorous Oriental thriller was written by Jimmy Sangster, directed by Anthony Bushell and designed by Bernard Robinson who provided a bustling wharf set complete with vintage paddle steamer and a tong headquarters full of delicate Chinoiserie. The film is set in Hong Kong in 1910 where the Red Dragon tong thrives on a regime of vice, terror and corruption. The tong is headed by Christopher Lee as Chung King, radiating dignity, authority and ruthlessness in what is in essence a dry run for his later Fu Manchu. The tong are shown running a gaming house, brothel and opium den. British sea captain Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) following the murder of his daughter joins forces with the ‘Liberators’, a secret organization dedicated to destroying the hold of the tong on the people. The film demonstrates in vivid Technicolor the cruelty of the tong. Fingers are cut off, drug-crazed hatchet men carry out ceremonial killings, Sale has his bones scraped by a tong executioner and a murderous Chinese doctor, unexpectedly played by veteran English character actor Charles Lloyd Pack, administers doses of cyanide by hypodermic syringe. When at the end after a major quayside brawl, the power of the tong is broken by a popular uprising, Chung King accepts defeat and orders his henchmen to kill him. A more positive view of San Francisco’s Chinatown than that to be found in Old San Francisco and Chinatown Nights could be seen surprisingly enough in Sam Katzman’s fifteen-episode serial, Shadow of Chinatown (1936). Shot in a remarkable fifteen days by director Robert Hill, this serial depicts Chinatown as a flourishing site of tourism and commerce 100

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and not the heart of an evil Chinese empire. The villains are Eurasians. Sonya Rokoff has been hired by a consortium of European chain stores to put Chinatown out of business as it is undercutting them in price and quality. She recruits mad scientist Victor Poten (Bela Lugosi) who hates both Occidental and Oriental races because of their negative attitude to Eurasians and he seeks to damage them as much as he can. He is foiled by a combination of American writer Martin Andrews (played by erstwhile screen Tarzan, Herman Brix), eager beaver female reporter Joan Whiting whom he calls ‘nuisance’ but eventually marries and Andrews’s bright and lively Chinese-American houseboy Willie Fu (Maurice Liu). The major Chinese characters in the story, detective Wong and Chinatown community leader Dr Wu are like Willie Fu intelligent and perceptive. Poten’s gang are all white men who sometimes disguise as Chinese. This means that Chinatown in this version has to be protected from the machinations of white men. The action takes the form of a succession of flights, chases, rescues and escapes as Poten spies on the Chinese community leaders via television and uses a succession of infernal devices to destroy the heroes: a bomb, poison gas, a poisoned needle inserted in a telephone ear piece and a room whose walls come together to crush its occupants. Sonia is eventually so horrified by Poten’s actions that she changes sides and dies saving Martin from a falling chandelier. Poten is finally captured when, disguised as a waiter, he tries to poison the heroes. A completely different take on San Francisco’s Chinatown was to be found in Flower Drum Song, a work unique in American culture. The 1958 Rodgers and Hammerstein stage musical, brought to the screen in 1961 by producer Ross Hunter in a version directed by veteran Henry Koster, was based on a 1957 best-selling novel by Chinese born writer C. Y. Lee who had settled in America after the Communist takeover of China and had become an American citizen. It was part of a wave of Asian-American writing in the 1940s and 1950s which focused on the Chinese-American experience and in particular the generational conflict it produced. Where Rodgers and Hammerstein had explored racial tensions in their previous hit musicals, South Pacific and The King and I, set respectively in New Caledonia and Thailand, Flower Drum Song brought them back to the United States to examine generational conflict in an ethnic minority community. Oscar Hammerstein’s book and Joseph Fields’s screenplay both 101

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eliminated the element of racial discrimination included in Lee’s book. Instead it celebrated the idea of assimilation in an impeccably 1950s liberal fashion.26 The film opens with the arrival in San Francisco from Hong Kong as illegal immigrants of Dr Han Li, formerly professor of philosophy at Peking University, and presumably a refugee from Communism, and his daughter Mei Li. Mei Li has been contracted, sight unseen, to marry Sammy Fong, owner of the Celestial Gardens nightclub. Sammy, however, has a regular girlfriend, dancer Linda Low, and passes on Mei Li to Madame Liang, who arranges with her brother-in-law Wang Chi-Yang that Mei Li should marry his eldest son, college student Wang Ta. However, unaware of her profession, Wang Ta is dating Linda Low, who is desperate to be married and has despaired of Sammy ever proposing. Mei Li falls in love with Wang Ta but he announces his engagement to Linda Low. In order to prevent their marrying, Sammy invites the Wang family to his nightclub at New Year and Linda is revealed as an exotic dancer. Both Wang Ta and his father are appalled and the engagement is called off. Wang Ta eventually realizes that he loves Mei Li but she announces that she no longer loves him. Sammy’s mother insists on the original marriage contract being honoured but at the wedding ceremony, Mei Li announces that she is an illegal immigrant and Madame Fong declares the contract broken. Sammy is now able to marry Linda and Mei Li, realizing that she loves Wang Ta after all, is united with him. The film highlights the difference between the younger generation and the older. The younger generation is thoroughly Americanized as represented by Sammy Fong, who Variety correctly described as ‘a kind of Chinese Nathan Detroit’27 and who gambles, drinks and womanizes, by Linda Low, totally American in dress, speech and confidence, and Wang-Chi-Yang’s younger son, Wang San, a typical ‘Gee, Pop’ American teenager, who speaks completely in American slang, vigorously rock ‘n’ rolls and with other children sings a song comically lamenting parental attitudes:  ‘What are we going to do about the other generation’. Tradition is embodied in the father Wang-Chi-Yang, who dresses in Chinese costume, finds Wang San’s slang incomprehensible, keeps his money under the bed and tries to assert his parental authority over his wayward children. 102

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The conflict between tradition and modernity and the way to resolve it is represented most clearly in the three principal female characters. Linda Low, thoroughly Americanized, is independent-minded and sexually assertive, her theme song ‘I enjoy being a girl’. Mei Li embodies traditional Chinese womanhood, submissive, innocent, obedient and gentle. The middle way is represented by Madam Liang who, although she looks thoroughly Chinese, receives her American citizenship during the film, graduating first from the classes over five years. She is the one who persuades her brother-in-law to take his money to the bank and to allow Mei Li and Wang Ta to fall in love freely, the American way, before a contract can be enforced. Mei Li also comes to pick up some American slang, takes to breakfast cereal and learns how to kiss and how to escape the arranged marriage by watching television programmes. The two couples, settling for heterosexual love and marriage, endorse prevailing American social norms. The key sequence in the film is the party to celebrate Wang Ta’s graduation from college, one method of assimilation, and Madame Liang’s receipt of her citizenship, another method. She declares ‘I am happy to be Chinese and American’, which is the moral of the story. She then leads the party guests in the song Chop Suey, celebrating a Chinese hash invented in San Francisco. The merger of cultures is symbolized in the Chinese New Year procession which mingles Sousa marches, the Miss Chinatown USA contest, and Broadway dance routines with dragons, pagodas and traditional costumes. The ultimate synthesis is the ‘Spirit of 1776’ display in which the Chinese immigrants, dressed in eighteenth-century costume, recreate the American Revolutionary War patriot heroes. It has become fashionable latterly to denigrate Flower Drum Song as sentimental, stereotyped and evasive. Typically Robert B. Lee in Orientals writes: Chop Suey ethnicity erases from memory the history of the Chinese in America as a racialized minority, a history that makes Mei Li and her father illegal immigrants and constructs Chinatown as an Oriental fantasy world in the first place. Chinese Americanness is reduced to little more than paper lanterns and chopstick hairsticks.28

But in fact the film and stage show deploy the established conventions of romantic comedy and the ‘fantasy of good will’ has a long lineage in popular 103

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American cinema. It also served to defuse the idea of the Chinese as a subversive minority. The film has been criticized for casting only one genuinely ChineseAmerican in a leading role (Benson Fong as Wang-Chi-Yang). But the criticisms fail to take account of the revolutionary nature of the production and its impact in context. When Flower Drum Song was performed on Broadway, only two of the cast of fifty-nine were non-Asian, one white and one black, and for the 1961 film almost the whole cast was Asian. This was the first time this had been done in a mainstream Hollywood film and it would not be done again until The Joy Luck Club in 1993. The film featured three of the Broadway cast, Japanese Miyoshi Umeki as Mei Li, African-American Juanita Hall as Madame Liang and Korean-American Jack Soo, who on stage played nightclub singer Frankie Wing but for the film was promoted to Sammy Fong. Hollywood veterans Benson Fong and Victor Sen Yung, both Chinese-Americans and erstwhile sons of Charlie Chan, played Wang-Chi-Yang and Frankie Wing respectively. Interestingly on stage Wang had been played by Keye Luke, another of the Chan offspring. Wang San was played by Filipino-American Patrick Adiarte. But the film also featured three authentic Asian stars. James Shigeta, a Japanese-American from Hawaii, playing Wang Ta was the first Asian male star in Hollywood since Sessue Hayakawa in the 1920s and had already starred in The Crimson Kimono, Walk Like a Dragon and Bridge to the Sun. Nancy Kwan, a Eurasian born in Hong Kong, had become an instant star in her 1960 debut film The World of Suzie Wong and Japanese Miyoshi Umeki had become the first Asian to win an Academy Award as best supporting actress for Sayonara in 1957. The film was the ninth highest grossing film at the American box office in 1962. It is impossible to overstate the importance for audiences of seeing an all-Asian cast and authentic Asian stars in an American setting. It demonstrates the kind of cultural recognition accorded to black Americans in the all-black musicals Carmen Jones (1954) and Porgy and Bess (1959). It is no coincidence that all three ethnic films were musicals, as the musical is a classic American genre and one which can use melody and song to impart radical messages.

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6 The ‘Real’ China

During the 1930s, the Chinese government was one of the most active foreign powers in protesting to Hollywood about what it considered negative depictions of China and the Chinese, even though less than 1 per cent of Hollywood’s overseas income came from China. As Ruth Vasey writes: Although China’s contribution to the American companies’ foreign revenue was minuscule, its cultivation of diplomatic channels of protest had a significant impact on the industry … The influence of the Chinese in the 1930s could not be equated with that of the British who generated at least thirty times as much revenue. As a last resort, studios could cut their losses and withhold offensive products from areas where the Chinese held diplomatic sway. Nevertheless the Chinese managed to make the PCA [Production Code Administration] and studio executives acutely aware of their presence, partly through maintaining a highly reactive position.1

The Chinese government was quite capable of contacting its allies to put pressure on the Hollywood companies and as a last resort could ban all the product of a particular company if one of its films offended. Under a law promulgated in 1931, the Chinese film censors banned films that were derogatory to the dignity of the Chinese people, were contrary to the 105

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political principles of Dr Sun Yat-Sen, that demoralised the public or undermined public safety and order, and that fostered superstition and heresy. Films contrary to the principles of Dr Sun Yat-Sen would include any which attacked the ruling Nationalist Party, promoted monarchy and imperialistic capitalism, fostered class struggle or created international ill-feeling. Subjects capable of demoralising the public would include depicting rape, suicide, cruelty to both animals and humans, surgical operations, opium smoking, brigandage, executions, duels, illegal feuds between organisations and individuals, anything showing sympathy for criminals or which led the young towards gambling and prostitution. Under the heading of fostering superstition and heresy they banned films depicting the worship of idols, films that promoted or attacked any religion, and films featuring fairies, ghosts and omens.2 This comprehensive catalogue of restrictions meant that many of the most memorable Hollywood Chinese films were banned in China, notably Shanghai Express (1932) and The General Died at Dawn (1936), both of which showed the Nationalist government in a favourable light but concentrated on warlordism and banditry. In fact, China banned all Paramount productions after these two films and it took high-level US diplomatic intervention to get the ban lifted. The Chinese also banned The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Oil for the Lamps of China, Chinatown Nights, Limehouse Blues, Shanghai Lady, East is West and The Cat’s Paw.3 Shanghai Express was perhaps the most influential film in establishing Hollywood’s view of China during the 1930s. Its central themes (the trials of a group of stranded or captive Westerners, the villainy of warlords and bandits) would be picked up by later films. But it all took place in a China of the imagination. As director Josef von Sternberg confessed in his autobiography, he had no knowledge of China and the Chinese when he directed the film. He had created it out of his imagination. When he eventually visited China and travelled on the real Shanghai Express, he found it was nothing like the one he had invented:  ‘I was more than pleased that I  had delineated China before being confronted with its vast and variegated reality’4 (see Chapter  4 for full discussion of Shanghai Express). The film grossed $3.7 million.5 The story proved so archetypally successful that Paramount twice remade it as the anti-Japanese Night Plane from Chungking in 1942 and 106

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the anti-Communist Peking Express in 1951. Sternberg returned to his mythic China in The Shanghai Gesture. Although he had now actually visited China in 1936, he preferred his imaginative construct to the real thing. The Shanghai Gesture was fashioned out of John B.  Colton’s notorious Broadway play which opened in 1926 and ran for 331 performances with Florence Reed as Mother Goddam the brothel keeper. The critic George Jean Nathan called the play ‘a pâté of box office drivel’. It highlighted the poisoned fruit of miscegenation. There were so many unsavoury elements in the play that thirty-two separate attempts by eight different film companies to produce a viable film adaptation had failed to pass the censors. However, émigré German producer Arnold Pressburger invited Sternberg to have a go at producing an acceptable screenplay. With the help of three writers with whose work he was familiar  – Jules Furthman, who had scripted his productions of Morocco, Blonde Venus and Shanghai Express, Karl Volmoeller, who had scripted The Blue Angel and Geza Herczeg, who had scripted The Life of Emile Zola  – Sternberg came up with a screenplay that passed the censors. It did so by considerably altering key elements of the original. In the play, Mother Goddam had been reduced to prostitution after her lover, Sir Guy Charteris, tired of her and sold her to Chinese junkmen. She later exacts revenge by selling his daughter to Chinese junkmen. The daughter Poppy is reduced to drug addiction and prostitution and eventually strangled by Mother Goddam when she discovers that Poppy is in fact her own daughter. The brothel setting of the play was transformed into a gambling den, its proprietor Mother Goddam became Mother Gin Sling, the drug addiction of Poppy was replaced by gambling fever and the Japanese prince of the play who seduces her became a Levantine sensualist. The fleeting sexual liaison between Mother Gin Sling and Sir Guy Charteris which had produced Poppy Smith now became a short-lived marriage. But despite the alterations, Sternberg by a masterly deployment of gesture, look and intonation contrived to create a masterpiece of atmosphere, exoticism and sexual perversity. It was necessary for the film to have an introduction explaining that Shanghai was currently torn by war and its fate was in the lap of the gods but that the film was not set in the present. It was in fact set in a timeless Shanghai conjured by Sternberg’s imagination. It is a delirious, dreamlike world of gambling, prostitution, slave auctions, despair and depravity, 107

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peopled by the cosmopolitan flotsam and jetsam of an international city. The setting, introduced by a majestic crane shot and established by sweeping camera movements, is a sumptuous, chandeliered, three-tiered casino, teeming with evening-suited patrons feverishly and compulsively gambling. The casino is threatened with closure by the India-China Trading Company which has bought up the land it stands on and intends to redevelop it. The owner, Chinese woman Mother Gin Sling, seeks a way to prevent it and finds her solution when she recognises Sir Guy Charteris, the head of the trading company. She proceeds to debauch his volatile, sensation-seeking daughter Victoria (Gene Tierney), who, calling herself Poppy Smith, has begun to haunt the casino (‘It smells so incredibly evil. I didn’t think such a place existed except in my own imagination. It has a ghastly familiarity, like a half-remembered dream’). She becomes addicted to gambling, disposing of her jewellery to feed the habit. She is seduced and abandoned by Dr Omar the Levantine voluptuary who is in Mother Gin Sling’s pay (‘I cheat at everything except cards’). In a climactic dinner at Chinese New Year, Mother Gin Sling reveals that she is the Chinese wife Charteris married as a young man and abandoned after stealing her fortune. She has waited years to expose and discredit him. She has had the added pleasure of destroying his daughter. Charteris reveals that Poppy is in fact their daughter, believed dead by Mother Gin Sling. She is a Eurasian. When her parentage is revealed, the drunken Poppy contemptuously rejects her mother and is shot dead by Mother Gin Sling. Ona Munson gives a remarkable performance as Mother Gin Sling, the imperious Dragon Lady, a stylised Dietrichesque presence. But she is matched by Gene Tierney as the spoiled, wilful, febrile rich girl brought low by her appetites, and by Victor Mature as the languid, heavy-lidded, poetry-quoting, amoral chain-smoking sensualist in his dinner jacket, burnous and fez. They are surrounded by a gallery of memorable grotesques gleefully played by an array of émigré European actors: the veteran German actor Albert Basserman as the cheerfully corrupt police commissioner, the Englishman Eric Blore as Mother’s cackling, crippled, casually racist book-keeper, the Frenchman Marcel Dalio as the dapper croupier, and a clutch of Russians, Mikhail Rasumny as the venal cashier, Ivan Lebedeff as a suicidal loser, Maria Ouspenskaya as a devoted, unspeaking amah and Michael Delmatoff as a bearish bartender. As well as his flawless cast, 108

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Sternberg’s vision is realised by superb décor (Chinese statuary, chandeliers, drapery, giant murals painted by Chinese-American actor Keye Luke) which earned an Oscar nomination for art director Boris Leven. The film was only moderately successful at the box office and was greeted generally by critical derision. C. A. Lejeune, the respected critic of the Observer, dismissed the film as ‘silly, silly’.6 Bosley Crowther in the New York Times (26 December 1941) said it was ‘so utterly and lavishly pretentious, so persistently opaque, and so very badly acted in every leading role but one that (it) finally becomes laughable’. The exception to the bad acting was Walter Huston. Gene Tierney in her autobiography recalled that she was excited to be working with von Sternberg, but the film was released ‘to devastating reviews. What had seemed dramatic and crisp to us at the time, struck the critics as hollow and absurd.’ But she added:  ‘Years later, in France, strangers would ask me about The Shanghai Gesture as though it had been a work of art. I was to hear many times that the picture was well received abroad.’7 It is now generally regarded as Sternberg’s final masterpiece. Sternberg’s last visit to his fantasy Orient came in Macao (1952), credited to Bernard C. Schoenfeld and Stanley Rubin, but worked on by at least five other writers. It is a film noir in which Jane Russell as a hard-boiled singer and Robert Mitchum as a tough drifter fetch up in the Portuguese colony of Macao and become involved with an undercover cop (William Bendix) seeking to lure American gangster and casino boss Vince Halloran (Brad Dexter) beyond the three mile limit so he can be picked up by the international police. The cop is murdered but Mitchum completes his assignment and gets the girl. When the film was completed, preview audiences found it weird, rambling and incomprehensible.8 So the studio RKO Radio Pictures, then in the hands of megalomaniac Howard Hughes, demanded changes. A new producer Samuel Bischoff removed many of the distinctive Sternberg details on the grounds that they were slowing down the action. Directors Robert Stevenson and Mel Ferrer were successively called in to reshoot individual scenes. Eventually, Nicholas Ray was entrusted with the job of salvaging the production. Ray reshot the opening and closing scenes, tightened the narrative by some drastic editing and injected some humour into the bantering relationship of Mitchum and Russell.9 The result was an eighty-minute thriller which Sternberg totally disowned but which contained unmistakable traces of his visual sensibility and preoccupations in 109

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the net-strewn harbour area which is the location for the chases and fights that punctuate the film, in the deployment of shadows, silken draperies and feathers, in the casino (complete with Keye Luke murals) which is a smaller scale version of the spectacular one in Shanghai Gesture and in the colourful cast of international misfits: the corrupt Portuguese policeman, the crippled piano player, the blind Chinese beggar, the silent Japanese knifeman and the female croupier who is also the gangster’s mistress. Philip Ahn played the Japanese knife man Itzumi. Following Shanghai Express, and echoing it in part (assorted Westerners on the Shanghai Express, train seized by warlord and army), The General Died at Dawn (1936) is a film which, as John Baxter has written, ‘for style and content is one of the Thirties’ undoubted masterpieces’.10 Derived from a pulp magazine story, it has been converted by a left-wing director (Lewis Milestone) and a left-wing writer (Clifford Odets) into a passionate affirmation of democracy and denunciation of fascist autocracy. Gary Cooper plays O’Hara (whose first name we never learn), an American adventurer who has been commissioned to carry a money belt containing funds raised by the oppressed people of a Chinese province to Shanghai to purchase arms to resist the tyranny of the local warlord General Yang. O’Hara establishes his bona fides at the outset of the film as, watching a string of refugees entering the town of Peng Wah, he overhears a crass American making a heartless joke at their expense and floors him with a swift upper cut to the jaw. Later he explains to Judy Perrie that it is his mission to help overthrow General Yang, whom he describes as ‘a heart-breaker, a strike-breaker, a head-breaker’. He explains that he champions the Chinese peasantry because he has had ‘a life of opposition’ (as orphan, newspaper-boy, boxer, aviator), declaring: ‘I’ve got a background of oppression. What better work for an American than helping fight for democracy.’ He later delivers several homilies on democracy and contrasts his support for the struggle of the people to escape poverty and oppression with the expression of the individual will of the warlord, who is given a German military adviser just to reinforce his fascist identity. Although O’Hara is warned by his contacts to take the plane to Shanghai, he is lured onto the Shanghai Express by Judy Perrie (Madeleine Carroll), reluctantly assisting her crooked consumptive father who is working for General Yang. Yang and his men seize the train, take the money belt and 110

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with O’Hara as their prisoner proceed to Shanghai by junk, intending to use the money to buy ammunition. Judy and her father reach Shanghai by train and she discovers that he intends to flee to America with the money. O’Hara escapes from the junk, confronts Perrie but is forced into a shoot-out with him which leaves Perrie dead and the money hidden somewhere. Yang and his men come to the hotel, seize Judy, O’Hara and O’Hara’s Chinese contacts. Back on the junk, one of them is tortured to death but fails to reveal the whereabouts of the money. Judy, now in love with O’Hara, offers to lie to the General about the hiding place of the money in return for the release of O’Hara and his friends. But before she can do so, Yang is fatally stabbed in a scuffle with the drunken American gunrunner he was aiming to do business with. As he is dying, O’Hara persuades Yang to order his bodyguard to kill themselves in order to save face and spare his prisoners to tell the story of his greatness. He does so, the money is found hidden in Judy’s luggage and O’Hara and Judy are united. Gary Cooper is the perfect incarnation of the Democratic American, tough, humane, proletarian. Madeleine Carroll convinces as the world-weary, troubled American torn between love for her worthless father and for the lover she has helped to betray to his enemies. Akim Tamiroff gives a mesmerising performance as the scarred, malevolent warlord, revelling in his ruthlessness and his absolute power over his followers. Milestone directs in bravura style from his opening sequence in which vultures circle above a wrecked and deserted street. Shot and cut in Eisensteinian fashion, we see the warlord’s army on the march to the finale where the camera tracks restlessly through the junk as the fate of the characters is decided by the dying general. At one stage Milestone even achieves a four-way split-screen effect showing what the leading characters are up to at the same moment. The most prominent Asian player was Philip Ahn as the General’s interpreter/henchman, Oxford. Made the same year as Shanghai Express, Roar of the Dragon (1932), directed by Wesley Ruggles and scripted by Howard Estabrook for RKO Radio Pictures, was an attempt to launch their new Danish discovery Gwili Andre as a rival to Paramount’s Dietrich. But Ruggles lacked the artistry of Sternberg and Andre had none of Dietrich’s mystique, coming across merely as immobile and inexpressive. Set in Manchuria, the film opens with a flurry of newspaper headlines recounting a bandit attack on a riverboat 111

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and its repulse, thanks to the heroic leadership of Captain Carson. The Tartar leader of the bandits, Voronsky, injured in the attack (‘I’ll make him pay for the loss of this ear’), orders his men to attack the town where the riverboat has stopped for repairs. The action of the film then focuses on a hotel in Yolung where an assorted group of Westerners have taken refuge and which is besieged by the bandits. The usual complement of colourful characters is assembled: Captain Carson (Richard Dix), the hard-drinking, macho captain of the riverboat; Johnson (Dudley Digges), the selfish, blustering owner of the riverboat line; Busby (Edward Everett Horton), a nervous American engineer working as hotel clerk; a fluttery American spinster on a world tour (Zasu Pitts); ‘Bridgeport’, a wisecracking good-hearted American showgirl; a German doctor; a Jewish storekeeper; plus a gaggle of cute Chinese orphans. Carson takes command, defending the hotel with a machine gun and holding off the bandit attack. A  romance develops between ‘Bridgeport’ and Busby and between Carson and Natasha, Voronsky’s mistress (Gwili Andre), who has fled from him and taken refuge at the hotel. During the course of the siege, ‘Bridgeport’ and the Jewish storekeeper are killed and in the effective storm-tossed finale, Carson sends the Westerners and the orphans to the boat, while he and Busby hold off the bandits. Busby is killed but Voronsky is also, and Carson is reunited with Natasha aboard the riverboat as they escape downriver. The characters are one-dimensional, the dialogue banal and, despite a strong cast of character actors, the film emerges as an efficient but unremarkable programmer, far removed from the visual splendours and iconic significance of Shanghai Express or The General Died at Dawn. A modest B picture, obviously influenced by both those masterworks, is West of Shanghai (1937). It was actually a remake of a 1930 film, The Bad Man, based on a stage play by Porter Emerson Browne, and starring Walter Huston. But the bad man of the title was a Mexican bandit Pancho Lopez, and the action took place in Mexico. It would be remade again in 1941 with Wallace Beery as Pancho. But in the meantime Warner Bros transformed Pancho into a Chinese warlord and shifted the action to China. In line with current practice, the censor showed the script to the Chinese Consul in Los Angeles, T. C. Chang, who made several suggestions which were all adopted. He declared himself satisfied with the characterisation of General Wu Yen Fang. However, a problem arose when the finished film was shown 112

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to the government censors in Nanking. They objected that the uniforms of the bandit army too closely resembled those of the national army. This presented Warner Bros with a dilemma, since this could have necessitated reshooting the entire film. So their solution was first of all to add a preface: China is a vast country with far-flung borders. To the north, beyond the reach of steel rails, is a region sparsely inhabited but rich in oil and mineral deposits – an area very difficult to police. In every country, such a frontier has its adventurers, and China is no exception. With their followers, in uniforms made to look as much as possible like those of regular troops, men with illusions of grandeur assume false military titles, and ape the mannerisms of high-ranking officers. The career of such a bandit is a short one, for the efficient Chinese government soon runs him to earth. This is the story of Wu Yen Fang, who marched from nowhere with a marauding band at his heels, and was soon swept into oblivion.

Warners also decided not to release it anywhere in the Far East, reasoning that as a cheaply produced B picture it did not need to cover its cost in foreign markets.11 Directed with pace by John Farrow and scripted by Crane Wilbur, the film is visibly influenced both by Shanghai Express and The General Died at Dawn. General Fang’s recurrent statement at times of crisis, ‘I am Fang’, directly echoes Akim Tamiroff ’s ‘I am Yang’. Fang’s interpreter/henchman Mr Chen (Richard Loo) directly parallels the similar character, Oxford (Philip Ahn) in The General Died at Dawn. The scenes of the bandit army on the march also recall similar scenes in The General Died at Dawn. The entire raison d’être of West of Shanghai is Boris Karloff as General Wu Yen Fang, ‘The White Tiger of the North’. Unlike Tamiroff ’s utterly ruthless General Yang, Karloff ’s General Fang is a semi-comic creation, beautifully conceived and performed. His warlord is sly, vain, sardonic, ruthless, quixotic and fatalistic by turns and has a nice line in wisecracks and broken English, which make him a hugely engaging character. It opens, like Shanghai Express, at the bustling station of Peking North. Rival American oilmen Myron Galt and Gordon Creed (Ricardo Cortez) together with Galt’s daughter Lola join the train, heading north in the hope of acquiring the oil field discovered by Jim Hallett (Gordon Oliver) who 113

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has run out of money to exploit the resource. They are briefly held by the Nationalist military governor General Mah (Tetsu Komai) when General Chou Fu Shan (Vladimir Sokoloff ), the Nationalist commander travelling on the train, is murdered by one of Fang’s agents. But after the assassin is caught and shot, they are allowed to proceed to their destination, staying at a missionary hospital where Gordon’s estranged wife Jane works. General Fang and his army take over the town and the missionary hospital and Fang proposes to hold the Americans for ransom. But he recognises Hallett as the man who saved and nursed him when he was an injured fugitive coolie. He stops his aide Captain Kung Nui (Chester Gan) from shooting Jim and later himself kills the treacherous Gordon Creed, who was seeking to murder Hallett to stop him marrying Jane, with whom he is in love. In the end General Mah and the Nationalist Army retake the town, rout the bandit army and General Fang philosophically faces a firing squad. The recurrent fictional theme of groups of Westerners threatened by warlords and bandits was overtaken by the grim reality of events on the ground in China as the Japanese invaded. A  preface to the 1939 thriller Barricade, directed by Gregory Ratoff, acknowledged this. It opens with a narrator explaining the nature of China – its peaceful and historic land, architecture, peoples and religions – shattered now by violent attack from the air. There is no mention of Japan but newsreel footage of the bombing of Shanghai is shown. However in the film which follows it is Mongolian bandits and not the Japanese who are the villains. The action centres on the siege of the US consulate at Panchow by Mongolian bandits. The usual assortment of Westerners is in peril, notably a stranded American entertainer Emmy Jordan (Alice Faye) and a bibulous American journalist Hank Topping (Warner Baxter), between whom the inevitable romance springs up. The real hero of the film is Samuel J. Cady, nicknamed ‘Uncle Sam’ (Charles Winninger), the American Consul, who refuses to abandon the consulate, raises the American flag and reads Psalm 23 to the assembled refugees, in a demonstration of the values he embodies. He also ventures out to rescue a couple of English missionaries and their orphan charges from a nearby mission. With the bandits overrunning the consulate compound, the Westerners and the Consul’s faithful Chinese servants take refuge in the cellar. The bandits locate them and are in the process of breaking in when Nationalist troops arrive to rescue them and 114

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round up the bandits. A tightly edited, fast-moving, seventy-one minutes, the film is a thoroughly entertaining if largely derivative ‘Westerners in peril’ thriller. Philip Ahn played a Nationalist army colonel and Keye Luke one of the Consul’s servants. Richard Boleslavski’s The Painted Veil (1934) was adapted by John Meehan, Salka Viertel and Edith Fitzgerald from Somerset Maugham’s best-selling 1925 novel. It was focused on the lives of British expatriates and explored a classic romantic triangle. Kitty Fane, trapped in a loveless marriage with bacteriologist Walter Fane, accompanies him to Hong Kong and there embarks on a love affair with a handsome married Lothario, Charlie Townsend. When her husband finds out, to punish her Walter insists that she accompany him upcountry to tackle a cholera epidemic. However, Walter contracts the disease and dies and Kitty, feeling herself free of both Walter and Charlie, returns to England. When MGM came to film it, they made several major changes in the story. With Greta Garbo cast as the female lead, Kitty Fane became Austrian Katrin Koerber, who on an impulse marries the decent, devoted English bacteriologist Walter Fane (Herbert Marshall) and accompanies him to Hong Kong. There, neglected by Walter who spends all his time on his scientific work, she embarks on an affair with dashing, polo-playing married diplomat Jack Townsend (George Brent). Their affair is conveyed with elegant economy when Walter comes home unexpectedly in the middle of the day and finds the bedroom door locked and Jack’s solar topee on the table beside the door. Walter offers to release her if Jack will divorce his wife and marry her but when Jack expresses reservations about the effect this will have on his career, she accompanies Walter to Mei-Tan-Fu. There as Walter works tirelessly to combat the cholera, Katrin genuinely falls in love with him and she makes herself useful as a nurse looking after Chinese orphans in a convent. In this version, Walter does not die. When he orders infected dwellings burned, he is stabbed by one of the householders. But he is nursed back to health by Katrin and they are reunited. China is seen merely as a background to the drama of the expatriates, with the staging of an elaborate traditional dance festival the occasion for the lovers to express their passion for each other, a curio shop serving as their regular place of assignation and the cholera-stricken city as the place where the English doctor battles ignorance, prejudice and disease 115

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and Katrin redeems herself by service. Warner Oland was on hand to play the local army commander, General Yu, and the film saw the debut of Keye Luke as a young Chinese doctor. Although Garbo gives her customary luminous performance, visibly conveying the emotions of love, desperation and sacrifice, the film, which had cost over a million dollars to make, did badly at the box office. Variety dismissed it as ‘clumsy, dull and longwinded’.12 Among depictions of ‘the real China’, The Good Earth (1937) stands alone in interwar cinema. Film Daily (3 February 1937) said: ‘it is China seen through Chinese eyes’ and Graham Greene in The Spectator (2 April 1937) called it ‘simple and direct and true’. It was not exactly seen through Chinese eyes but through those of Pearl S. Buck, who, although born in the United States, grew up in China, the child of American missionaries. Following a college education in America, she married a missionary and returned to China. So she was able to draw on first-hand experience of China. When her novel The Good Earth was published in 1931, it sold over a million copies, was translated into thirty languages, earned her the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and in 1938 the Nobel Prize for literature. As a result, she came to be seen as the foremost interpreter of China to the West for the next several decades. The only failure in the triumphant progress of The Good Earth was the stage adaptation of the novel by Owen and Donald Davis. Produced by the Theatre Guild and starring Alla Nazimova, Claude Rains and Sydney Greenstreet, it received bad reviews and closed after fifty-six performances. But the story captured the imagination of Irving Thalberg, MGM’s ‘boy wonder’ producer and he acquired the film rights of both novel and play. Louis B. Mayer, the MGM studio head, was appalled by the idea of a film version of the novel, allegedly saying: ‘Who the hell is interested in a film about Chinese farmers?’ But he was overruled by Nicholas Schenck, president of MGM’s parent company, Loew’s, who backed Thalberg’s judgement. According to Thalberg’s biographer Roland Flamini, he was ‘attracted by the story’s heroic sweep and its universal theme of human suffering and survival, which he thought had echoes of the contemporary mood of the world’.13 He also thought he had the ideal actress at MGM to play the heroine O-Lan, the gifted Austrian actress Luise Rainer. Pearl Buck had hoped for a wholly Chinese cast, but she was disappointed. Although 116

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Figure 6.1. Luise Rainer and Paul Muni in The Good Earth

no fewer than sixty Asian and Asian-American actors and actresses were cast in supporting roles, notably Keye Luke and Roland Liu as the two sons of O-Lan, the six leading roles were played by Occidentals. Thalberg needed star names to ensure box office success for such a novel and unconventional project. It is now fashionable to decry the idea of white actors in ‘yellow face’ but acting is an art and there should not be ‘no-go’ areas for performers. After all, able-bodied actors regularly play disabled roles, without provoking a media row. Thalberg cast Paul Muni (borrowed from 117

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Warner Bros) as the proud, hard-working and aspirational farmer Wang Lung and MGM contract star Luise Rainer as his wife O-Lan. His choice was vindicated when shortly after the release of The Good Earth, Muni and Rainer both won best-acting Oscars for 1936, he for The Story of Louis Pasteur and she for The Great Ziegfeld. The Good Earth would prove much more challenging as neither of them was Chinese. Rainer was Austrian and Muni, though Austrian born, had been brought as a child to America and had grown up in New York where he became a stalwart of the Jewish theatre. But they both turned in powerful and moving performances. Thalberg spared no expense to get The Good Earth right. He tried to secure the services of Arnold Schoenberg to write the score but when Schoenberg insisted on a fee of $50,000 and a guarantee that not a note of his music would be changed, Thalberg settled instead on MGM’s in-house composer Herbert Stothart. Nevertheless, The Good Earth became MGM’s most expensive production since Ben-Hur, costing $2,816,000 at a time when very few productions cost more than a million dollars. This reflects the exhaustive preparations made for the film and the vicissitudes it underwent. Pre-production began in 1932 when George Hill, a director who had displayed a talent for brutal realism in such notable pictures as The Secret Six and The Big House, was despatched to China. He returned with 2 million feet of background footage and eighteen tons of authentic Chinese properties, including antique farm implements and dismantled farm-houses. In the San Fernando Valley, 500 acres of land were converted into a Chinese agricultural landscape, complete with genuine Chinese crops, Chinese livestock and an authentic irrigation system. When filmed, it was peopled by 1,500 extras. However, before shooting could begin, George Hill, alcoholic, depressive and, according to Charles Higham, syphilitic, shot himself.14 Thalberg replaced him with Victor Fleming but before filming could begin he fell ill and was replaced by Sidney Franklin, whose passion for pre-planning, concern for detail and fondness for long shooting schedules were perfectly suited to this major project. Earlier in his career he had also directed several films with Chinese themes (Forbidden City, Fan-Fan, East is West). Meanwhile the script, begun by Frances Marion, went through a series of rewrites by a succession of scriptwriters, among them Marc Connelly, Tess Schlesinger, Claudine West and Talbot Jennings. MGM were particularly anxious to avoid offence to the Chinese government and the 118

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scriptwriters worked closely with the Chinese Consul in Los Angeles to eliminate references to anything likely to provoke the hostility of the Chinese authorities (opium, prostitution, superstitious beliefs). MGM also retained the services of General Ting-Hsiu Tu, supplied by the Nationalist government in Nanking, to ensure in particular the accuracy of scenes involving the military. This careful attention to Chinese sensibilities ensured the relatively widespread distribution of the film in China. Shooting began in February 1936 and lasted eleven months, the completed film eventually running to 138 minutes. But by the time it was released in 1937, Thalberg was dead (14 September 1936). MGM dedicated the film to his memory, inserting a title card describing the film as ‘his last great achievement’. The preface to the film sets out its stance: The soul of a great nation is expressed in the lives of its humblest people. In this simple story of a Chinese farmer may be found something of the soul of China  – its humility, its courage, its deep heritage from the past and its vast promise for the future.

The film tells the story of farmer Wang Lung and his wife O-Lan. It opens with the young farmer collecting his new wife, a kitchen slave, from the Big House and taking her back to his farm. There they begin a life of rural toil – planting, ploughing, reaping, grinding corn until the first big crisis, a violent storm which threatens the harvest and everyone, including the pregnant O-Lan, has to rally round to save the grain. O-Lan gives birth to their eldest son at the height of the crisis. Wang Lung prospers, acquiring five new fields. They have two more children, a boy and a girl. But then disaster strikes – famine. Everyone starves and eventually the family trek south to the city to find food and work. While they are there, the 1911 Revolution breaks out, ending imperial rule. There is a frenzy of looting, during which O-Lan finds a bag of jewels which allow the family to return north and reclaim the land. Wang Lung now buys the Big House and sets himself up as a great landowner, his head turned by wealth. He takes a second wife, the young and glamorous dancer Lotus (played by another Austrian Tilly Losch). Although deeply hurt, O-Lan accepts the situation. When Wang Lung discovers that Lotus has seduced his youngest son, he gives up the Big House and returns to the farm. A plague of locusts strikes and Wang Lung rallies 119

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his family and the neighbours to defeat it and save the crops. The eldest son marries and O-Lan, worn out by the life of struggle and deprivation, dies, Wang Lung having finally realised her worth. ‘You are the earth’, he declares to the peach tree which has grown from the stone she planted when they were first married. The film successfully combines domesticity and epic spectacle with the rituals and routines of farming and family life punctuated by the great set-pieces, magnificently staged:  the storm, the trek from the famine-stricken north, the revolution, the looting frenzy and the plague of locusts. Luise Rainer gives one of the most memorable performances of Hollywood’s golden age as O-Lan. With very little dialogue, and that delivered in an incongruous Viennese accent, she acts with her body and her eyes. Apparently submissive and self-effacing, she is the heart and strength of the family. It is she who forbids Wang Lung to sell their land at the height of the famine (‘The land is our life’). When Wang Lung cannot bring himself to kill the ox to feed the children, she does so. She smothers a new-born child when there is no food for it. She proposes selling their daughter into slavery to pay for their return north. It is she who finds the jewels which transform their fortune. The film with its emphasis on family values, the eternal importance of the land, the struggle with the forces of nature, the celebration of community cooperation and good neighbourliness and the warning about the temptations of city life and of wealth struck a chord with Depression era audiences, emphasising the populist values at the heart of the American experience. The trek of the Wang family across the parched land and past the skeletal victims of starvation in particular prefigures the flight of the Okies from the Dust Bowl in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The film was hailed by the critics on both sides of the Atlantic as a masterpiece and made $3,557,000 on its first release ($2,002,000 domestic and $1,555,000 overseas gross):15 though its excessive cost meant that it recorded a loss of $496,000. Campbell Dixon in The Daily Telegraph, having seen the film twice, said: ‘For universality of theme and profound insight into the depths of the human heart, for magnificent acting … and technical excellence … The Good Earth seems to me the greatest moving picture ever made.’ He added that ‘Pearl Buck’s heroine, one of the finest 120

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creations in modern literature, is played brilliantly, unforgettably, by Luise Rainer.’16 Luise Rainer would duly win the Best Actress Oscar for 1937. Karl Freund also won for his cinematography. But the film and the director, both nominated, missed out. Graham Greene in The Spectator (2 April 1937) went so far as to say that Rainer carried the film: The awful pathos of the wedding walk from the Great House at the heels of the bridegroom she has never seen, the scrabbling in the ditch for the peach stone he has spat out (from it a tree may grow); toiling heavy with child in the fields to save the harvest from the hurricane; her proud and ceremonial return to the Great House to show her son to the Ancient One; in the long drought taking the knife to the ox her husband fears to kill.

Philip Ahn played an army captain and Richard Loo three small roles as farmer, rabble-rouser and peach-seller. The historian Jonathan Spence says that, of all the fictional portraits of the Chinese in the 1920s and 1930s, ‘it was Pearl Buck’s Chinese peasants with their stoic dignity, their endurance, their innate realism, and their ceaseless battles with an unrelenting nature, who reached deepest into American hearts’.17 While the novel sold an estimated 1.5 million copies, an estimated 23 million Americans saw the film.18 Another epic film derived from a best-selling novel met with a rather different fate from The Good Earth. This is Warner Bros’ Oil for the Lamps of China (1935), based on the best-selling 1933 novel by Alice Tisdale Hobart. Directed by Mervyn Leroy and scripted by Laird Doyle it starred Pat O’Brien and Josephine Hutchinson. Like MGM, Warners sent a camera crew to China and also to Japan under director Robert Florey to shoot background footage. They returned with 20,000 feet of footage, little of which ended up in the film. Desert exteriors were actually shot in the Mojave Desert. What is remarkable about the film is that it was produced by William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan Productions for Warner release, for the original novel was an unsparing indictment of ruthless American corporate capitalism, of which Hearst was a prime example. Hollywood censor Joseph Breen picked up on the anti-corporate message and strongly advised consultation with Standard Oil and the Chinese Consul in Los Angeles.19 121

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When Hearst saw the completed film he was so upset by the anti-corporate message that he considered removing the Cosmopolitan name from it. But the studio mollified him by recalling the production to shoot additional scenes which would soften the message. Production chiefs Jack Warner and Hal Wallis also cut twenty-five minutes from the original two-hour running time. The result was the introduction of an opening scene which was essentially the mission statement of the fictional Atlantis Oil Company. A lecturer addresses a group of young company recruits heading for China. He tells them that they are going ‘to dispel the darkness of centuries by the light of a new era – oil for the lamps of China – American oil’. They will extend the frontier of civilisation and their ideas must be ‘new, progressive and American’, but they must also learn to think like the Chinese. He tells them the company always takes care of its own. The irony of that final statement is abundantly demonstrated by the narrative which unfolds and centres on dedicated and idealistic company man Stephen Chase (Pat O’Brien) and his wife Hester (Josephine Hutchinson). At his first posting Stephen invents a new lamp allowing for economical use of kerosene by the Chinese but he is denied the credit for it. The boss whom he reveres is demoted by the company because he is old-fashioned and he commits suicide. Despite the fact that his wife is pregnant, Stephen is sent to manage a set of remote oil tanks. When they catch fire, he has to leave Hester to take charge of the fire-fighting and she loses the baby. Although he saves the tanks, Stephen is officially reprimanded for demolishing Chinese huts without written permission and making the company liable for compensation. Transferred to another company posting as manager, he has to dismiss his best friend for losing a valuable contract by behaviour deemed insulting by the Chinese. Later when Communist rebels, depicted as ruthless gangsters, seize the town and demand the handover of the company’s gold holdings, Stephen is wounded escaping with the gold. Back in Shanghai he is hailed as a hero but demoted to a clerkship, told that his approach is too old-fashioned. He realises that they are trying to force him to resign to escape paying him a pension. In place of this downbeat ending, the film has his wife confront the company, threatening to withdraw the patent for the kerosene lamp which he still holds, and head office in New York with its wise and benign company president recognises his worth and he is promoted to be assistant general manager of the Oriental 122

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region. Andre Sennwald in the New York Times (6 June 1935) complained that ‘Where Alice Tisdale Hobart described the impersonal ruthlessness of a great oil corporation, the photoplay becomes a confused effort to applaud the company for its paternal and affectionate attitude towards the men who dedicate their lives to its service.’ But in fact only the beginning and the end soften what otherwise demonstrates the heartlessness of the company in its exploitation of its employees. The Hearst press reviewed the film favourably but ignored the anti-corporate message to concentrate on the love story and the anti-Communist message.20 Unlike The Good Earth, the film focused squarely on American oilmen and their families in China and the actual Chinese were marginalised. There were only three minor Chinese characters, played as was customary in Hollywood by both Japanese and Chinese. The Japanese actor Tetsu Komai played a Chinese merchant, Chinese-American Keye Luke, the Communist commander, and Chinese actor Willie Fung, a comic servant. The film was banned in China, not surprisingly given that it celebrated American capitalist exploitation of China’s natural resources, suggested that China had no civilisation before the Americans arrived and the film featured aspects of Chinese life that the government did not approve of (famine, cholera, banditry). The film had cost $366,000 to produce and made a respectable $951,000 ($609,000 in domestic and $342,000 in overseas revenue).21 After the depictions of the Chinese as heroic allies of Britain and America during the Second World War, there was barely a breathing space before they were transformed into enemies with the victory of Communism. But a glimpse of Shanghai, albeit largely shot in the studio, on the eve of the Communist takeover can be found in Edwin L. Marin’s topical thriller Intrigue (1947), written by Barry Trivers and George Slavin. It starred George Raft as Brad Dunham, an American flyer dishonourably discharged from the American army after being wrongfully convicted of smuggling. Embittered by the injustice, he goes to work for the black marketeers in Shanghai and becomes the partner of Madame Tamara Baranoff, the powerful White Russian known as ‘The Queen of the Shanghai Black Market’. But his conscience is stirred by meeting American social worker Linda Parker (Helena Carter) and playing baseball with her cute but undernourished Chinese orphan charges. An old friend of Brad’s, journalist Mark 123

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Andrews (Tom Tully), turns up on a mission to expose the black market. There is a brief documentary sequence in the middle of the film with his voice-over outlining the state of Shanghai, beset by rampant inflation and food shortages, and with the population starving and dying in the streets. He also describes the mechanics and scope of the black market. Madame Baranoff and her rival black market boss, Karidian, arrange for the murder of Andrews. Brad ensures that his last report, revealing the names and the hideouts of the black marketeers, reaches his newspaper and is published. He then opens up his warehouse and distributes all the food to the starving people. Tamara’s henchman Ramon attacks Brad and, in the struggle, Tamara is accidentally shot dead. Brad turns his back on crime and is united with Linda, whom he loves. Raft effectively plays the tough guy with a heart. But June Havoc is miscast as Madame Baranoff, lacking the requisite Dietrichesque allure and imperiousness necessary for the part. Philip Ahn appears as Raft’s omniscient Chinese henchman. The black marketeers are all depicted as non-Chinese criminals seeking to exploit the long-suffering Chinese. The champions of the Chinese and opponents of the black market are the American journalist and the American social worker and they win over the disgruntled American flyer to their cause.

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7 Miscegenation Melodramas

There had been laws in America against miscegenation, sex between blacks and whites, since as early as 1661. It was widely banned in the United States and such bans were not declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court until 1967. Cultural fantasies around miscegenation tended to focus on the idea of the rape of white women by black men, the horror of which is one of the structuring themes of cinema’s first authentic masterpiece, D. W. Griffith’s Civil War epic The Birth of a Nation (1915). When the Hollywood censorship code was introduced in 1930 one of its sternest taboos was the depiction of miscegenation, defined as sex between blacks and whites. But this ban was in practice extended to sex between whites and Asians. It was not until 1956 that the cinematic ban on miscegenation was lifted and this prompted a flood of black-white miscegenation melodramas:  Band of Angels (1957), Island in the Sun (1957), Tamango (1957), Night of the Quarter Moon (1959), Imitation of Life (1959) and The World, the Flesh and the Devil (1959). Gina Marchetti has argued that Hollywood’s Asia was constructed on the promise of adventure and forbidden pleasure: Whether in a Chinatown opium den, a geisha house in Japan, or a café in Saigon, romantic involvements and sexual liaisons unacceptable in mainstream Anglo-American society become

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China and the Chinese in Popular Film possible. Erotic fantasies can be indulged, sexual taboos broken. However, any radical deviation from the mainstream is unlikely to be voiced openly because of the possibility of a poor box-office showing. Therefore, Hollywood romance with Asia tends to be a flirtation with the exotic rather than an attempt at any genuine intercultural understanding.1

The 1950s focus on Japan as opposed to China meant that Hollywood’s relaxation of attitudes to miscegenation saw a succession of films exploring inter-racial love affairs between Americans and Japanese, among them Japanese War Bride (1952), The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), Sayonara (1957), The Barbarian and the Geisha (1958), The Crimson Kimono (1959), Cry for Happy (1961) and Bridge to the Sun (1961). This reflected a new reality in which American armed forces personnel married Japanese brides. Between 1945 and 1975, 45,000 Japanese brides of American servicemen immigrated into the United States.2 By contrast there were only a handful of films on inter-racial affairs with Chinese women and then only if set in Hong Kong or in wartime when China was an ally. One continuing aspect of ‘The Yellow Peril’ was the sexual threat represented by the yellow man and the rape fantasy was a recurrent trope in films dealing with the East. The classic exposition of this was Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (1915), which Kevin Brownlow has called ‘one of the most sensational films of the early cinema’.3 The plot is simple. Edith Hardy (Fannie Ward), the spendthrift wife of New  York stockbroker Dick Hardy (Jack Dean) berated for her extravagance by her husband, borrows the $10,000 raised at a Red Cross bazaar to invest in a ‘sure thing’ and pay off her debts. The investment fails and she needs $10,000 to return to the Red Cross. Wealthy Japanese art collector Hishuru Tori (Sessue Hayakawa) offers to loan her the money in return for sex. She is to return the next night. As it happens, her husband has just made a fortune on his own investments and gives her a cheque for $10,000. She tries to return it to Tori but he insists on her keeping the bargain. When she refuses, he calls her a cheat, tries to rape her and when she resists brands her as his personal possession. She shoots him in the shoulder and flees. Her husband, who has followed her to Tori’s house, finds Tori and his cheque and, when the police arrive, accepts responsibility for the shooting. On trial before a packed court, he is found 126

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guilty. However, Edith rushes forward, admits to the crime but reveals the brand mark to the court. The spectators turn into a lynch mob from which Tori is with difficulty preserved. Dick is acquitted and leaves the court with his wife, patriarchal society, American justice and Western marriage all triumphantly affirmed. The film’s racist stance is made clear by an inter-title borrowed from Kipling:  ‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet’. DeMille uses low-key lighting and dark backgrounds to suggest Tori’s villainy visually. The very first shot of the film shows him branding one of his objets d’art, foreshadowing his treatment of Edith. This villainy is reinforced by the ease with which he mingles in Long Island high society, with his fashionable Western clothes, sports car and loan of his house for the Red Cross ball. But Edith is far from blameless. She is a social butterfly who spends extravagantly on dresses, running her husband into debt; she is an irresponsible embodiment of the new consumerism. From the film’s point of view, the hero is the husband Dick Hardy, a dedicated and hard-working stockbroker, who, an embodiment of the Protestant work ethic, refuses to be lured away from his desk by golfing friends, puritanically disapproves of Edith’s extravagance but in the moment of crisis, behaves honourably and chivalrously taking the blame for his wife’s crimes. The last shot of the film has them moving out of the courtroom through the crowds, she having purged her sins and he having maintained his manly code. DeMille films the story in what is effectively a neutral succession of medium shots. But there are two notable flurries of action. Tori’s attempted rape and the branding, which is a violent eruption into the narrative, and the final courtroom sequence, where there are longshots of the crowd of spectators, a slow tracking shot along the faces of the listening jurors, vignettes of individual spectators listening intently or whispering to their neighbours, then another eruption when Edith rushes forward, hair dishevelled, hysterically denouncing Tori and ripping open her dress to reveal the mark. These are both trigger points for the emotion of the audience and reinforce Tori’s villainy. The film was a critical and box office hit in the United States and also in France. Produced for $17,311, it grossed $137,364.4 The Moving Picture World (25 December 1915)  said it had ‘extraordinary merit’ and the New York National Mirror (25 December 1915) called it ‘a mighty fine 127

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photoplay, well conceived, well written, carefully produced and extremely well acted’. It was banned in Britain and Australia for fear of offending Japan and the Japanese press denounced Hayakawa as a traitor for colluding in such a negative view of the Japanese. But something remarkable happened with regard to the acting. Hayakawa stole the notices. Typically, Variety (17 December 1915) said: ‘The work of Sessue Hayakawa is so far above the acting of Miss Ward and Jack Dean that he really should be the star-billing for the film.’ It was Hayakawa’s good looks and subtle underplaying, relying on glances and gestures to convey his feelings, that impressed the critics and captivated female audiences as the film turned him into a matinee idol for much the same reasons as Rudolph Valentino. Writer and critic DeWitt Bodeen recalled: The Cheat preceded The Sheik by more than six years, but the effect of Hayakawa on American women was even more electric that Valentino’s. It involved fiercer tones of masochism as well as a latent female urge to experience sex with a beautiful but savage man of another race. When Hayakawa gripped the foolish butterfly in his strong arms, tore the dress free from her shoulder, and branded her on the naked flesh, there were screams of ecstasy in the audience and some women fainted.5

Despite the strong anti-Japanese feeling in the United States resulting from the stream of Japanese immigration to the West Coast and the growing military power and ambition of Japan since its defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5, Hayakawa became a major silent screen star in Hollywood. The significance of The Cheat as a racist narrative is underlined by its subsequent history. DeMille’s film was reissued in 1918 but Tori’s nationality was changed. Japanese objections to the film in 1915 had been ignored but now, with Japan as an ally in the Great War, the character was turned into Haka Arakau, the Burmese ivory king. It was remade in 1923 and 1931 in America and in 1937 in France in a version called Forfaiture with Hayakawa reprising his original role. Interestingly in the 1923 version, directed by George Fitzmaurice, with Pola Negri and the 1931 version, directed by George Abbott, with Tallulah Bankhead, the villain’s nationality was again changed. He became a crook posing as an Indian prince in 128

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1923 and an Orientalised American in 1931, suggesting that the original was not so much specifically anti-Japanese as anti-Oriental in its depiction of the sexual threat. The talkie remake with a notable performance by Tallulah Bankhead as the restless, reckless upper class wife, who gambles, drives fast cars and lives dangerously, followed the narrative line of the original version closely, with the final trial scene in its staging and shooting modelled directly on DeMille’s. What is different is that the villain, Hardy Livingston (Irving Pichel) is a dissolute American but one who has spent three years in the Orient and become thoroughly Orientalised. His house is full of Japanese curiosities, including a hideous statue of Yama, the god of destruction. He dresses as a Japanese, has Japanese servants and musicians and a supposedly Eastern philosophy about women (‘The Oriental woman is not a slave. She is merely well trained.’). So he still embodies the threat to decent American society from the East.6 Alberto Capellani’s The Red Lantern (1919) was at an estimated $250,000 an expensively produced, imaginatively directed and lavishly mounted melodrama, notable for its exquisite Chinoiserie sets and costumes and an outstanding performance by Nazimova, the Russian-born star who had trained under Stanislavsky at the Moscow Arts Theatre and had thoroughly mastered the art of silent screen acting. Based on a 1911 novel by Edith Wherry, whose missionary father had been present in Peking during the Boxer Rebellion, the film explored the tragic consequence of miscegenation. Nazimova plays Mahlee, a Chinese orphan being raised by her grandmother, Madame Ling. She is mocked by other Chinese because of her large feet – she had not undergone the tradition of footbinding to give her small feet. Dying, her grandmother tells her that, while her mother was Chinese and died giving her birth, her father was an English aristocrat who left money to pay for her upbringing on condition that she did not undergo footbinding. The superstitious grandmother believes that she will not be allowed to join her ancestors unless Mahlee cuts her feet and orders her to do. Mahlee begins to cut and faints, as her grandmother dies. A passing American missionary, Andrew Templeton, rescues her and takes her to the American Protestant Mission for treatment. Three years later she is a Christian convert, clad in European clothes, dressing her hair like a picture 129

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of the Virgin Mary and teaching Chinese children. Andrew, who had been working in the north, returns, having been wounded by the rebellious Boxers. While she nurses him back to health, she falls in love with him but is hurt when at one stage he goes to take her hand but recoils from its yellow colour. Sensing her growing attraction to Andrew, his mother Mrs Templeton tells her that marriage with Andrew would be impossible (‘You are of another race – another people’) and even if Andrew wanted to marry her, she would refuse consent. Mahlee has become the object of the affections of another Eurasian Sam Wang (Noah Beery) who has returned from studying medicine in America. He has told her that those of Eurasian origin (‘A cursed mixture of yellow and white’) will only ever be tolerated and never socially accepted by the whites. As a consequence, he has become a secret adherent of the Boxers. She rejects his advances but after Mrs Templeton’s rejection of her, Mahlee tells Sam ‘The Christian God has mocked me’ and she will join the Boxers, while still not accepting Sam’s advances. Sam now gets her to pose as the Goddess of the Red Lantern, whose appearances before the people he contrives by a magic trick, and she blesses the Boxer Rebellion. Her appearance is so successful in rousing the people that General Jung Lu, the Chinese commander-in-chief, gets Sam and Mahlee to repeat their trick before the Dowager Empress to convince her to commit the Imperial army in support of the Boxers. The Protestant Mission is among the Western settlements besieged by the Boxers. Learning that her father, Sir Philip Sackville and white half-sister Blanche (also played by Nazimova) are there, Mahlee goes there in disguise and begs him to acknowledge her as his daughter; he refuses. The rebellion collapses as Allied troops advance on Peking. Sam is shot dead and Mahlee takes poison, having sent a last message to her father which reads: ‘God forgive you as I have. I am going to meet my maker where there is no colour, birth or creed.’ Basically the film endorses the sentiment embodied in the Kipling quotation: ‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet’. When Andrew is recuperating, Mahlee reads him Kipling’s Ballad of East and West containing the line and she dies repeating it. The Chinese come out of the film badly. They are characterised throughout by extreme superstition. Madame Ling insists on Mahlee cutting her feet so that she can join her ancestors in the after-life. The children flee from 130

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Sam Wang who is believed to bring bad luck. A  soothsayer predicts greatness and then darkness for Mahlee. Sam deliberately plays on the superstitious feelings of the Peking mob and the Dowager Empress to get them to support the Revolt. Sam who is willing to use deception to get his way with the people also attempts to rape Mahlee when she rejects his advances. General Jung Lu, an actual historical figure opposed to the Boxers, is here shown to be supporting them. When Sam and Mahlee reject white society in favour of a Chinese world that believes in magic and seeks to exterminate the whites, they also abandon their humanitarian roles as doctor and teacher. But the Christians do not come out of the film well either, with Mrs Templeton rejecting the idea of Mahlee marrying Andrew and Sir Philip Sackville refusing to acknowledge his daughter. The film was a critical and box office success with Nazimova earning high praise for ‘the tremendous range of her rare artistry’ and for her ability to portray ‘the conflict of races within the body of one girl’ as she makes the transition from demure and obedient Chinese maiden first to devout Christian convert and finally to exotic and imperious pagan goddess. However, a group of young Chinese intellectuals wrote to the Washington Post denouncing the film as a ‘wicked’ distortion of China, the Chinese and the Boxer Rebellion.7 The impossibility of sexual relations across the racial divide was a recurrent theme in silent films. Typical examples are Pagan Love (1920) and Li Ting Lang (1920). In Pagan Love, Tsing Yu-Ching (Togo Yamamoto) is sent from China to America to study Western civilisation. He attends university and later starts a Chinese newspaper in New  York. He falls in love with Kathleen Levinsky, the blind daughter of a Jew and an Irish woman. Lonely and isolated by her disability, she responds to his attentions. But after an operation restores her sight and she sees him, she recoils in horror and flees. He returns sadly to China and commits suicide. Li Ting Lang featured another Chinese student Li Ting Lang (Sessue Hayakawa) who while at university in America falls in love with prominent socialite Marion Halstead. However, when they announce their engagement, they are shunned by their friends and associates. Li Ting Lang releases Marion from her commitment and returns to China. Years later they meet again when Marion, now married, visits the Orient. Li Ting Lang saves her life 131

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from a murderous attack and reunites her with her husband, sadly bidding her farewell forever. A film that unusually goes completely against the trend is The Forbidden City (1918), directed by Sidney Franklin, future director of The Good Earth. Shot in a succession of interiors and what look like a couple of ‘Chinese’ gardens, the film opens like so many of its kind with the Kipling quote ‘East is East and West is West’, but proceeds to subvert it. In this film, San-San, daughter of the mandarin Wong-Li, is having a secret romance with John Worden, assistant secretary at the American consulate. She tells him that wise men say that different races may not love but Worden tells her ‘Love knows no geography or race’. They marry in secret but Worden is recalled to Shanghai and coming to tell San-San, finds she has vanished. Her father, out of favour at the imperial court, seeks to regain his position by offering his daughter to the Emperor as the new imperial favourite. The Emperor, impressed by her picture, sends for her. But she turns up in the Forbidden City carrying the baby she has borne to Worden. The Emperor orders her to be put to death and the child, a girl named Toy, to be raised as a warning about the evils of interracial sex. When she grows up, Toy escapes from the Forbidden City and seeks refuge at the US embassy in Peking. She is sent to Manila to train as a nurse and there falls in love with a young American lieutenant Philip Halbert. The Governor-General forbids their marriage and transfers Halbert. But the Governor-General is none other than John Worden. When he falls ill, Toy nurses him, realises he is her father and appears dressed as her mother. Worden is reminded of his own great love for San-San and reunites Toy and Halbert. Unusually, the film provides a happy ending and endorses a mixed-race marriage. Norma Talmadge played mother and daughter in the approved ‘China Doll’ fashion without ever looking remotely Chinese. Having examined the Production Code Administration (PCA) files, Susan Courtney has concluded:  ‘Stories of liaisons between Asians and whites were regularly rejected in the late twenties and early thirties on the grounds that they violated the miscegenation clauses of the Don’t and Be Carefuls and both Production Codes’.8 The Don’ts and Be Carefuls were a list drawn up in 1927 for the guidance of film producers by the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) – number 6 of 132

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which was a ban on miscegenation. This fed directly into the Production Code of 1930 and its strengthened version of 1934. Films did not avoid the subject of racial prejudice. But the two principal strategies adopted by cinema to deal with the problem of consummation were the suicide of the Asian female as classically portrayed in Madame Butterfly or the providential revelation that the supposed Asian male or female figure is in fact white. This miscegenation melodrama gave Western audiences the frisson of vicariously experiencing forbidden love but the final reassurance that all was well by the reassertion of the racial hierarchy. Frank Lloyd’s Son of the Gods (1930) classically embodies the latter strategy. It follows the career of Chinese student Sam Lee (Richard Barthlemess) who after a series of snubs and insults because of his race leaves college and returns to New York where his father, wealthy merchant Lee Ying, tells him that tolerance is the only way of dealing with racial prejudice. He seeks his fortune in Europe and there on the French Riviera meets and falls in love with reckless American socialite Alanna Wagner (Constance Bennett). He warns her that there would be difficulties in any relationship but she shrugs it off saying ‘there are no taboos among our class’. He proposes marriage but when she discovers his race, she confronts him in a restaurant, striking him across the face with a whip (‘you dirty rotten Chinaman’). He returns to America, declaring that having tried to be an American and failed, he will now become a Chinese businessman and deal ruthlessly with the whites. Alanna, realising that she really loves Sam, embarks on a destructive spiral of smoking, drinking and night-clubbing until she becomes seriously ill. Her father begs Sam to see her, he does so and forgives her for her ill-treatment of him. She recovers and professes her love. In the nick of time, Sam discovers he is not Chinese at all but a white foundling, adopted by Lee Ying. So they are able to marry without violating the production code. Frank Lloyd had already deployed this narrative strategy in his 1921 film A Tale of Two Worlds in which an American antiques dealer and his wife in China are killed by the Boxers. Their orphaned daughter is raised as his own by their servant Ah Wing and given the name Sui Sen. When Ah Wing and his supposed daughter move to Chinatown in San Francisco, she falls in love with a wealthy young American, Newcombe, raising the spectre of miscegenation. She is promised in marriage to the villainous 133

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Boxer leader Ling Jo. However, she is rescued by Newcombe and Ling Jo is killed in a trap he has set for the American. The revelation that Sui Sen is not Chinese but American clears the way for a happy ending with the lovers united. American actress Leatrice Joy plays Sui Sen and Wallace Beery, Ling Jo. There is a less happy outcome to an inter-racial love affair in James Flood’s Shanghai (1935). The hero is Dimitri Koslov (Charles Boyer), a White Russsian émigré, an ex-army officer working as a rickshaw boy in Shanghai. Befriended by Lun Sing (Warner Oland), the former Chinese Ambassador in St Petersburg, he gets a job at the International Oriental Bank, makes a fortune manipulating the stock market and sets up his own firm. He falls in love with American socialite Barbara Howard (Loretta Young) but is warned by Lun Sing that he must reveal his mixed-race origins as the son of a Russian general and Manchu princess. He holds a costume ball for all the leading citizens of Shanghai and announces he is a Eurasian. They all leave, including Barbara. Disillusioned, Dimitri retreats to his mountain palace but Barbara follows, professing her love. They make plans to marry but Lun Sing warns that Dimitri’s mother killed herself because of racial prejudice. The lovers decide they must part, Dimitri concluding sadly: ‘Some day prejudice may die. Men may be judged not for their creed or colour but for their merits.’ East is West (1919) was a play by Samuel Shipman and John B. Hymer which they billed as a comedy. It made a star of Fay Bainter in the leading role of Ming Toy. The Washington Post (26 February 1922) said: ‘Fay Bainter, with her great art, with her big human heart and her joy in her work, makes this Ming Toy a creature who will be treasured in memory for the years to come.’ Ming Toy became an iconic archetype in American culture, the China Doll, comical in her naïveté, touching in her devotion and vulnerability. The character Ming Toy figured in several popular songs and revue sketches after the success of the play.9 There were also two film versions of the play, a silent version, directed by Sidney Franklin for First National in 1922. It starred Constance Talmadge as Ming Toy, Edward Burns as Billy Benson and the inevitable Warner Oland as Charlie Yong. It was remade as a talkie in 1930 by director Monta Bell with the Mexican actress Lupe Velez as Ming Toy, Lew Ayres as Billy Benson and Edward G. Robinson as Charlie Yong. The film had originally 134

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been shot with the Danish actor Jean Hersholt as the Chinese ‘Chop Suey King’. But as Edward G. Robinson recalled in his autobiography, ‘With his Danish accent he was less than credible and the preview audiences laughed long and loud.’10 So Robinson was called in to reshoot all his scenes. E. Alyn Warren played the Chinese merchant Lo Sang Kee in both films. The talkie opens in China with Ming Toy put up for sale by her brutal father on a love-boat, where unwanted girls are sold as wives or concubines. Visiting American Billy Benson is taken to see the love-boat by his friend, the merchant Lo Sang Kee, who runs a business in San Francisco. Billy Benson is attracted to Ming Toy, calling her ‘lovely little China Doll’ but he refuses on principle to buy her. He persuades Lo Sang Kee to buy her and take her to America to avoid degradation and brutalisation in China. She is happy in America, eagerly absorbing American music and culture. But the disapproving missionary Dr Fredericks tells Lo Sang Kee that, as they are not married, Ming Toy is in breach of the law and must be deported back to China. When Charlie Yong, the vain, swaggering ‘Chop Suey King’, who is half American and half Chinese sees Ming Toy and desires her, Lo Sang Kee agrees to sell her to him to prevent her deportation. At this point, Billy Benson returns from the East and kidnaps her, taking her to the family home. There they fall in love and Billy announces his intention to marry her. His parents tell him this will lead to his exclusion from polite society. To prove it, they assemble all his friends for a party and when he announces his impending marriage, they all leave in disgust. Meanwhile Charlie plans to retrieve Ming Toy and kill Billy. He turns up at the Benson house, accompanied by Ming Toy’s father Hop Toy who has fled China to avoid the police. But as Billy and Charlie fight, Hop Toy recognises Ming Toy and explains that she is not really his daughter but the child of American missionaries whom he kidnapped in her childhood. Charlie renounces his claim and, since Ming Toy is now white, the marriage to Billy can go ahead without the danger of miscegenation. The 1930 version opens with a sequence spoken entirely in Chinese in which leaflets are distributed announcing the arrival of the ‘love-boat’ and we then see the reactions of some of the girls, excitement by some, fear by others. At the sale, Hop Toy is told that the ‘New China’, the Nationalist China of Chiang Kai-Shek, would not countenance such a thing, but he 135

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replies that the writ of the ‘New China’ has not yet reached their town. Billy asks if the sales are illegal and Lo Sang Kee says they are, ‘but so is bootlegging in our beloved United States’. Much of the humour in what is billed as a comedy derives from Ming Toy’s behaviour. There is her enthusiastic adoption of American jazz dancing, slang and chewing gum. She innocently imitates without understanding their meaning the gestures and shouts employed by the ‘sing-song girls’ (prostitutes) in the house opposite to attract prospective clients. Later there is her mocking treatment of the Bensons’ disapproving English butler Thomas. There is an attempt to advance an enlightened view of race. When Billy’s friends shun Ming Toy, she asks plaintively ‘Why did God not make all people white’ and Billy replies: ‘Yellow people aren’t bad. Only a few white people think so.’ Later Lo Sang Kee says: ‘The colour of a man’s skin is not a reflection of his soul’, suggesting that character is more important than race. But after this there is the cop-out ending. She is white after all. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) is a wholly untypical film in the career of Frank Capra. It can be explained by his admitted overpowering desire to win an Oscar and believing this could only be done with an ‘art film’.11 So he lobbied for and obtained the task of directing Columbia’s film version of the best-selling 1930 Grace Zaring Stone novel, The Bitter Tea of General Yen after the original director Herbert Brenon withdrew from the project. For years after Capra would describe it as his favourite film but it was a box office failure, his only Columbia film to lose money and it failed to obtain the desired Oscar nomination. Capra attributed its failure to it being banned in Great Britain and the British Empire.12 In fact, it was not banned in Britain or the so-called white dominions like Australia. But it was banned in the colonial territories of the British Empire where anything that compromised the prestige of the white race was seen as dangerous.13 The star Barbara Stanwyck more plausibly attributed its failure to a racist backlash: ‘The women’s clubs came out very strongly against it, because the white woman was in love with the yellow man and kissed his hand.’14 The trade paper Variety may have captured the popular reaction when dismissing it as ‘a queer film’ and saying, ‘After the Chinese general goes on the make for the white girl, the picture goes blah. That is before the film is even halfway.’15 136

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Figure 7.1. Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther in The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Capra located his film very precisely in time and place as a map of China dissolves into scenes of a burning city and a flood of refugees as words loom up on the screen: ‘Shanghai!’ ‘Burning of Chapei’, ‘Refugees’. Contemporary audiences would have recognised this as a reference to the attack by Japanese naval forces on 28 January 1932 on the heavily populated 137

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Chapei district north of the international settlement in Shanghai, although the film does not identify the aggressor. In the original book, the violence was a result of the hostilities between rival Chinese warlords. American missionary Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck), a Puritan from New England, arrives in Shanghai to marry her fiancé, fellow missionary Dr Robert Strike (Gavin Gordon) but they postpone the ceremony in order to rescue orphans trapped in an orphanage in Chapei. They retrieve the children but Megan is separated from Robert and knocked out in the confusion. She comes to on the troop train of warlord General Yen, who has rescued her from the chaos. He takes her north to his summer palace, detaining her there ostensibly because of the disturbed state of the country but he has fallen in love with her. When Yen’s concubine Mah-Li is found to be betraying his secrets to his enemy, rival warlord General Feng, he condemns her to death. Megan intervenes to save her life, offering herself as surety. Although Yen knows that this may mean his destruction, he agrees. Mah-Li communicates details of Yen’s treasure train to Feng, the train is captured by Feng’s forces and Yen’s soldiers slaughtered. Yen is abandoned by his men but Megan declares her love for him and he takes poison. The film carefully establishes the gulf of understanding between the Americans and the Chinese. It critiques the perceptions and preoccupations of the American missionaries in a succession of ironic exchanges. One observes ‘Human life is the cheapest thing in China.’ A missionary’s wife says of the Chinese:  ‘They’re all tricky, treacherous and immoral, I can’t tell one of them from another, they’re all Chinamen to me.’ Bishop Harkness tells an instructive tale about how he recounted the story of the crucifixion to a group of enthralled Mongolian bandits. He thought he had converted them. But the next week they attacked a merchant caravan and crucified their captives. ‘That, my friends, is China’ he concludes. General Yen despises the missionaries, expelling them from his province. He thinks Strike is a fool to abandon his marriage bed to rescue orphans. But he is intrigued by Megan. When at his palace she is awoken by the sound of a firing squad disposing of his captured enemies, she denounces his inhumanity. He says it is more humane to have them shot than to let them starve to death, as there is a famine in progress. He orders the firing squads to move out of the earshot. He talks to her of Chinese painting, poetry and music, telling her she does not understand the Chinese: ‘There has never been a 138

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people more truly artist and therefore more truly lover than the Chinese.’ When she asks for Mah-Li to be spared, she preaches the Christian gospel of love to him. He asks if she loves everybody and places his hand on hers. When she pulls her hand away, he declares: ‘Words, nothing but words’ and tells her how much he despises missionaries: ‘What do you want to give up, surely your pleasure wouldn’t be complete without some sacrifice.’ She agrees to stand surety for Mah-Li and Yen tells his financial adviser, Jones, ‘I’m going to convert a missionary.’ The film traces the process by which Megan falls in love with Yen and does so in a series of dream sequences which underline the dream-like feel of the entire film, enhanced by the ravishing soft-focus photography, and the recurrent slow dissolves deployed by the director. Unconscious on the train, she recalls in a series of dream images Robert kissing her, the train wheels conveying her into the unknown and dead bodies in the streets of Shanghai. Later in a key scene, she falls asleep on the palace terrace watching the ‘sing-song girls’ brought in to entertain the troops and chasing each other through the lantern-hung willow pattern gardens. She dreams that the door of her room is being smashed in and a shadowy figure enters. It is an evil version of Yen, hunched, leering, fanged and with long taloned claws. He advances on her and fondles her. Suddenly the window is flung open and a heroic figure in European clothes, white hat and black mask enters. He knocks out the evil Yen, removes his mask and reveals a handsome and dashing Yen. He embraces and kisses her. This sequence symbolises her simultaneous repulsion and attraction based on preconceived notions of the Chinese and her knowledge of her captor. Later, as she dresses to have dinner with him, she has a vision of him kissing her. The climax comes when Mah-Li has betrayed him and fled, Megan comes to the General, believing that the forfeit is sex. ‘Your sportsmanship is magnificent’ he tells her before pointing out that the forfeit was not sex but her life. He would never take anything not freely offered. But he gives her back her life. Finally convinced of his love she returns to her rooms, dresses in Chinese costume and makeup, and comes back to Yen. Echoing the actions performed by Mah-Li on the train, she puts a cushion behind his head, puts a rug over his legs and kneels beside him weeping and saying she can never leave him. She has been transformed from an independent, racist American woman into a Chinese concubine. Having experienced her 139

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emotional surrender and recognising the loss of his political power, Yen drinks poisoned tea. The final scene has a serene Megan aboard a junk drifting down to Shanghai with the financial adviser Jones suggesting that she and the General will be reunited in another life. The film is exquisitely designed and photographed, with Yen’s summer palace a fabulous place of polished floors, inlaid furniture, lacquer cabinets, tinkling bells, ornate candlesticks and lattice screens. The script is both poetic and economical, with the story told as much by glances, gestures, and body language as by dialogue. The Swedish actor Nils Asther gives the finest performance of his career as General Yen. Capra called it ‘an elegant tour de force’.16 Civilised, courtly and witty yet proud, dominant and aloof, he delivers his lines in a softly accented voice with exactly the right ironic bite or poetic lilt. He is inscrutable but reveals flashes of controlled emotion by his tone of voice, the fire in his eyes and the clenching of his fists. Barbara Stanwyck is also excellent as the Puritanical missionary gradually melted by love and there is good work from Toshia Mori as the fragile devious China Doll concubine and Walter Connolly as the canny, cynical, hard-drinking American adventurer (‘I’m what is known in the dime novels as a renegade – and a damn good one at that’). Richard Loo plays General Yen’s aide, Captain Li. Years in advance of its time, the film, as Gina Marchetti has suggested, ‘allows for the possibility of human feeling that may transcend racial divisions, that female sexuality may have power of its own … that another culture may not simply be seductive or threatening but may have its own truth and beauty’.17 Of all the Chinese archetypes developed by popular culture, it was perhaps Fu Manchu who made the greatest impression on the popular imagination of the twentieth century. But there were others who also exerted a hold for a time but whose lustre has faded. One of the most significant was Mr Wu. He was the creation of the distinguished Shakespearean actor-manager Matheson Lang who achieved notable stage success in plays such as Carnival, Such Men are Dangerous, The Wandering Jew and Jew Süss. But as theatre historian W. MacQueen-Pope recalled in 1959: His outstanding success had been in a Chinese character, Mr Wu, his Othello, and many others notwithstanding. The

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Miscegenation Melodramas public liked him as a Chinaman, although he did infinitely better things. His Mr Wu captured public imagination and it was certainly a terrific piece of acting, the sort of thing which seems beyond the compass of most actors today. He acted with every bit of himself. In Mr Wu his silent, expressionless, motionless figure standing over his erring daughter seemed to grow in stature and become an avenging outraged God as you watched, hearing in the background the rustle of the wings of the Angel of Death. He achieved all that without a single movement, gesture or facial expression.18

Lang recognised the public identification of him with that one role by calling his autobiography Mr Wu Looks Back. He explained the genesis of the role in that autobiography. While on a tour of the Far East, he had been regularly visited backstage by educated Chinese men anxious to discuss Shakespeare: Most of them had been to Europe, and many were educated there. As they sat in my dressing-room, large, bland, stout men most of them, with charming manners and an extraordinary sense of dominant personality, the idea suddenly came to me ‘what a wonderful thing it would be to get a play for London about a real Chinese of the type of these men’. Up to then the usual Chinaman in our country had been a rather ridiculous, comical little figure of musical comedy, all shrugs and grimaces and squeaky noises, or a rather exaggerated monster of villainy in melodrama, the exact antithesis of these quiet, dignified, cultured people. I became obsessed with the idea and used to study and watch these men with this in view.19

Returning to England, he found the manuscript of the play Mr Wu by Harry Vernon and Harold Owen submitted to his management. He put it into production at once: ‘It made an instantaneous success … and became one of the most talked about plays of its time.’20 Lang revealed that he had based the walk, laugh and gestures of Mr Wu on those of the First Secretary of the Chinese Legation in London, who had acted as a technical adviser on the play. Mr Wu opened at the Strand Theatre in November 1913 and ran initially for 403 performances. Lang revived it in 1922 for a further 114 performances. He also produced it on provincial and imperial tours, 141

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cementing it firmly into the collective memory. Lang starred in a British film version of the play, produced by Stoll Pictures, in 1919, and co-starring leading stage actresses Lillah McCarthy and Meggie Albanesi. It was reissued in 1922, doubtless to capitalise on the interest aroused by the play’s revival. The play was novelised by Louise Jordan Miln and published in 1918. A cheap edition was issued by Cassell in 1930 and reprinted twice within the year. There was a radio broadcast of the play in 1928. Mr Wu could thus be found in every popular medium of communication. What is significant about the characterisation is not so much that Mr Wu was portrayed as Oxford-educated, cultured, dignified and polite but that he represented a link between sexuality and cruelty which came to be seen as characteristically Chinese. The action of the play is set in Hong Kong where a clandestine love affair develops between Nan Ping, daughter of the powerful mandarin Wu Li Chang and Basil Gregory, son of a steamship company owner. Nan Ping becomes pregnant and when Wu learns of the affair, he puts his daughter to death for dishonouring her house. He also imprisons Basil. He now proposes an appalling bargain to Basil’s mother in order to expunge the dishonouring of his family. He will free Basil if his mother has sex with Wu. However, Wu unwittingly drinks the poison Mrs Gregory had intended to take once she had secured her son’s release. The horrible sexual proposition at the heart of the play chilled contemporary audiences and Mrs Gregory’s preference for death before dishonour underlined the moral superiority of the white race to the yellow, however superficially cultured and polite. Mr Wu’s bargain, however, was evidently too strong for Hollywood to stomach when MGM remade the film in 1927 and the mandarin’s proposal was changed. Directed by William Nigh, MGM’s Mr Wu was a stylised, dream-like Orientalist drama, set in delicate, exquisite Chinese settings and unfolding with all the stately formality of a ritual. Lon Chaney is superb as Wu, conveying the emotions of love, grief and revenge all in the subtlest of mime acting. French actress Renee Adoree played Nan Ping and British actor Ralph Forbes, Basil Gregory. In this version, Wu sends for Basil’s mother and sister, shows them Basil tied up and asks her to choose whether her son or her daughter shall die to make up for the dishonouring of Nan Ping. The mother offers her own life, only to be told ‘In China it is 142

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the parents who must live and suffer.’ It is resolved when Mrs Gregory stabs Wu to death. The success of Mr Wu prompted Lang to essay another venture into the Orient and it came with The Chinese Bungalow in 1929. Attracted by Marion Osmond’s novel of that name, he collaborated with her (under the pseudonym of James Corbet) on a dramatisation. It proved, said Lang, ‘one of the biggest drawing plays I had ever produced’.21 It premiered in Hull in 1925, was successfully and extensively toured through the English provinces and Canada and came into London and the Duke of York’s Theatre in 1929 where, despite an unusually freezing winter, it chalked up a respectable 109 performances. MacQueen-Pope recalled: It was melodrama at its best. Lang’s Yuan Sing was a marvellous exposition of the Oriental mind. He betrayed nothing of his knowledge or feelings, yet he built up around him an atmosphere of fear and suspense, as if a cyclone was gathering to break the offending parties. And he did it by acting, by mental suggestion. He never tried to evoke the sympathy of the audience which lay, quite wrongly with the guilty couple and the wife’s sister, an accomplice. Lang played against his audience, and won them over with his gentleness and courtesy to everyone.22

This play was set in Malaya and begins with Chinese millionaire Yuan Sing marrying in Singapore an English nightclub singer Sadie Merivale and taking her up country to his Chinese bungalow. Increasingly lonely and isolated, she turns for consolation to the only other white man within thirty miles, the rubber planter Harold Marquis. When Sadie’s sister Charlotte arrives to stay, they get their first insight into the inscrutable Chinese. A vengeful Malay husband kills his wife and her lover in the courtyard of the bungalow. Sing watches unmoved. ‘It’s murder’ says Charlotte. ‘I prefer to call it retribution’ says Sing, explaining that in the East marriage is a prized possession and whoever steals it must be punished. When he discovers the affair, he sends a cat with poisoned claws to finish off Harold and transfers his sexual affections to Charlotte, imprisoning her with Sadie when she rejects his advances. Harold’s brother, Commander Richard Marquis RN, who commands a gunboat patrolling the river, turns up 143

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Figure 7.2. Paul Lukas and Kay Walsh in The Chinese Bungalow

seeking explanations. Sing discovers that he loves Charlotte and his love is reciprocated. Sing, who throughout has worn European clothes, now assumes Chinese mandarin robes and takes Marquis to a locked room where they drink from two goblets, one of which is poisoned. One of them will die. ‘May the best man win’ says Sing sportingly. Inevitably it is Sing who dies at the foot of an impassive Chinese idol, leaving Marquis to escape with the Merivale sisters. Matheson Lang starred in both silent and sound film versions of the play made in Britain in 1926 and 1930. The Chinese Bungalow (US The Chinese Den) was remade again in 1940 with Hungarian actor Paul Lukas as Yuan Sing. It was reissued in 1944 and 1946. Thus the vengeful Chinese archetype retained its currency in the popular imagination from the Edwardian age to the end of the Second World War. Hong Kong is one of those exotic locations favoured by Hollywood – along with Shanghai, Saigon, Tangier, Casablanca, Calcutta, Macao, Singapore, and Istanbul, every one of which locations has given its name to a film melodrama. They provide a suitably romantic, mysterious and 144

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colourful background for thrillers, adventure films and romantic dramas, a sort of composite Orient. Hong Kong was the location for both Henry King’s Love is a Many Splendored Thing (1955) and Richard Quine’s The World of Suzie Wong (1960), both of them scripted by John Patrick from autobiographical novels, the former by Han Suyin and the latter by Richard Mason (as adapted for the stage by Paul Osborn). Both featured extensive location shooting in the crown colony. Interestingly they were produced either side of the lifting of the cinematic ban on miscegenation and consequently each had a different outcome. Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, whose syrupy title song became a hit, was described by one critic as ‘a streamlined but enfeebled version of the ‘Madame Butterfly’ story.23 The ‘Madam Butterfly’ is a Eurasian widow Dr Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones). She is half Chinese and half English and proud of her identity, claiming it combines the best of both races. Her husband, a Nationalist Chinese general, had been killed by the Communists and she rejects the appeal of her hard-line Communist colleague Dr Sen to return to China, pointing to the thousands of refugees fleeing from ‘the people’s paradise’. The film opens in Hong Kong in 1949 where Dr Han Suyin falls in love with a married American journalist Mark Elliot (William Holden). They become lovers and he wants to marry her. She travels to Chungking to get permission to marry from the head of her Chinese family but Mark’s wife refuses to give him a divorce. They continue with an extra-marital liaison which costs Suyin her hospital job. They enjoy a romantic interlude in Macao, Suyin adopts a cute Chinese orphan and Mark is sent to Korea to cover the war. He is killed but Suyin is left with the memory of great love and her work to alleviate the suffering of mankind. Richard Loo plays Suyin’s wealthy Chinese friend Robert Hung, Philip Ahn, Third Uncle, head of her Chinese family and Keye Luke, cousin Li Foo. Costing $1,780,000 to produce it brought in $4,000,000 at the American box office. In Suzie Wong American architect Robert Lomax (William Holden) arrives in Hong Kong, seeking to pursue a career as a painter. He hires a beautiful young Chinese prostitute Suzie Wong (Nancy Kwan) to model for him and falls in love with her. But he faces a set of conflicts: the cultural 145

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differences (he American, she Chinese), the moral difference (his disapproval of her career as a prostitute), the age difference (he is 40, she is 20). They become lovers and Robert even accepts the discovery that she has an illegitimate child. But when she offers to return to prostitution to support him as his money runs out, they quarrel and she disappears. He searches for her in vain until she reappears to seek his help rescuing her child from a flood in the slums. The baby dies but Robert and Suzie are reunited at the funeral and set out to face the world as a married couple. The Asian women are divided figures. Han Suyin is half English, half Chinese and is torn between her work in Hong Kong and her desire to return to China, not because she is Communist but to help the people. Suzie Wong says that she separates her soul (pure and untouched) from her body (sold to men for sex). They are completed by the American men: Suyin finds true love and decides to stay in Hong Kong and not to return to Communist China, and Suzie will marry Robert and abandon her life of prostitution. The inter-racial love stories featuring American professionals emphasise their innate liberalism. They defy the racist disapproval expressed by the expatriate British in colonial Hong Kong. The British are depicted not just as racist and snobbish but as hypocritical. For in both films, a prominent British character  – Palmer-Jones in Love (Torin Thatcher) and Ben Marlow (Michael Wilding) in Wong, although married, are conducting affairs with women they have no intention of marrying, Palmer-Jones with Eurasian Suzanne (Jorja Curtwright) and Marlow with Suzie. Frank Borzage, the foremost cinematic interpreter of the transcendent power of love, turned his attention to inter-racial marriage in his first film in ten years, China Doll (1958). Set in China in 1943, the film charts the effect of love upon an embittered loner, Captain Cliff Brandon (Victor Mature) of the US Army Air Force who grew up in a succession of orphanages. He single-mindedly devotes himself to flying and when off duty drinks heavily to mask his loneliness. Hopelessly drunk one night he inadvertently buys a Chinese girl Shu-Jen (Li Li Hua) from her family. He is persuaded by the missionary priest Father Cairns (Ward Bond) to retain her as his housekeeper. The classic China Doll, she gradually civilises and humanises him and he falls in love with her. One night, as he is feverish with malaria, they have sex and thereafter he shuns her to avoid a repeat 146

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of the episode. But when she becomes pregnant, he is overjoyed and marries her in a traditional Chinese ceremony. Marriage and the birth of a daughter completes Cliff ’s transformation. But when the Japanese attack the airbase, Shu-Jen is killed. Cliff locates and rescues the baby but is himself killed firing a machine gun at the Japanese planes. Thirteen years later, the girl travels from an orphanage in Hong Kong to Los Angeles where she is met by the surviving members of Cliff ’s crew who will raise her. She symbolises the triumph of the love of Cliff and Shu-Jen over death. Borzage uses his camera angles, close-ups and editing imaginatively to convey the unfolding love of Cliff and Shu-Jen and the bonding of father and baby.24 The main narrative is also enhanced by some nice touches: a nun playing ‘Frankie and Johnny’ on the saxophone, an army sergeant who is studying Greek philosophy and a missionary priest who quotes Ovid and dishes out brandy with his advice to the lovelorn. There was a strange throwback to the 1930s in what would be John Ford’s last film 7 Women (1966). Based on a short story by Norah Lofts, appropriately entitled ‘Chinese Finale’, it is set in North China in 1935 at an American Christian mission. Mostly shot on the MGM sound stages, it is essentially a chamber work exploring the conflicts between the seven women of the title. The only male at the mission is the ineffectual Charles Pether (Eddie Albert). A  would-be minister, mother-dominated until after her death, he finally married his long-term sweetheart, Florrie (Betty Field), now pregnant at 42. Ford was famous for celebrating women as wives and mothers and it is therefore not perhaps surprising that in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich he described the women at the mission as ‘a bunch of kooks’.25 Florrie, the only one fulfilling her ‘natural’ function and declaring ‘what is a woman without a child’, is a demanding, self-centred, perpetually complaining neurotic. Her statement is echoed by Dr Cartwright who tells Agatha Andrews she should have married and had sons (‘That’s real living’). All the others are unmarried. Agatha Andrews (Margaret Leighton), head of the mission, is a sexually repressed authoritarian troubled by lesbian longings for the innocent, inexperienced young teacher Emma Clark (Sue Lyon). There are two spinsters, Miss Argent (Mildred Dunnock), Andrews’s faithful and put-upon assistant, and Miss Binns (Flora Robson), an English missionary from a nearby mission destroyed by bandits, who is 147

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compassionate, who speaks Chinese but was born in China and has never been ‘home’ to England. Finally there is Mrs Russell (Anna Lee), neurotic widow of an alcoholic English army officer who ill-treated her. The even tenor of their existence is disrupted, first by the arrival of the new doctor, Dr Cartwright (Anne Bancroft), who turns out to be a woman. Dressed in trousers and a Stetson, chain-smoking, whisky-drinking, profane, she is a female John Wayne. Like the other women, she as the archetype of the liberated woman has had to cope with failure and disappointment, the failure to obtain a job in the United States because of her sex and the failure of an affair with a married man. She clashes at once with Andrews, defying her dictatorial rule, and inspiring jealousy by Emma’s obvious admiration for the newcomer. However, the doctor copes successfully with an outbreak of cholera among the Chinese who take refuge at the mission after the destruction of their town by marauding Mongolian bandits. Then Tunga Khan (Mike Mazurki) and his men arrive at the mission. They are out and out savages, who have raped, burned and slaughtered their way through the area on a vicious rampage. They smash up the mission, imprison the white women and degrade and rape the aristocratic Miss Ling (Jane Chang). Charles Pether has been killed trying to save two Chinese girls from rape, Florrie’s baby is born and Andrews now breaks down, becoming hysterically racist and condemning the doctor in biblical terms when, to get medicine, food and shelter for the captives, she agrees to sleep with Tunga Khan. Finally, having persuaded Tunga Khan to release the captives by agreeing to stay with him, she dons Chinese dress and prepares tea for them both. It is poisoned and, having drunk, they both die. There are echoes in the film of Ford’s own The Lost Patrol with its British army patrol, trapped at a desert tomb by Arabs and slowly being wiped out. Boris Karloff ’s Sanders who cracks up under the strain and becomes a religious maniac prefigures Agatha Andrews. There are echoes too of Black Narcissus, in which a group of Anglican nuns in the Himalayas, one of whom goes mad, are defeated by the local culture. The finale also recalls The Bitter Tea of General Yen in which Megan Davis donned Chinese costume as a sign of her submission and General Yen takes poison. The film was a commercial and critical failure, having lost $2,300,000 by 1970,26 and it effectively put an end to Ford’s career. There were some more tender-minded critics who found the depiction of the bandits as savages 148

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racist and felt that Cartwright’s suicide was the revival of an old-fashioned attitude to miscegenation, ‘death before dishonour’. But as Joseph McBride points out, the doctor had already had sex with the bandit chief to obtain food and medicine and that her suicide was a bid to avoid a future of sexual servitude.27 It was a film totally out of tune with the age and its values. Ford said in interviews: ‘I think it is one of my best, but the public didn’t like it. It wasn’t what they wanted.’28 It directly reflects Ford’s disillusioned and despairing view of the contemporary world. It is set in a mission which stands for Western values (Christianity, Americanism) which cannot be communicated to the people they are trying to help (epitomised by the scene in which Pether delivers a hellfire sermon to a class of uncomprehending Chinese children). The order, discipline and hierarchy of the mission are subverted by the arrival of a disruptive liberated woman and invaded and destroyed by barbarians. It ends with the abandonment of the mission by the women and the death of the liberated woman.

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8 Allies and Enemies

Until Pearl Harbor, Japan was not identified explicitly in films as the military aggressor in China. Once America went to war, the output of Hollywood came under the oversight of the Office of War Information (OWI), set up in 1942 to publicise the war aims of the Allies. It aimed to present positive images of America’s partners in the democratic struggle, particularly Britain, China and Russia, and negative images of the enemy. The OWI issued a set of guidelines for filmmakers which included the need to show the Allies united and democratic, with unfortunate elements in the Allies’ identities glossed over, for example, British Imperialism and Russian Communism. China was to be depicted ‘as a great nation, cultured and liberal, with whom, inevitably, we will be closely bound in the world that is to come’.1 The OWI was immediately concerned that films coming out of Hollywood tended to stress the leading role Americans were playing in the Chinese struggle in films such as Flying Tigers and China Girl and called for films which would focus on the Chinese themselves. Hollywood’s natural instinct was to show the Americans leading the fight to save China from the Japanese. Since the only Americans in China since the start of the war were the ‘Flying Tigers’, American volunteer pilots ferrying supplies from Burma to the wartime capital Chungking, they 150

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became candidates for instant mythologisation. In David Miller’s Flying Tigers (1942), written by Kenneth Gamet and Barry Trivers, their exploits are celebrated. The film is careful to begin with a tribute by General Chiang Kai-Shek to the ‘Tigers’: Since the flying tigers first spread their wings in the skies above China, the enemy has learned to fear the intrepid spirit they have displayed in the face of superior numbers. They have become a symbol of the forces now upholding the cause of justice and humanity. The Chinese people will preserve forever the memory of their glorious achievements.

But thereafter the Chinese are virtually unrepresented in the film apart from an uncredited Richard Loo in the tiny role of a Chinese doctor. In need of a narrative, the writers shamelessly plagiarised Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings, merely transferring characters and incidents from the South American airmail setting to war-torn China. It has the commander Jim Gordon (John Wayne) shouldering the burdens of command but enjoying a romance with a British nurse (Anna Lee). It has the second-in-command losing his sight and being grounded and another pilot seeking to regain his self-respect after causing the death of another pilot. One novel element is the conversion of the reckless and irresponsible Woody Jason (John Carroll). He is in the ‘Tigers’ just for the money (‘It’s not our home, it’s not our fight, it’s a business’) but learns commitment to the cause and finally sacrifices his life in a suicide mission to bomb a vital bridge and a Japanese supply train. The attack on Pearl Harbor takes place just before the end of the film, vindicating the involvement of Americans in the Chinese war. The Japanese of course are portrayed as utterly villainous. The film opens with Japanese planes bombing a feeding station where the United China Relief operatives are serving food to women, children and old people. A single child’s wail heard over scenes of devastation underlines Japanese inhumanity. Later a Japanese pilot machine-guns a ‘Flying Tiger’ who has bailed out of his burning plane. Real-life ‘Flying Tigers’ featured in Robert Florey’s God is My Co-Pilot (1945), scripted by Peter Milne and Abem Finkel and based on the autobiography of American air ace Colonel Robert Lee Scott. Dennis Morgan starred as Scott, with Raymond Massey 151

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as ‘Tigers’ commander General Claire Chennault. It detailed Scott’s exploits in China and how he came to terms with killing hundreds of Japanese and found God (hence the film’s title) with the aid of a jovial Catholic missionary Father ‘Big Mike’ Harrigan (Alan Hale). The film stressed the cooperation of the whole Chinese population with the flyers. Richard Loo played a ruthless, grinning Japanese air ace nicknamed ‘Tokyo Joe’ and Philip Ahn a sneering Japanese radio announcer denouncing ‘The Flying Tigers’. Another narrative of an American hero learning commitment to the cause features in Henry Hathaway’s China Girl (1942), written by Ben Hecht, which takes place, as do so many of these films, just before Pearl Harbor. It opens with the Japanese machine-gunning rows of Chinese prisoners and a grinning Japanese colonel trying to recruit captured American newsreel cameraman Johnny Williams (George Montgomery) to shoot film of the Burma Road for the Japanese. He refuses because when Johnny complains that the Japanese were killing civilians he is told “There are no civilians in China. That is a sentimental error Americans often make. They are all spies.’ When the ‘Flying Tigers’ bomb the Japanese headquarters, Johnny escapes, hijacks a plane and flies to Mandalay. He declines to join the ‘Flying Tigers’ but falls in love with a Chinese girl Haoli Young (Gene Tierney) who is raising money to set up a school for orphans in Kunming. When she goes to Kunming, he follows her, flown in by the ‘Tigers’, and arrives in time to see the school bombed by the Japanese and her father Dr Young (Philip Ahn), who has been teaching the children the meaning of freedom, killed along with many of the orphans. Haoli is injured. Johnny carries her outside where she is machine-gunned by the Japanese and dies, thus avoiding the problem of miscegenation. Johnny takes up a machine gun, shoots down the Japanese plane and joins the fray. These were not the kind of films the OWI wanted to see. Instead, it wanted films explaining China and the Chinese to American audiences. The sixth entry in the celebrated ‘Why We Fight’ series of documentaries produced by Frank Capra and intended to orientate and inform the American armed forces was The Battle of China (1944). It was the definitive exposition of the OWI’s philosophy. Sixty-seven minutes long, it opens with footage of the bombing of Shanghai by the Japanese in 1937 to establish at the outset the innocent victimhood of the Chinese and the brutal and unprovoked aggression of 152

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the Japanese. The film then contrasts the two countries. China is characterised by three facts:  history (4,000  years of civilisation that has produced art, learning and peace), land (a territory larger than Europe or the United States, rich in natural resources and with ‘the good earth’ fertilised by its three great rivers) and people (450 million inhabitants, one fifth of the world’s entire population). A  montage of different faces stresses the individuality within the mass of the people. China, we are told, has never waged a war of conquest and has instead devoted itself to developing printing, the marine compass, porcelain, gunpowder (for peaceful uses) and the philosophy of Confucius. But China was forced into war by a Japan seeking to implement the 1927 Tanaka Memorial, its blueprint for world conquest whose first step was the conquest of China. By contrast with the Chinese, the Japanese are a united, regimented, militaristic race, identical in outlook and governed by an imperial dictatorship. The similarities of China and the United States are stressed. China’s 1911 Revolution overthrew imperial rule and inaugurated an enlightened republic, led by Sun Yat-Sen, the ‘George Washington’ of China, whose philosophy echoed that of another American president, Abraham Lincoln, ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’. The new republic promoted education, and innovation in industry, architecture, science and medicine, borrowing techniques from the West. At the same time, the Japanese were drawing from Western civilisation the technology and the discipline to create one of the most powerful war machines in the world. Sun Yat-Sen died in 1925 and his successor, Chiang Kai-Shek continued the modernisation of China, with new roads and railways, the exploitation of natural resources and the promulgation of two of the ‘four freedoms’, freedom of speech and religion. The documentary next turns to the course of the war. In 1931, the Japanese invade Manchuria and then later launch ‘a war of deliberate mass murder’ with the bombing of Shanghai and the ‘Rape of Nanking’ where 40,000 women and children were murdered. There is shocking footage of the bombing, of the shootings of prisoners and pictures of children disfigured by the bombing. China unites and in an epic march 30 million people trek westwards beyond the mountains, blowing up roads and factories to prevent the Japanese using them. It is a strategy of yielding space to gain time to organise resistance. In the new capital of Chungking, industry is 153

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established and an army is recruited and trained to fight for ‘the New China’. The Chinese destroy the dams on the Yellow River to prevent the Japanese advancing. Peasants train as guerrillas behind enemy lines. Aid comes from the Americans in the form of volunteer airmen, ‘The Flying Tigers’, organised by Colonel Claire Chennault, who seek to halt the Japanese air raids on Chungking. The film ends with Madame Chiang Kai-Shek addressing Congress. The narrator declares: ‘The oldest and the youngest of the world’s great nations, together with the British Commonwealth, fight side by side in the struggle that is as old as China itself: the struggle of freedom against slavery, civilization against barbarism, good against evil. Upon their victory depends the future of mankind.’ Having viewed the film, General F. H. Osborn wrote to General George Marshall, the army chief of staff whose idea the series had been, recommending its withdrawal on the grounds that it used feature film footage as well as documentary and gave a false picture of Chinese unity and of the efficiency of the Nationalist army. Capra replied very reasonably that The Battle of China contained a lot less feature film footage than earlier entries in the series – it was mainly background material shot by George Hill for The Good Earth. Also, a united China and an efficient Chinese army were the images that the OWI wanted presented. It would hardly help the Allied cause to publicise divisions in China. The film was briefly withdrawn from circulation but later rereleased. In 1942, MGM had produced Mrs Miniver which proved to be the perfect blend of propaganda and entertainment. It successfully promoted the image of a democratic England and a heroic middle class fighting the Nazis. It was an enormous box office success on both sides of the Atlantic and won no fewer than six Oscars. The OWI called for a ‘Chinese Mrs Miniver’ and MGM turned to the inevitable Pearl S. Buck, who had published in 1942 a new novel Dragon Seed, which became a best-seller and for the film rights of which MGM paid a reported $105,000.2 The first script dismayed the OWI who complained that it portrayed the Chinese as backward and illiterate and that they needed a film which stressed ‘deeprooted democracy in China’, its drive for literacy and the unity and sacrifice demonstrated by their waging of a ‘people’s war’. Ten months later, a revised script emerged which received OWI approval. They were to declare the finished film ‘a document not only of the fighting Chinese people but, by implication, of 154

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people all over the world who have united to fight aggression’.3 The film was scripted by Marguerite Roberts and Jane Murfin. MGM lavished the same care and dedication on its production as they had on The Good Earth, to which in a way it was a sequel. Like The Good Earth, it too underwent a change of director. The film was begun by Jack Conway, experienced in the handling of large-scale projects such as A Tale of Two Cities and Boom Town. But he collapsed halfway through shooting and was replaced by British-born Harold S.  Bucquet, chiefly notable for directing nine of the Doctor Kildare films. Like The Good Earth, Dragon Seed is a film that celebrates the peasant virtues of family life, work and love of the land. It opens in 1937 with farmer Ling Tan (Walter Huston) and his sons Lao Ta and Lao Er sowing rice. Later Lao Er (Turhan Bey) goes looking for his wife the independent-minded and forward-thinking Jade (Katharine Hepburn) and finds her watching images of the Japanese invasion being shown to the townsfolk by nationalist students. Lao Er brings her home but agrees to buy her a book and they are brought closer together by his acceptance of her desire for literacy. A nearby town is bombed by the Japanese and the youngest son, Lao San (Hurd Hatfield), who is a poet, goes to see the destruction and is sickened by it. Jade and Lao Er encounter a stream of refugees transporting a factory in pieces that when rebuilt will make ammunition for the war against the Japanese. Lao Er and Jade join them to help haul the machinery. The Japanese arrive in the area and Orchid, the wife of Lao Ta, is gang-raped and murdered by them. Lao Ta and Lao San go to the hills to join the guerrillas. Ling Tan and his wife (Aline MacMahon) remain behind, determined to hold on to his land, but his crops and animals are seized by the Japanese. Starvation and cold in the winter kills the two children of Lao Ta. The refugees reach the mountains and Jade gives birth to a son. Ling Tan raises rice for the Japanese, stealing enough to feed his family, and hiding Chinese guerrillas and their weapons in his house. Lao San becomes a ruthless killer, helping to wipe out Japanese patrols. Jade and Lao Er return to the family and Lao Er joins the resistance. Ling Tan’s son-in-law the merchant Wu Lien (Akim Tamiroff ) collaborates with the Japanese and receives luxuries from them. Ling Tan refuses to entertain him. Third Cousin’s shrewish wife (Agnes Moorehead), jealous of Ling Tan and his family, tells Wu Lien about resistance operations in the village in return for 155

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food and money. Her husband (Henry Travers) beats her into submissive obedience and reports her treachery to Ling Tan. Jade poisons a banquet being prepared by Wu Lien for the Japanese High Command. Believing Wu Lien responsible, they shoot him. The Chinese High Command now order the fields and all the crops destroyed to hamper the Japanese operations. Ling Tan refuses but Jade persuades Ling Tan by pleading for the destruction of the fields to ensure the future of her children. The film stresses the growth of literacy as the key to reform, progress and modernisation, devotion to the land and heroic resistance to invasion. Pearl Buck’s original novel had used rape as a potent theme to emphasise the utter evil of the Japanese invaders. It included the atrocity known as the ‘Rape of Nanking’ when Japanese soldiers raped and in many cases killed an estimated 20,000 Chinese women. In the village Orchid is gang-raped by the Japanese and dies. They also rape an elderly grandmother and Ling Tan’s youngest son, Lao San. The film includes the rape of Orchid and the murder of the grandmother, though it is not clear that she has been raped. Lao San’s rape and the ‘Rape of Nanking’ are omitted. But the other excesses of the Japanese are well represented in the film. They are uniformly presented as cruel, lustful and treacherous, with their repeated bombing raids on the defenceless Chinese city, the casual shootings, the wanton destruction of property, the execution of Chinese patriots, the confiscation of crops and animals condemning the native population to disease and starvation. The personal stories are punctuated by effective and spectacular set-pieces (the poisoning of the Japanese High Command, the Japanese bombing, the destruction of the fields). The film cost $3,079,000 to produce and grossed in total $4,627,000 ($3,033,000 in domestic gross, and $1,594,000 in overseas gross). After distribution costs, this resulted in a loss of $281,000.4 But judging by the reception it was an undoubted hit with audiences. Aline MacMahon was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Many critics, however, disparaged the casting with its largely Occidental actors, headed by the palpably miscast Katharine Hepburn with her distinctive Bryn Mawr accent as Jade. There were only three Asian-Americans to be found in small supporting roles. It can be criticised in this vein if the criterion is realism. But it could be argued that they are not seeking to 156

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Figure 8.1. Gregory Peck and Richard Loo in The Keys of the Kingdom

impersonate the Chinese. Rather they are giving a poetic interpretation of ‘Chineseness’. It is not a facsimile but a creative attempt at conveying the essence of character, identity, philosophy. On these terms it works, with Walter Huston and Aline MacMahon moving and effective as the patriarch and matriarch of the family, Akim Tamiroff as the collaborator, Agnes Moorehead as the acidulous and envious cousin and Hurd Hatfield as the sensitive poet turned ruthless guerrilla fighter. The whole can be seen as a dignified and heartfelt tribute to an oppressed people fighting a cruel tyranny, with narrator Lionel Barrymore stressing that Ling Tan and his family are like families all over the world, to establish audience identification, something that would be enhanced by casting noted American stars as the family members. The Keys of the Kingdom (1944) was one of a series of powerful, popular and extremely effective pieces of Catholic propaganda produced in 1930s and 1940s Hollywood, Boys Town, The Song of Bernadette and Going My Way prominent among them. Variety (13 December 1944) accurately 157

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described it as ‘inspired, artistic, heart-warming’. Immaculately produced, it celebrates the life of a humble, compassionate missionary priest Father Francis Chisholm in China. He regards himself as a failure but transforms lives through his selfless endeavours. It is told in flashback through the pages of his journal when he is an old priest back in his Scottish home village in 1938. After the tragic deaths of his parents and his sweetheart in his native Scotland, he commits himself to the priesthood and is sent to China where he finds the mission in ruins and the population indifferent. He refuses to pay the Chinese to attend church – the so-called ‘rice Christians’. However, he is heartened when a genuine Chinese convert Joseph turns up from another village to assist him. When he cures the infected arm of the local mandarin, he is given land and workers to build a new mission where he sets up a school and a dispensary. Thereafter Chisholm survives revolution, famine and pestilence, becoming universally beloved, so that the entire community turn out to bid him farewell on his retirement and they all kneel to receive his blessing. The author A.  J. Cronin, a lifelong Catholic, appalled by the horror and brutality of the Second World War, wrote the book ‘to preach tolerance, humility, generosity and liberality of spirit against the material values which are poisoning the world today’.5 Cronin’s Father Chisholm is an individualist whose deeply felt Catholicism is neither narrow nor exclusive. He is regularly reproved for his doctrinal and pastoral unorthodoxy, as Cronin himself would be by a battery of disapproving Catholic clerics after the book came out. The hero’s best friend Willie Tulloch (Thomas Mitchell) is an atheist doctor killed helping Chisholm tend wounded soldiers in a town under attack. He welcomes the American Methodist missionaries Dr Fiske (James Gleason) and his wife (Anne Revere), rejecting the local mandarin’s offer to drive them away (‘Each of us travels his own road towards the kingdom of heaven’). He declares that Confucianists have a greater sense of humour than Christians. Chisholm is pointedly contrasted with his old friend Monsignor Angus Mealy (Vincent Price), a worldly, snobbish, self-important career prelate who patronisingly regards the Chinese as ‘heathen’ and tells Chisholm: ‘You’re practically an Oriental yourself.’ He does not intend this as a compliment but in the context of the film, it emphasises his deep sympathy with the Chinese. He eventually wins over the arrogant, aristocratic nun, Mother Maria-Veronica (Rose 158

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Stradner) who disapproves of Chisholm’s informality and is jealous of his natural humility, something she has to struggle to express. The Keys of the Kingdom was acquired by 20th Century-Fox as soon as it was published in 1941 but it did not reach the screen until 1944 because the script went through a succession of rewrites in order to ensure that the image of China and the Chinese conformed to the OWI guidelines. The original adaptation viewed by the OWI, according to Koppes and Black, ‘presented China as a nation beset by civil war, torn apart by racial conflicts and superstitious beliefs, and overrun with ignorant, backward, and cowardly people’.6 So amendments were made. Chisholm’s journal says that the China he arrived in at the turn of the twentieth century was ‘different from the China of today, exploited and abandoned by the world around her, starving and struggling to realise what was a hope and a dream – unity, dignity and a place in the sun’. Disparaging comments about Chinese medicine were removed. Chisholm makes clear his respect for Chinese religion (‘Many of their priests are good and noble men’). Scenes in which all the Chinese inhabitants of the town of Pai-Tan pelted him with mud and eggs whenever he appeared were replaced by scenes in which eggs were thrown by a disaffected couple whom he had refused to pay in return for their conversion. Most notably, the depiction of the Imperial and Nationalist armies of the Chinese Revolution as little better than rival gangs of bandits was replaced by an episode which contrasted the two armies. When Pai-Tan is bombarded by the brutal Imperial army and the mission church is destroyed, Father Chisholm enlists the help of the upright Nationalist army commander to create a hospital for the wounded and to burn bodies to prevent the spread of disease. When an Imperial army captain demands the surrender of supplies and money to spare the mission further destruction, Chisholm aids the Nationalist major in carrying explosives to the Imperialists’ gunsight, which when detonated destroy the gun and the soldiers. In addition to demonstrating that the Nationalists were ‘the good guys’, the film stresses the introduction of literacy to the local children and genuine Christian conversion, epitomised by the Chinese children reciting the Lord’s Prayer and singing hymns. Once the script, credited to Joseph L.  Mankiewicz and Nunnally Johnson, had been approved by the OWI, The Keys of the Kingdom went into production. The latest screen idol, Gregory Peck, in only his second 159

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film, was cast as Father Chisholm. Although Peck, tall, dark and handsome, was the antithesis of Cronin’s literary creation, short, fat and balding, Cronin liked his performance.7 His acting, taking Father Chisholm from youth to extreme old age, earned him an Oscar nomination. Fox allocated a $3 million budget and surrounded Peck with a cast of outstanding character actors (Thomas Mitchell, Cedric Hardwicke, Vincent Price, Edmund Gwenn, Rose Stradner, James Gleason, Anne Revere). The Asian presence was as usual represented by Richard Loo as the Nationalist major, Benson Fong as the convert Joseph and Philip Ahn as the mandarin’s cousin. Paramount’s contribution was the hard-hitting, cohesive and powerful China (1943), written by Frank Butler and directed by John Farrow. Apart from its three stars (Alan Ladd, Loretta Young and William Bendix), it boasted an almost entirely Asian-American supporting cast. Ladd plays Mr Jones, the classic cynical, self-centred, tough American adventurer who does not want to get involved and is ignoring the plight of China. The film is set in 1941 before Pearl Harbor and he is selling oil to the Japanese. When the Chinese town of Mei Ki is bombed by the Japanese, he remains detached. Forced to pick up American teacher Carolyn Grant (Loretta Young) and fifteen female Chinese students, he refuses to take them to a safe Chinese city and insists on proceeding to Japanese-occupied Shanghai to continue with his business. Jones is denounced by a Nationalist Chinese captain for selling to the Japanese and by Carolyn who was born in China and is trying to educate her students to become teachers and to help build the new China. She compares them to the pioneers who built the United States and she shows him a photograph of her father with Chiang Kai-Shek, both men working for the betterment of China (‘Two of the finest men who ever lived’). Jones’s refusal to get involved dramatically changes when the Japanese seize a Chinese farm. They kill the farmer and his wife and the Chinese baby, nicknamed Donald Duck, who had been rescued during the Mei Ki bombing by Johnny Sparrow (William Bendix), Jones’s sidekick. Chinese student Tan Ying is raped by three Japanese soldiers and dies of her injuries. Jones machine-guns them, declaring: ‘I’ve got no more feelings about it than if they had been flies on a pile of manure.’ He now joins forces with the Chinese guerrillas. They attack and wipe out Japanese soldiers repairing a damaged bridge and they seize dynamite. They then blow up a ravine to stop an advancing Japanese column. Jones, who holds up the 160

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column by talking to the general in command, is informed of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He denounces the Japanese and tells the general that they will be beaten by freedom-loving individuals. He is shot dead but the Chinese blow up the ravine and bury the column. Carolyn, who had fallen in love with Jones, tearfully proceeds with her students and Johnny to the Chinese safe haven. The film ends with young men and women training to beat the Japanese and build the new China. The Office of War Information approved of the film, which showed the Chinese guerrillas as brave, intelligent and strong and argued that Americans could not stay neutral in the face of the Japanese atrocities. For it is the murder of the Chinese peasant family and the orphan baby and the gang rape of their student daughter that triggers Jones’s move from indifference to commitment to the Chinese cause. The film is described in a preface as an episode ‘typical of the courage and fortitude which has won for China the admiration of the world’. It opens with a graphically recreated Japanese bombing raid on Mei Ki. Later the streams of refugees are bombed by Japanese planes. The Chinese guerrillas, men and women, wipe out a Japanese patrol and bring down a Japanese plane before destroying the enemy column in the ravine. Three brothers, Lin Cho (Philip Ahn), Lin Yun (Richard Loo) and Lin Wei (Victor Sen Yung) are key members of the guerrilla force. Lin Wei is killed but the other two come to refer to Jones as ‘fourth brother’. As Tan Ying dies, Carolyn reassures her that there is life after death and recites Psalm 23, a reminder of the American hope for a Christian future for China. The stress on education and literacy as a key to the new China is a recurrent theme. RKO Radio Pictures contributed China Sky (1945), directed by Ray Enright and adapted by Brenda Weisberg and Joseph Hoffman from a novel by Pearl S. Buck. The opening narration declares that, after eight long years of Japanese aggression, the people of the Republic of China, starved, choked off and isolated, still fight on. The setting is the city of Wan Li which is being continually bombed and continually rebuilt. But the central theme is a trite romantic triangle melodrama involving three Americans, Dr Gray Thompson (Randolph Scott), the head of the local hospital, the new wife Louise (Ellen Drew), whom he brings there from America, and his assistant, Dr Sara Durand (Ruth Warrick), who loves him. Louise who 161

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swans about in a fur coat, symbolising her alienation, comes to hate China, despises the Chinese and is soon furiously jealous of Sara. Rather more interesting is the subordinate romantic triangle between Chinese guerrilla leader Chen Ta (Anthony Quinn), the Chinese nurse Su-Mai and her Korean fiancé, Dr Kim (Philip Ahn). Jealous of Chen Ta, Kim, whose father was Japanese but has thus far chosen to adopt his Korean mother’s identity, helps a captured Japanese Major Yasuda escape. Yasuda later leads an attack on the town by Japanese paratroopers, during which Louise and Kim are conveniently killed. Chen Ta and his men successfully fight off the Japanese. Interestingly the script features many of the lines from Battle of China: China having 4,000 years of civilisation, the Chinese having a strategy of sacrificing space to gain time and the Nationalists creating underground factories in caves. The film heroises the guerrillas defending the mountain pass into unoccupied China. The Japanese, colourfully referred to as the ‘East Ocean devil dwarfs’, are represented by Major Yasuda, played by Richard Loo as a grinning, buck-toothed caricature. The influence of American culture on the Chinese children is indicated by the children’s choir singing ‘Yankee Doodle’ and ‘Jingle Bells’ and the use of US slang by the bright, charming houseboy, played by ‘Ducky’ Louie. Critically derided, it was nevertheless a box office hit. The example and influence of the Chinese Army upon the American Marines is celebrated in Ray Enright’s Gung Ho (1943), scripted by Lucien Hubbard. The film, produced by Universal Pictures, recreates the actual capture in August 1942 of Makin Island in the Pacific by the Second Marine Raider Battalion known as Carlson’s Raiders. Colonel Evans Carlson and Captain W. S. Le François are portrayed in the film as Colonel Thorwald (Randolph Scott) and Lieutenant C.  J. Cristoforos (J. Carrol Naish). Le François provided the original screen story and he and Carlson acted as technical advisers. The film covered the recruitment and training of the Marine Battalion and then the attack on and capture of the island. The preface records: ‘This is a factual record of the Second Marine Raider Battalion from its inception seven weeks after Pearl Harbor to its first brilliant victory.’ What is fascinating about it is Thorwald’s explanation of his approach. Before the war he had been commander of one of the Yangtse River patrols. Sensing that war was coming, he resigned from the US Marines and joined the Chinese Army, serving with the heroic 8th Route Army. He declares ‘All 162

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the Chinese are now united against the Japs’ and he expresses his admiration of the Chinese Army, their dedication and self-discipline. It is this approach that he proposes to instil in the Raiders, giving them the Chinese motto ‘Gung Ho!’ It means ‘Working Together’ but is turned into a heroic war-cry by the Marines. Only those in the know will have realised that the 8th Route Army was the Communist Army, an accurate reflection of the attitude of Evans Carlson who had travelled extensively in China in 1938 and had been deeply impressed by the discipline and unity of the Communist forces. The battle for Makin Island is excitingly staged and the Japanese are portrayed as treacherous and sneaky: sniping from palm trees, playing dead before coming to life and killing Americans, pretending to surrender and then opening fire. Thorwald, however, turns their barbarity against them. Capturing the hospital building, he has an American flag painted on the roof. Learning of the approach of Japanese bombers, he lures the Japanese soldiers into the hospital and sits back to watch as grinning Japanese pilots, seeing the flag, bomb the hospital and machine-gun the fleeing Japanese troops. Costing $866, 898 to produce, the film grossed $2,176,489, a profit after distribution costs of $577,460.8 The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), directed by Mark Robson and written by Isabel Lennart, looked backed to the 1920s and 1930s in recounting the inspiring story of British missionary Gladys Aylward and her experience in China. Ingrid Bergman, a strapping Swede of five feet nine inches in height, was totally miscast as the diminutive cockney sparrow Aylward (a bare five feet tall), but imbued the part with the same spiritual radiance she exuded as the nun in The Bells of St Mary’s and St Joan in Joan of Arc. Aylward feels called by God to serve in China but the China Missionary Society turn her down because, as a domestic servant, she lacks the necessary education. Nevertheless, without official backing, she saves up and travels by the Trans-Siberian Railway to China in 1932. Once there she makes her way to the north where she assists the redoubtable Mrs Lawson (Athene Seyler) to set up a Christian mission in an old inn she dubs the Inn of the Sixth Happiness. Although initially ignorant of the customs and horrified at the sight of a public beheading, she comes to love the country, learns Chinese, becomes a Chinese citizen and takes over the mission when Mrs Lawson dies. Captain Lin Nan (Curt Jurgens), a Eurasian intelligence officer, son of a Dutch father and a Chinese mother, 163

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whose heart and loyalty lie with China, comes to Yang Sheng to enforce the will of the Nationalist government. They are determined to eradicate footbinding and concubinage as part of a drive for female equality but are faced with hostility from traditionalist villagers. The local mandarin (Robert Donat) appoints Gladys as his foot inspector and she succeeds in overcoming the resistance. She also starts a literacy programme and institutes prison reform with the mandarin’s blessing. She establishes a dialogue with the local bandits seeking to wean them away from violence and she adopts several Chinese orphans. She eventually develops a romantic relationship with Lin Nan who is initially suspicious of her but won over by her dedication to the Chinese people. The same dedication causes the mandarin to become a Christian. Then the Japanese attack China and Japanese planes strafe the Chinese peasants in the field and destroy Yang Sheng in 1940. The mandarin evacuates the population on the orders of the Nationalist government, Lin Nan stays on to organise the resistance and in an epic march Gladys leads a hundred orphans over the mountains to safety in Nationalist-held territory. Filmed in Britain with north Wales standing in for north China, the film was a critical and box office success. It also took care to align the Nationalist government with progressive policies. It made Gladys Aylward a worldwide celebrity, even though she had tried to stop the film being made because of the love affair invented for the film and the casting of a notorious adulteress and divorcee to play her. In the depictions of the enemy the Office of War Information favoured explanatory propaganda rather than atrocity propaganda. It wanted films to target the enemy regimes and their Fascist ideology rather than the peoples of the Axis countries, who it saw being tyrannised over and misled but having the potential for redemption. Their definition of Fascism involved the promotion of class, religious and racial hatreds, the celebration of military aggression and the suppression of democratic government. The OWI insisted ‘We are fighting a system not a race’ and urged filmmakers not to depict the enemy as ‘a little bucktoothed treacherous Jap’.9 But the cinema went full tilt for the racist portrayal of the enemy. The Japanese were invariably portrayed as small, buck-toothed, continually smiling savages. As Bernard Dick writes: Hollywood’s revilement of Japan after its ‘unprovoked and dastardly attack’ on Pearl Harbor is unparalleled in movie history.

164

Allies and Enemies There is no real analogue, not even the Yellow Peril serials of the teens like the anti-Japanese Patria (1917) … ‘The Jap’ is neither a white slaver nor a warlord, bottom lit to look as if he has just emerged from the nether world; instead the Jap is subhuman, a lethal object, a thing that, when incinerated, becomes ‘fried Jap’.10

The OWI specifically banned derogatory references to or depictions of Emperor Hirohito, so ‘as not to malign religion and thus add to Japanese fanaticism’, and sought to avoid atrocity propaganda ‘which, it was pointed out, might result in harmful treatment of U.S.  servicemen and civilians in Jap prison camps’.11 The ban on the depiction of atrocities was lifted in January 1944 when details of the torture of American prisoners on Bataan in 1942 were revealed by the government. But even before that the cinema had emphasised the Japanese violations of the Geneva Convention and their persistent brutality. Thomas Doherty lists some of their offences, as depicted in wartime cinema propaganda: the shooting of defenceless parachutists (Flying Tigers, Air Force), murdering POWs (Jack London, The Purple Heart), bombing orphans (Bataan, God is My Co-Pilot), attacking clearly marked Red Cross facilities (The Battle of Midway, The Story of Dr Wassell); and beating, raping and killing women (Behind the Rising Sun, China Sky, and Dragon Seed).12

After 1944, denunciations of the Japanese became even more virulent than they had been before. In Objective Burma (1945), the film in which a unit of American paratroopers under Errol Flynn set out to destroy a Japanese radar station, some of the Americans are captured and their mutilated bodies are later discovered by their comrades. This prompts newspaper correspondent Williams (Henry Hull) to deliver what Koppes and Black call ‘the most vindictive film speech of the war’13: I thought I’d seen or read about everything one man can do to another, from the torture chambers of the middle ages to the gang wars and lynchings of today. But this  – this is different. This was done in cold blood by people who claim to be civilized. Civilized! They’re degenerate, immoral idiots. Stinking

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The Japanese were regularly referred to in American films as ‘monkeys’, ‘apes’, ‘rats’ and ‘beasts’. The detailed official view of the Japanese appeared rather late in the day – 1945, when the ‘Why We Fight’ documentary series got round to analysing the Japanese in Know Your Enemy – Japan. At the time it was made it was widely expected – before the decision to drop the atomic bomb – that the war would go on for years and that the Japanese would fight to the bitter end rather than surrender. The film opens by making a clear distinction between the good and the bad Japanese. It takes the form of a tribute to the Nisei, the Japanese Americans fighting in the American forces: In the last 100  years a small number of the Japanese have come to the United States. Under our law their children, born in this country, are citizens. They have been educated in our schools and speak our language, and a great many of them share our love of freedom and our willingness to die for it. In Europe, a regiment formed of these Americans of Japanese descent, called Nisei, distinguished itself for gallantry against the Nazis. The story of these brave men who, however much they resemble our enemies in physical appearance, have proved their right to American citizenship on the battlefields of Europe has been told in other information fi lms. Their story symbolizes the loyal contribution of Americans of Japanese descent in all theaters of war. This film tells the story of the Japs in Japan to whom the words liberty and freedom are still without meaning.

No mention is made of the 1942 internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans. The film draws on newsreels, documentaries, Japanese feature films and, in some cases, reconstruction to explain Japan and the Japanese. The documentary begins with the photograph of a beheading, followed by a quotation from a Japanese general: ‘the sword is our steel bible’. There follows a passage of intercut images of modernity (telephones, trains, typewriters, traffic jams) and tradition (ancient dances, ceremonies, costumes and martial arts contests) and the statement: ‘We shall never completely understand the Japanese mind.’ But the film makes an attempt. 166

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It begins with an account of the Japanese soldier, defined as hard, able, professional, with phenomenal powers of endurance and the ideal that death in battle is the highest achievement. The Japanese believe in their racial superiority because they are descendants of the gods and are destined to rule the world, employing whatever means it takes, whether it is treachery, brutality, rape or torture. They owe unquestioning obedience to their divine Emperor, ‘the Son of Heaven’, who is an absolute ruler. The documentary describes the national religion, Shinto, and the way in which it has been distorted to justify world conquest. The geography is outlined, with Tokyo the third largest city in the world. Their ethnic makeup is described, arguing that they are racially mixed and not the pure bloods they claim to be. There is then a potted history of Japan, describing the phenomena of samurai, bushido and hara-kiri. The arrival in the sixteenth century of Christian missionaries is described and their extermination along with the Christian converts. Then comes the closure against the outside world for 200  years, which ends in 1853 with the arrival of Commodore Perry and his American ships to open up the country. There follows ‘a frenzy of modernisation’, with the army, navy and government structure remodelled on European lines and railways, telegraphs and photography all developed. According to the narrative, none of these developments changes the basic philosophy of the Japanese. It is asserted that they have no understanding of moral right or wrong. They have an inflexible hierarchy in which women are completely inferior, the people totally regimented, the children indoctrinated in the school system in absolute obedience to the authorities. Any sign of dissent is suppressed by the Thought Police and the murderous secret society The Black Dragons. Despite all the modernisation the people enjoy the lowest standards of living on earth. Resources are deployed to build up the military machine and the warlords around the Emperor decide policy. Once modernisation was complete, they began to implement their plans for world conquest, seizing Formosa in 1894, defeating the Russians in 1905, annexing Korea in 1910. Their programme for world domination was outlined in the 1927 Tanaka Memorial, which required the next move to be the occupation of Manchuria and China. This began in the 1930s. A world-wide Japanese espionage network was set up, particularly to provide details of American military and naval dispositions. 167

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Then, after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese swoop to occupy the Philippines, Indochina, Singapore, Malaya and Burma. Captured POWs are humiliated and brutalised, particularly in the ‘March of Death’. The film ends on an upbeat note, as America begins its fight back, liberating the Philippines and taking Corregidor, Okinawa and Iwo Jima, each victory symbolised by the raising of the American flag. The Japanese burn Manila and slaughter the population as they withdraw. The film ends with Secretary of War Henry Stimson pledging the country to an all-out effort until Japan is defeated and a close-up of the American flag. It was actually released on 9 August 1945, the day the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, and it was withdrawn from circulation nineteen days later. Hawaiian-Chinese actor Richard Loo became the face of the enemy for the duration. He appeared in no fewer than fourteen films, usually as a treacherous, cruel and cunning Japanese:  Wake Island, Across the Pacific, China, Behind the Rising Sun, Jack London, Flight for Freedom, The Story of Dr Wassell, God is My Co-Pilot, Betrayal from the East, First Yankee into Tokyo, Back to Bataan, Tokyo Rose, China Sky and The Purple Heart. The same handful of other Asian-American actors:  Philip Ahn, Victor Sen Yung, Keye Luke and Benson Fong, also regularly appeared, sometimes as heroic Chinese and sometimes as villainous Japanese characters. The kind of film the OWI did not want was Otto Brower’s Little Tokyo, USA (1942), a B picture written by George Bricker rushed out by 20th Century-Fox to justify the internment of the Japanese-American Nisei and resident Japanese aliens, who were rounded up and confined to camps by an executive order of 19 February 1942. The implication of the order was that the entire Japanese ethnic population was likely to engage in espionage and sabotage. This was also the implication of Little Tokyo, USA. The film opens with a montage illustrating the decade leading up to Pearl Harbor and showing Japanese spies infiltrating Hawaii, the Philippines and Southern California. It concludes:  ‘This film document is presented as a reminder to a nation which until December 7, 1941, was lulled into a false sense of security by the mouthings of self-styled patriots whose beguiling theme was: “It can’t happen here.”‘ The film proper begins on 1 November 1941 in Tokyo with JapaneseAmerican businessman Takimura (Harold Huber) put in charge of all espionage in California. He returns to the USA where, aided by a German-American 168

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Nazi, he initiates his espionage programme. Police lieutenant Michael Steele (Preston Foster) begins to suspect that Little Tokyo, the Japanese area of Los Angeles, is a nest of Japanese spies and investigates, but no one believes him. ‘The Japanese are harmless, peaceful industrious people,’ Police Captain Wade tells him, ‘They are loyal too.’ However, Steele’s Japanese-American friend Oshima (Richard Loo), who is helping him with his enquiries, vanishes and is later found beheaded. Takimura arranges for Steele to be framed for the murder of a Japanese girl, Teru Shimada, who is deliberately killed by the Japanese as part of the scheme. But on 7 December 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Steele escapes from jail and helps to capture the spy ring. The film ends with newsreel footage of the Japanese being rounded up and sent to internment camps, and Steele’s broadcaster girlfriend Maris Hanover (Brenda Joyce) announcing on the radio: ‘And so, in the interests of national safety, all Japanese, whether citizens or not, are being evacuated from strategic military zones on the Pacific Coast. Unfortunately, in time of war, the loyal must suffer inconvenience with the disloyal … Be vigilant, America.’ The Office of War Information, which had responsibility for overseeing film propaganda, was appalled by the film. It was said to depict the Japanese-American community as a ‘single, unified body which works together at all times for itself and against America’ and that it was ‘rabidly unbalanced’ in its depiction of the enemy. ‘One such film can open the floodgate of prejudice … and can render the post-war absorption of Japanese Americans an almost insuperable problem.’14 But the OWI had not been consulted during the making of the film and, although it requested some dialogue changes to emphasise that not all Japanese-Americans were disloyal, the changes were merely cosmetic and failed to dilute the central essentially racist message of the film. This convinced the OWI that in future it needed to be more involved in the production process and should certainly be vetting scripts ahead of production to ensure their conformity to the national war aims. It would not be until after the war that the military exploits of loyal Japanese-Americans serving in the US armed forces would be recognised in films such as Go for Broke (1951) and Hell to Eternity (1960). Also from the 20th Century Fox B unit was Secret Agent of Japan (1942), directed by Irving Pichel and written by John Larkin. 169

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A  fast-moving espionage thriller set in Shanghai just before America entered the war, it has sinister Japanese Saito (Noel Madison) trying to get his hands on the Dixie nightclub, run by cynical American Roy Bonnell (Preston Foster). He has Bonnell’s partner Eminescu arrested by the Japanese Special Service Division, and tortured to death. The Japanese take over the club and when a British agent is found murdered there, Bonnell goes on the run and joins forces with another British agent Kay Murdock (Lynn Bari). They are seeking to obtain a document listing all the Japanese agents and fifth columnists in Hawaii. But after they secure it, they are captured by the Japanese who announce that Pearl Harbor has been bombed and they are now at war. Roy and Kay are rescued by Chinese secret agent Fu Yen (Victor Sen Yung) who turns up with a group of Chinese resistance fighters disguised in Japanese uniforms. Ostensibly removing them for questioning, the Chinese put them aboard a plane, along with the secret document, and dispatch them to the Nationalist capital of Chungking. This carefully shows an isolationist American discovering commitment to the cause, alliance with a British agent and a heroic role for a Chinese agent in effecting their rescue. The Japanese are characterised by their use of torture, murder and persistent brutality. Despite the strictures of OWI, the idea of all Japanese as subversives was still being promoted in 1945. William Berke’s pacey B picture, Betrayal from the East, a narrative constructed by Aubrey Wisberg and Kenneth Gamet with all the hallmarks of the pulp thriller, was given a patina of authenticity by being introduced and narrated by the respected newsman Drew Pearson. The film opens in 1941 with an American reporter uncovering evidence of planned espionage and sabotage on the West Coast of the United States and obtaining a list of Japanese fifth columnists. But the reporter and his editor are both murdered before the evidence can be published. The Japanese now recruit an impoverished carnival barker Eddie Carter (Lee Tracy) to help them obtain plans of the Panama Canal. But he informs Army Intelligence of the scheme and starts working for them. He falls in love with his fellow agent Peggy Harrison (Nancy Kelly). They both end up being killed by the Japanese but not before Carter has also killed the Japanese espionage chief, Lieutenant Commander Miazaki (Richard Loo). 170

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Pearson concludes the film by urging the audience to be vigilant: ‘The war against the underground enemies never begins and never ends.’ The film has shown how the Japanese have infiltrated every aspect of American life as college students, ships’ stewards and restaurant owners, for instance. They are continually depicted as slimy, grinning, slit-eyed fiends, with two scenes in which they torture American agents to death shown in graphic close-ups. Hollywood’s ingenuity in recycling its properties is demonstrated by Paramount’s remake of Shanghai Express, which is turned into a brisk B picture Night Plane from Chungking (1942), directed by Ralph Murphy and written by Earl Fenton, Theodore Reaves, Lester Cole and Sidney Biddell. Although completely unlike Sternberg’s sensuous exotic melodrama and substituting a bus and a plane for the train, it roughly followed the narrative line of the earlier film, with the enemy now not a Chinese warlord but the Japanese and the Nazis. The leads were now both Americans, Captain Nick Stanton (Robert Preston), the commander of a Chinese airbase, and American Red Cross nurse Ann Richards (Ellen Drew). When the bus they are travelling in from Chungking is bombed by the Japanese, an assorted bunch of passengers end up at the Nationalist Chinese airbase. Like the earlier film, they include a corrupt businessman, a French officer (now Free French), a clergyman (now Dutch minister Van der Leiden) along with Ann Richards. But significantly the Chinese prostitute Hui Fei has been replaced by Madam Wu, an aristocratic Chinese diplomat on a secret mission for the Nationalist government. Stanton is ordered by the Chinese government to fly the passengers to India but the plane is shot down by the Japanese. Van der Leiden leads them to a nearby monastery but then reveals that it is a Japanese base, and he is a German, Colonel von Leiden, attached to the Japanese Army. He seeks to exchange his prisoners for his spy, held by the Nationalists. But the spy has committed suicide and Stanton leads a breakout from the monastery, shooting von Leiden on the way. The French officer Major Brissac sacrifices his life to help the others escape by detonating a grenade and killing himself and the pursuing Japanese. Stanton takes off to complete his mission, delivering as he does an encomium on his Chinese allies, his intelligent and dedicated co-pilot Captain Po (Victor Sen Yung) and Madame Wu, who had destroyed her palace and her farms to prevent them falling into Japanese hands. 171

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One of the iconic events of the war from America’s point of view was the Doolittle Raid when the Army Air Corps bombed Tokyo for the first time on 18 April 1942. The raid was planned by Colonel James Doolittle. Sixteen B-25 bombers took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, bombed Tokyo and four other Japanese cities and flew on to China, where the Nationalist Chinese helped fourteen of the sixteen crews to reach safety. This became the basis of MGM’s film Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944) starring Spencer Tracy as Doolittle. It recreated the training for and execution of the raid. Eight of the flyers were, however, captured by the Japanese and tried for war crimes. Five were sentenced to life imprisonment and three executed on 10 October 1942. It was not until 23 April 1943 that the American public was informed of the executions by President Roosevelt. The fate of the flyers was the inspiration for The Purple Heart (1944), which historian Robert Fyne has called ‘unquestionably … the best propaganda film of World War II’.15 Personally produced by 20th Century-Fox studio boss Darryl F. Zanuck and scripted by Jerome Cady, it was based on a screen story provided by Zanuck (under his customary writing alias of Melville Crossman). It was directed by Lewis Milestone, acknowledged master of the war film and in particular of the impact of the war on the individual combatant ever since his earlier masterpiece All Quiet on the Western Front. The result, aided by a superb ensemble cast headed by Dana Andrews, Richard Conte and Farley Granger, was a film that was powerful, moving and inspirational. The film focused on the trial of the eight captured flyers from the Doolittle Raid, carefully chosen like all wartime films about combat units to represent a cross-section of American society. In this case, there is the all-American family man commanding officer, the Italian-American artist, the Czech-American football player, the pampered rich kid, the Jewish lawyer, the tough guy, the intellectual and the poetry-lover. They are sustained by a strong bond of comradeship. They are charged with war crimes – the murder of civilians and the bombing of schools and hospitals – which they indignantly deny. From the outset, the trial is rigged. Their court-appointed, Princeton-educated lawyer does nothing on their behalf. Film is shown of the air-raid damage they allegedly inflicted but neutral journalists in the court observe that this has been faked. Their jail cell is bugged by General Mitsubi (Richard Loo), who has promised to extract the whereabouts of their base and the identity of their 172

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superiors from them. When they refuse to speak, he has individual members of the group tortured: two lose their reason as a result of the treatment, one has his hands amputated, another his wrists broken and another, his vocal cords damaged. The effects are all the more powerful as we see only the aftermath and not the inflicting of the torture. Finally, they are offered their lives and transfer to a POW camp if they will provide the required information. They vote on it as good democrats and unanimously reject the offer. Mitsubi, having lost face by failing to provide the information, shoots himself. Captain Ross (Dana Andrews), the commanding officer, delivers a final defiant speech to the court: It’s true we Americans don’t know much about you Japanese, and never did – and now I realise you know even less about us. You can kill us – all of us, or part of us. But if you think that’s going to put the fear of God into the United States of America and stop them from sending other fliers to bomb you, you’re wrong – dead wrong. They’ll blacken your skies and burn your cities to the ground and make you get down on your knees and beg for mercy. This is your war – you wanted it – you asked for it. And now you’re going to get it – and it won’t be finished until your dirty little empire is wiped off the face of the earth!

The flyers march off proudly to their deaths to the strains of the Air Corps anthem, ‘The Wild Blue Yonder’. There is a nod in the direction of the Nationalist Chinese. One of the witnesses, giving evidence against the flyers, is the Chinese provincial governor, Yuen Chiu Ling, who is a Japanese puppet and claims the Americans boasted of bombing civilians. After he has given his evidence, there is a scream and it is revealed that he has been stabbed to death by his son, Moy Ling (Benson Fong), who declares calmly to the flyers: ‘I am a soldier of China. My father has answered to his honourable ancestors for your betrayal’, before he is led away by the Japanese. The only film to try and explore how the Japanese had been turned into ruthless killers was RKO’s Behind the Rising Sun (1943). It followed Hitler’s Children (1943), a sensational exposé of the horrors of Nazism, which, made for a mere $205,000, grossed $3,355,000 in rentals. The team responsible for the film were director Edward Dmytryk and writer Emmet Lavery. They were therefore assigned to do the same thing for Japan. They bought 173

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the rights to a book by James Walker for its title Behind the Rising Sun and then, recalled Dmytryk, ‘concocted a story based largely on incidents as they had been reported from the Orient before Pearl Harbor … on a not very original plot, we strung ten or twelve incidents calculated to increase the flow of patriotic juices’.16 These episodes include an American woman having her face slapped and being pushed off the pavement by a Japanese soldier; Chinese women being raped and their babies bayoneted; Japanese soldiers distributing opium to Chinese civilians to keep them docile. The Thought Control Police are seen in action. The role of women in Japanese society is explained: drudges in the family home or sold into prostitution or factory work, an argument developed also in Know Your Enemy. There are symbolic scenes to bring home the differences between the United States and Japan. There is a violent fight between an American boxer and a Japanese wrestler, ended by the American with a swift upper cut to the Japanese jaw. We also see the iconic American sport, baseball, being perverted by the Japanese as the game is treated as a martial art, militarist slogans are chanted and the teams parade behind banners. The film opens in 1943 with the formal return of the ashes of dead Japanese soldiers to their relatives, a sequence seen in newsreel footage in Know Your Enemy. One of these relatives, Ryo Seki (J. Carrol Naish) returns home and begins to write down what happened to his son and how he ended up dead. The film flashes back to 1936 when a military mutiny led to the murder of leading Liberals, including the Finance Minister Takahashi, who is seen being cut to pieces by an army officer. Ryo traces the build-up to war from this point. His son Taro (Tom Neal) arrives back in Japan from the United States where he has studied engineering at Cornell, converses in American slang and expresses progressive views. He has forgotten many of the old Japanese traditions. He gets a job with American engineer O’Hara and courts his secretary, the pretty Americanophile Tama Shimahura (Margo). But Ryo explains to him that his future lies in implementing Japan’s destiny, which is to rule the world. He declares that Japan’s modernity is a façade. Japan is still a feudal society, ruled by a handful of powerful families, who dominate even the Emperor. He forbids Taro to marry Tama because she is a peasant’s daughter. But Taro swears that he will marry her and he and his father are estranged. He is called up in 1937 to serve with the army in China and there becomes 174

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ruthless and hardened, refusing pleas from American journalist Sarah Braden to halt the atrocities. Returning to Japan he plans to marry Tama, who has effected a reconciliation between father and son. But when war with America breaks out, he abandons Tama to join the air force (‘When the Emperor calls, the individual counts for nothing’). When his American friends O’Hara and Sarah Braden along with Tama are arrested and accused of being American spies, Taro confirms their guilt. When his father remonstrates, Taro tells him he is doing what his father has taught him. They are all tortured to make them confess. Ryo realises his son has become ‘a savage, killing for the sake of killing’. The Doolittle Raid is launched against Tokyo. Taro is shot down and killed. Ryo arranges for the escape of O’Hara, Sarah and Tama. O’Hara and Sarah will get out of Japan on a Swedish ship but Tama stays behind to organise resistance to the war. Ryo concludes his testament and commits hara-kiri, declaring that he repudiates the Empire and the bid for world conquest, expresses the hope that the Japanese may one day redeem themselves but calling on the gods to destroy the Japan he has known. While demonstrating the evils of Japanese militarism, blind emperorworship and the dehumanisation of the population, the film nevertheless depicts sympathetically two Japanese characters, the father Ryo who comes to realise the evil of the ideas he has incubated in his son and Tama whose eyes are opened to her lover’s transformation from modern, progressive and democratic engineer to ruthless militarist. One interesting feature is the role of the sympathetic Russian journalist-spy, Boris, who by 1943 is an ally of the Americans. The film which cost a modest $250,000 to produce, reaped $1,480,000 net profit, described by RKO’s historian as ‘a stupendous box office bonanza’.17 The Tanaka Memorial (or Plan or Memorandum), the blueprint for world conquest allegedly devised by the Japanese Prime Minister Baron Giichi Tanaka in 1927, featured heavily in the ‘Why We Fight’ documentary series. Many scholars now believe it to have been a forgery. But it became the basis of a tough thriller Blood on the Sun (1945), an independent production for United Artists by the brothers Cagney, producer William and star James. It was the only other film to deal with pre-war Japan in detail. It opens with a scene-setting preface: While the entire world watched the early success of the German ‘Mein Kampf ’, few were aware of an Oriental Hitler … Baron

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Set in Tokyo in 1929, it cast James Cagney in typically pugnacious form as Nick Condon, managing editor of the Tokyo Chronicle, who comes into possession of the Tanaka Memorial when his friends, journalist Ollie Miller and his wife Edith, are murdered by the Japanese secret police. The remainder of the film consists of the attempts of the Japanese to retrieve the document and Condon’s successful prevention of this. He is aided by a mysterious half-Chinese woman Iris Hilliard (Sylvia Sidney), who appears to be working as an agent for the Japanese Prime Minister Baron Tanaka (John Emery) but is actually working for the Chinese government. There is one good Japanese, the elderly, dignified, anti-militarist, Prince Tatsugi (Frank Puglia) who signs the document in order to authenticate it and is subsequently murdered. At the end, Nick, who now loves Iris, persuades her to get away with the document while he covers her escape. After a fierce bout of ju-jitsu with the brutal Sergeant Oshima (played by Cagney’s real-life judo teacher John Halloran), Nick runs the gauntlet of the Japanese secret police to reach the safety of the American Embassy. Baron Tanaka, his honour compromised, commits hara-kiri, leaving his vision of the world conquest to be realised by his henchmen, Commander Yamamoto (Philip Ahn) and Colonel Tojo (Robert Armstrong), names that would be familiar to American audiences as wartime commanders. Officially Tanaka dies of a heart attack soon after resigning as prime minister. Apart from Tatsugi, the Japanese are uniformly portrayed as treacherous, cunning, vicious and brutal. The film, vigorously directed by veteran Frank Lloyd, boasted fine performances from Cagney, Sidney and Emery, an evocative score by Miklos Rosza and Oscar-winning art direction by Wiard Ihnen and A.  Roland Fields. It grossed ‘a healthy 800,000 dollars’.18 The script was by the left-wing writer Lester Cole, later imprisoned as one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’ during the McCarthyite purge of Hollywood. He was shocked to discover at the film’s preview that a different ending – Condon’s escape from the docks through the streets of Tokyo to the 176

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Embassy – scripted by Nathaniel Curtis had been substituted for his ending. As he recalled in his autobiography: At that time, with the War close to victory in Europe, William Randolph Hearst was putting on a campaign for a negotiated peace with Japan as opposed to the U.S.  official position for unconditional surrender. My ending of the film attempted to fortify the government decision. I had Cagney and Sidney escape to Geneva where the League of Nations was in session, triumphantly turn over the Tanaka Memorial to the delegates … The two protagonists wait eagerly for the debate to start. The Chinese delegate offers a motion; the Japanese delegate asks that the Chinese motion be tabled … and the motion is buried. The Chinese were placid, accepting  – they had made a deal. Cagney and Sidney walked out stunned, defeated. All their efforts defeated by the Chiang Kai-Shek government. Bitterly he berates the U.S. for its failure to be a member of the League of Nations; our country, he believes, could have forced the issue to the floor.19

Cole believed that William Cagney shared Hearst’s point of view and did not want anything which supported the idea of unconditional surrender. It is, however, much more likely that the OWI would not stomach the criticism of the Chiang Kai-Shek regime. The victory of the Communists and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 followed by the outbreak of the Korean War with the Chinese backing the North Koreans meant that cinematic attitudes to China underwent an immediate volte-face and as Japan was rehabilitated as a democratic state and an ally, so the devilish characteristics assigned to the Japanese in wartime were now transferred lock, stock and barrel to the Communist Chinese. What is more the little group of Asian-American actors who had been employed in wartime propaganda as fiendish Japanese militarists and torturers now moved to equally lucrative employment as fiendish Chinese Communists. So Philip Ahn, Richard Loo, Benson Fong and Victor Sen Yung continued to embody Oriental devilry. The Korean War inspired a succession of Hollywood films, among them Steel Helmet (1950), Fixed Bayonets (1951), One Minute to Zero (1952), Retreat, Hell! (1952), The Glory Brigade (1953) and The Bridges at Toko-Ri 177

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(1954). But as Clyde Jeavons has observed, among the films generated by the war there was ‘scarcely one that could be called an outstanding example of the genre. They were mostly coarse imitations of World War Two movies, tough, clamorous, violent and jingoistic.’20 A  single exception to this verdict is probably Pork Chop Hill (1959), a disenchanted and unglamorous account of a single American unit taking and holding at enormous cost a relatively insignificant hill against overwhelming numbers of Chinese troops. It was directed by the acknowledged master of the war film genre, Lewis Milestone. What was different about this war was the deployment by the Chinese of a new and deadly technique for use on prisoners – brainwashing. This was featured in several Hollywood films. Prisoner of War (1954), directed by Andrew Marton and written by Allen Rivkin, came first. Allegedly based on the testimony of POWs, Prisoner of War was sufficiently grim and graphic to earn an X certificate from the British censors. It opens with 718 American POWs being marched for twenty-one days in freezing conditions and denied food and water. By the end of the march only 211 have survived. The POW camp, ostensibly run by the Koreans and Chinese, is effectively dominated by the brutal Russian Colonel Biroshilov (Oscar Homolka) who has been seconded to Korea by Moscow to supervise the brainwashing of the prisoners. Among the prisoners is Captain Web Sloane (Ronald Reagan), an intelligence officer parachuted in to join the prisoners and document atrocities and violations of the Geneva Convention. He tells the tough Corporal Joe Stanton (Steve Forrest) that every man has a breaking point and the film proceeds to demonstrate that. POWs attend indoctrination classes in the evils of capitalism and imperialism. Treadwell (Dewey Martin) and Sloane express an interest in these ideas and are made mentors and given special privileges. As a result they are shunned by the men. Stanton resists indoctrination, despite suffering beatings, torture and intensive interrogation. Sloane makes anti-American propaganda broadcasts but conceals within them coded messages to his superiors. The prisoners witness the horrific torture of a captured pilot who eventually breaks and admits that he flew missions to drop bacteria bombs on civilian populations. When this newsreel testimony is shown to the prisoners, they break up the film show and wreck the projector. The ringleaders are 178

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then forced to lie in open graves, deprived of food and water, until they sign documents to affirm that they have witnessed no atrocities in the camp. Initially they refuse but after they are subjected to a mock execution by firing squad and later strapped to wooden frames and beaten, one by one they break and sign. Only Stanton holds out and Biroshilov vindictively has his pet dog beaten to death. This causes Stanton to snap and later he kidnaps and kills Biroshilov. The Korean commandant vows to hunt down the killer. But he is ordered to repatriate twenty prisoners as part of ongoing peace negotiations. Sloane is one of them. Stanton and the others plan to beat up Treadwell and Sloane but are stopped by the guards. Treadwell then reveals to Sloane that he too is an undercover agent and is proceeding to Russia as an apparent Communist convert to continue his work. He knocks out Sloane, declaring him a ‘phoney convert’ to re-establish him with the other men. Many of the same elements turn up in Columbia’s The Bamboo Prison (1955), directed by Lewis Seiler and written by Edwin Blum and Jack DeWitt. It deployed the familiar elements of the Second World War POW camp movie (brutal guards, poor food, solitary confinement in ‘the cooler’, foiled escapes, informer reporting all the prisoners’ plans to the camp’s authorities). But there were several new elements that were distinct products of the Korean War (indoctrination classes in Communist ideology, brainwashing and American collaborators). The film establishes Communist inhumanity from the outset with an opening identical to Prisoner of War as American prisoners are marched for forty days, deprived of food and water and, if they fall, left to die. Ninety-six perish in that way. They arrive at a POW camp, run by the Chinese Volunteer Army. A small group of existing prisoners (known as ‘The Progressives’) have converted to Communism and joined the enemy, in return for special privileges. They are hated by the other prisoners, in particular Sergeant John Rand (Robert Francis). One of the new intake of prisoners, Corporal Brady (Brian Keith) makes contact with Rand, who is in fact an undercover American agent posing as a collaborator to collect evidence of Chinese atrocities to send to the American negotiators in the armistice talks at Panmunjom. They parallel Treadwell and Sloane in Prisoner of War. Rand is forced to endure the hostility of the other prisoners which grows as he makes anti-American propaganda broadcasts. But 179

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he unmasks and kills the informer, a phoney Catholic priest planted in the camp by the Chinese. He begins a romance with Tanya Clayton (Dianne Foster), the anti-Communist Russian wife of the sadistic Commissar Clayton, who is an American defector, once Moscow correspondent of a left-wing American newspaper who now works for the Russians. She provides Rand with the atrocity evidence he wants and when Clayton discovers the liaison and threatens to kill her, he is shot dead by Rand. Rand starts a prison riot to distract the guards and helps Tanya and Brady (disguised as Clayton) to escape with the vital information. The armistice is signed and the POWs repatriated. Rand refuses repatriation to stay on in Korea, pretending to be anti-American, even resisting a tearful recorded message from his mother. His undercover work on behalf of the United States will continue. With its emphasis on American defectors and collaboration with the Chinese, the film succeeds in warning of the danger from the enemy within as well as the enemy without. Richard Loo plays the ruthless camp commandant and Keye Luke the humourless ideology lecturer, who is continually sent up by the Americans. The ultimate subversion saga, however, is The Manchurian Candidate (1962), John Frankenheimer’s riveting and brilliantly orchestrated film version of Richard Condon’s novel, adapted for the screen by George Axelrod. It opens in Korea in 1952 with the ambushing of an American patrol, betrayed by their treacherous guide and interpreter Chunjin (Henry Silva). They are flown to Manchuria and brainwashed by a Chinese general Yen Lo (Khigh Diegh) in front of an audience of Russian and Chinese officers. In a chilling and disorientating sequence, Frankenheimer cuts between what the captive Americans think they are seeing (a lecture on hydrangea cultivation by a ladies horticultural society) and what is actually happening (Yen Lo demonstrating the effectiveness of the conditioning of Sergeant Raymond Shaw, instructing him to kill two of his comrades, one by shooting and the other by strangulation, which he does). A false memory planted in the minds of the prisoners has Sergeant Shaw heroically saving the patrol and single-handedly wiping out an enemy unit. It is endorsed by his commander Major Bennett Marco and results in his being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honour. But Marco is tormented by nightmares recalling the killings and some of the brainwashing. At first disbelieved and sent on sick leave, when Marco and another of the patrol 180

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correctly identify the photographs of the two Russian officers they remembered from the brainwashing audience, Marco is put in charge of an operation to investigate Shaw and find out what he has been programmed to do. He is activated by his American controller – who turns out to be his mother  – and successively murders a leading newspaper columnist, his own wife Jocie and her father, liberal senator Thomas Jordan. Finally he is ordered to assassinate the presidential nominee Ben Arthur at the party convention in Madison Square Gardens, filmed with documentary immediacy by Frankenheimer. The diabolical plan, which only becomes clear at the end, is the work of Raymond’s mother ‘The Red Queen’, apparently a rabid anti-Communist but in fact a Communist agent and the real power behind her rabble-rousing but dim McCarthyite senator husband John Iselin, Raymond’s stepfather. Iselin secures the vice-presidential nomination at the convention, thanks in part to the murder of Jordan, who was pledged to stop him. It is now intended that, with Arthur murdered, Iselin will take the top spot on the ticket, sweep the country on a wave of emotion and once in the White House establish a dictatorship, where his wife will be the real power. But Marco succeeds in breaking the hold the Communists have on Shaw’s mind and he realises what he has done. So instead of shooting Arthur, he shoots Iselin and his mother and turns his gun on himself. As in so many American films dealing with Communist China, the Russians and the Chinese are in alliance, and when Marco describes Yen Lo as ‘smiling like Fu Manchu’, he is evoking the enduring memory of ‘the yellow peril’. The film contains fine performances from Frank Sinatra as the haunted major, Laurence Harvey as the robotic assassin, James Gregory as the McCarthyite senator and Angela Lansbury as his ruthless and manipulative wife. The Manchurian Candidate was the only Korean War POW drama not to fail at the box office, perhaps because it was primarily a paranoid political conspiracy thriller. In general US audiences seem to have found the subject of American collaboration with the enemy too uncomfortable a subject for entertainment.21 The demonising of the Chinese Communists led to some farfetched films. Target Hong Kong (1952), directed by Fred F.  Sears and written by Herbert Purdum, was a preposterous and overly complicated but action-packed anti-Communist B picture. It begins with a striking image: a map of China with a marching army gradually superimposed on it. 181

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A narrator explains that Red China needed money and sought it by extortion and murder, ‘its victims, its own people’. The opening scene shows the Communist leaders seeking to extort money as ransoms for families still in China from Chinese who have emigrated to the United States. Those who object are shot or stabbed to death. The Soviet masterspy Marchenko and his Chinese confederate Fu Chao prepare to launch their cunning plan. They have persuaded Lao Shan (Soo Young), ‘The Sea Tiger’, a fiercely anti-Communist pirate leader, based in Hong Kong to lead her men (disguised in Nationalist army uniforms) in an attack on Hong Kong. They explain that this is to be done to aid the Nationalist Chinese government as it will draw Communist forces away from Formosa, allowing Chiang Kai-Shek to mount an attack on the mainland and activate the vast underground anti-Communist guerrilla army. The pirates demand payment for their participation, so Marchenko orders a Communist attack on the pirate village to stir them up to carry out the attack. American mercenary soldier Mike Lassiter (Richard Denning) is recruited by the Nationalist underground in Hong Kong to spy on the Green Dragon casino, Lao Shan’s headquarters, which they believe is being used to transmit the Chinese ransoms to the mainland. Sin How and Johnny Wing, the Nationalist leaders, are kidnapped and taken to the mainland and held in a troop train by Fu Chao. But Lassiter and Nationalist guerrillas rescue them, killing Fu Chao. Marchenko now plants a bomb in the sewers of Hong Kong beneath British headquarters, its explosion to signal Lao Shan’s attack. But Lassiter manages to persuade Lao Shan she has been tricked, defuses the bomb and kills Marchenko in a gunbattle. Lao Shan now decides to lead her pirates in an attack on the Communist Chinese mainland. Philip Ahn and Victor Sen Yung play the Nationalist leaders Sin How and Johnny Wing and Richard Loo plays Fu Chao. Battle Beneath the Earth (1967), directed by Montgomery Tully from a script by Lance Hargreaves, was set in the United States but filmed in Britain. It was described by one critic as ‘delightfully nonsensical’.22 Its basic premise is that a renegade Chinese warlord, General Chan Lu (Martin Benson), has burrowed under the Pacific with an ultra-powerful laser borer and created a network of tunnels under the United States in which he plans to plant atomic bombs. Commander Jonathan Shaw (Kerwin Matthews) is put in command of a unit to combat the threat. After several of his men are 182

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killed in a clash in the tunnel, he, seismologist Arnold Kramer (previously placed in a mental hospital for suggesting that the Chinese were burrowing under the United States) and geologist Tila Yung (Viviane Ventura) bore into the tunnels from an extinct Hawaiian volcano. They are captured and Chan attempts to brainwash them, but they escape, set off the bomb mechanism on Chan’s atomic bomb train and get out via the volcano before the train blows up, destroying the Chinese forces and creating a giant mushroom cloud over the Pacific. Will these Oriental fiends stop at nothing in their plans to take over the world? More fanciful science figured in J. Lee Thompson’s The Chairman (UK The Most Dangerous Man in the World) (1969) starring Gregory Peck as Nobel Prize-winning scientist Dr John Hathaway. When the Western allies discover that the Chinese have discovered an enzyme which facilitates crop growth in unsuitable locations and could help solve the world food problem, Hathaway is persuaded to go to China to try and obtain details of the enzyme. With a one-way transmitter implanted in his skull to allow a joint American and British military team to monitor his progress, he travels to China, under constant Communist surveillance. He is invited to a meeting with Chairman Mao (Conrad Yama) and they debate their respective viewpoints over a game of ping-pong. Mao announces that the people need to learn three lessons:  first, to study; second, to study to kill, and third, to kill, in order to free themselves from servitude. It does not matter how many people are killed in pursuit of this aim. But Hathaway insists that every individual life is sacred and he would sooner die than kill; which is why, says the Chairman, China will win. Hathaway is taken to see his old friend, Professor Soong Li, who has devised the enzyme. But Soong is seized by a mindless, howling mob of Red Guards, paraded round the village in a dunce’s cap and badly beaten up. He takes poison and dies, leaving an English translation of Chairman Mao’s ‘little red book’ to Hathaway. In a final tense and gripping sequence, Hathaway flees to the Russian border, pursued by Chinese troops. He gets across, helped by Russian border guards, cooperating with the Americans. Back in England he finds that Soong Li has indicated the chemical formula of the enzyme by emphasising letters in the red book. When hard-line American general Shelby tells Hathaway that the authorities have decided 183

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to keep the enzyme a secret, Hathaway vows to fight them and take the story to the press as the enzyme belongs to the world. The Chairman was largely filmed at Pinewood Studios with some brief location shooting in Hong Kong and Taiwan and the climactic chase sequence shot in north Wales. It is very effectively directed by Thompson, with his camera sweeping across the green, misty Mongolian plain, down the teeming, neon-lit streets of Hong Kong and across the red and gold décor of the high-class brothel, the House of Elegant Pleasure, before erupting into pyrotechnic violence when a Russian agent helping Hathaway escape blows up lorry loads of ammunition and machine-guns the advancing Chinese troops. Keye Luke played Professor Soong Li. However, according to Thompson’s biographer, Steve Chibnall, ‘most critics professed to being bored by a “doggedly” directed film’ (The Times, 3 July 1969), one which the acidic Alexander Walker thought had about it as much suspense as ‘a tired skipping rope’ (Evening Standard, 3 July 1969).23 Throughout the 1950s Hollywood turned out a succession of overtly propagandist works, in most of which top stars like John Wayne, Clark Gable and William Holden were concerned to help people escape from China. For one of the earliest anti-Communist dramas, Paramount turned to its 1930s hit Shanghai Express, already remade as Night Plane from Chungking in 1942, and reversing the direction of travel produced Peking Express (1951), directed by William Dieterle and written by John Meredyth Lucas and Jules Furthman. Much of the narrative and character interplay is familiar from the earlier film but it is heavily overlaid with an anti-Communist message. Instead of British army doctor Clive Brook and exotic siren Marlene Dietrich, the erstwhile lovers rediscovering their feelings for each other on the journey from Shanghai to Peking are now an idealistic American doctor, working for the World Health Organisation Michael Bachlin (Joseph Cotten) and a French singer Danielle Grenier (Corinne Calvet) who had married a Russian diplomat, liquidated by the Soviet regime. Also on board and given space to articulate their worldviews are a saintly Catholic priest Father Murray (Edmund Gwenn), who speaks of his Christian faith, his love of peace and the oppressed, and his respect for the great thinkers of the East, Confucius, Buddha and Gandhi, and an arrogant fanatical Communist journalist Wong (Benson Fong) who denounces the 184

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West, proclaims the glories of the new Chinese regime and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Bachlin responds by hymning the virtues of democracy and rejecting dictatorship whether by the proletariat or the aristocracy. Also apparently a Communist but in fact a black marketeer who deals in stolen WHO medical supplies is the sinister Kwon (Marvin Miller). As in Shanghai Express, the train is stopped by bandits who slaughter the government troops aboard and remove the passengers. The bandit leader turns out to be Kwon, who reveals that he knows that Bachlin is heading for Peking to operate on the ailing leader of the Nationalist underground. They are holding his son prisoner and he threatens to kill all the passengers unless his son is returned to him. When Wong denounces Kwon as a traitor, Kwon disfigures Wong’s hand with a red hot poker. The Nationalists return Kwon’s son. Wong tells Danielle that Kwon intends to kill Bachlin and she offers herself to him to save her lover. But Kwon is stabbed to death by his wife, who wants to free her son from his evil influence. The train departs but Wong takes command of Kwon’s troops and pursues it until he is killed in an exchange of gunfire. When Bachlin learns of Danielle’s proposed sacrifice to save him, they are reunited. Cotten and Calvet are no Brook and Dietrich and the film lacks the Orientalist mystique with which Sternberg imbued the story but it functions perfectly well as a competent action adventure film. Veteran Oscar-winning director, Frank Lloyd, who had exposed the evils of Japanese militarism in Blood on the Sun (1945), came out of retirement to lambast the Chinese Communists in The Shanghai Story (1954), written by Seton I. Miller and Steve Fisher. The Shanghai Story centres on a group of expatriates, American and European, who are interned in the New Waldorf Hotel, Shanghai, after the Communist takeover of the city. Communist Major Wu Ling announces that one of the Americans is an enemy agent and they will be held and questioned until he is identified. The Communists behave with predictable brutality. They torture an American Warren and a Norwegian Haljerson, who dies of a heart attack after making an impassioned speech about freedom. Major Wu Ling tries to rape the wife of one of the internees but is prevented by the hero, disillusioned American doctor Dan Maynard (Edmond O’Brien). Sun Lee, a member of the Nationalist underground in Shanghai, is shot in the back of the head in front of the hostages to encourage them to talk. The Communists even shoot 185

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the pet dog of Warren’s little daughter. As in most of the propaganda films, the real power behind the Chinese Communists is a sinister Russian, here Colonel Zorek, head of the Shanghai Secret Police. Meanwhile Maynard discovers that the spy is American artist Paul Grant who explains that he has to get vital information about China’s military plans to a waiting US submarine. Grant is killed trying to escape but Maynard successfully gets the information to the submarine but returns to rescue Rita King (Ruth Roman), erstwhile mistress of a high Nationalist official who had helped him escape. The Red Cross intervene to secure the release of the internees and Zorek is shot for allowing the vital military information to get to the Americans. Philip Ahn and Richard Loo play villainous Communist Chinese officers; and Victor Sen Yung the heroic Nationalist Sun Lee. The Hollywood Reporter (26 November 1954)  observed that the film was ‘routine … overlong and over-talky’. Daily Variety (27 September 1954) thought Lloyd had had ‘an off-day’ when he made it. The New York Times (24 September 1954) called it ‘balderdash. And cheap balderdash to boot.’24 Blood Alley (1955), written by A.  S. Fleischmann, was the first production by John Wayne’s newly formed Batjac Company and directly reflects the fervent anti-Communism which had made him a stalwart of the right-wing Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an organisation of which he served three consecutive terms as president. The film told the story of an American merchant captain Tom Wilder, held prisoner for two years in a Communist Chinese jail. The villagers of Chiku Shan secure his release by bribing his guards and then persuade him to captain an old ferry boat which they hijack in order to transport the entire population, 180 in all, from oppression in Communist China to freedom in Hong Kong. It is a 300-mile journey down the Formosa Strait, colloquially known as ‘Blood Alley’. The battered old paddlesteamer, 1885 vintage and made in Sacramento, survives a series of obstacles – a violent storm, the poisoning of the food supplies, a murderous attack on Wilder by members of the only Communist family in the village and an encounter with Chinese gunboats – before it safely reaches Hong Kong. Wilder, a tough guy who claims to have had a series of dames ‘Chinese, Eurasian and White Russian’, finds true love with a feisty American doctor’s daughter Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall). 186

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The iniquity of the Communists is shown in the attempted rape of Cathy by a Red soldier whom Wilder bayonets, in the stoning to death of Cathy’s father in a nearby village and in the shelling of the ferry full of women, children and old people. Shooting began under the direction of tough, no-nonsense director William Wellman with Robert Mitchum in the leading role. But following some drunken horseplay, Wellman demanded the removal of Mitchum, who was sacked. Unable to find a suitable replacement at short notice, Wayne had to break off his honeymoon to return and take over the role of Wilder, which he performed with his characteristic authority. As Allen Eyles has written of the film: An undistinguished film by most standards, it is given firm drive by Wellman’s handling and he and cameraman William Clothier bring a pictorial flair to the images, creating with art director Al Ybarra a convincing representation of China on Californian coast locations, with shots of great beauty and atmosphere, especially in the sequence at the graveyard of sunken ships.25

Critical reaction was summed up by Newsweek: ‘good ship, shallow draft’.26 Soldier of Fortune (1955), directed by Edward Dmytryk and written by Ernest K. Gann, had Clark Gable as the eponymous hero, Hank Lee, who runs a smuggling operation between Communist China and Hong Kong. He is recruited by Jane Hoyt (Susan Hayward) to find her missing husband, photographer Louis Hoyt (Gene Barry). Apparently tough and cynical, Lee’s basic decency is underlined by his adoption of three Chinese orphans. It turns out that Hoyt is being held prisoner by the Communists in Canton and Hank mounts a rescue mission, escaping the pursuing Communists on his boat after an impossibly easy prison breakout by mingling with hundreds of fishing junks. In the final rescue and escape he is aided by British police inspector Merriwether (Michael Rennie), initially kidnapped then subsequently enthusiastically participating, in a demonstration of NATO solidarity. Like most Oriental melodramas, Hong Kong is seen to be peopled by a colourful multinational population of drifters (a French gigolo, an ageing Russian prostitute, a misogynistic American bar-owner, an ex-Welsh 187

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magistrate). Richard Loo plays an exiled Nationalist general Po Lin, eking out a living as a guide, but he is removed from the Macao ferry at gunpoint by the Communists, doomed to almost certain death. Much of the film was shot on location in Hong Kong and the reviewers agreed that the location shooting was the principal attraction of the film. The story was dismissed as a ‘potboiler’, even by its director.27 Edward Dmytryk who had a brief flirtation with Communism during the war, had been one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’ sent to prison for refusing to testify to HUAC. He was blackballed by Hollywood but in 1951 he recanted and gave evidence to the committee, naming names. This enabled him to resume his film career. But Soldier of Fortune became his only film to feature Communist villains. Edward Dmytryk’s The Left Hand of God (1955), scripted by Alfred Hayes was set in 1947 during the civil war preceding the Communist takeover. It is another in the series of films in which the Catholic priests bring help and relief to China. The twist here is that the priest, Father O’Shea, who arrives at the Catholic mission and later brings comfort, help and inspiration to the Chinese, has a secret which is revealed halfway through the film. He is not a priest at all. He is really Joe Carmody, an American flyer who crashed, worked as a military adviser to a warlord called Yang, had a Chinese mistress and escaped by posing as a murdered priest. Redeemed and ennobled by serving the people, Carmody saves the mission and the neighbouring villages when Yang and his bandits turn up by beating Yang at a crap game. He is permitted by the church authorities to leave, still posing as a priest, so as not to disillusion the peasants. Beautifully photographed but wholly implausible, it features unconvincing performances from Humphrey Bogart, visibly uncomfortable as the priest, Lee J. Cobb as the American educated and accented warlord Mah Yang and Dmytryk’s wife Jean Porter as Carmody’s Chinese mistress. A self-confessed Sinophile, Dmytryk justified the Caucasian casting of Oriental roles in his autobiography: ‘There were few topflight ethnic actors in Hollywood in 1955. There just wasn’t enough demand.’28 Victor Sen Yung plays the mission sexton, Philip Ahn, a Buddhist priest and Benson Fong, a bereaved villager. Another MPPA stalwart and ‘friendly witness’ to the HUAC hearings was Leo McCarey, who had made his name in the 1930s with screwball comedies like Duck Soup and The Awful Truth and in the 1940s with the 188

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Figure 8.2. Richard Todd defying Communists in Yangtse Incident with Richard Leech and Keye Luke

sentimental Catholic parables Going My Way and The Bells of St Mary’s. In the 1950s, he had become obsessively anti-Communist and directed a hard-core McCarthyite exposé of domestic subversion, My Son John and in his final film, Satan Never Sleeps (UK The Devil Never Sleeps) (1962), a denunciation of Communist China. Based on a novel The China Story by Pearl S.  Buck, adapted for the screen by McCarey himself and Claude Binyon, Satan Never Sleeps starred William Holden and Clifton Webb (also making his last film) as missionary priests. It was filmed in Britain, using sets that 20th Century-Fox had constructed for The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, with Wales once again standing in for China in the location shots. Set in South-West China in 1949, the film was structured around the confrontation between Christianity and Communism. Father O’Bannion (William Holden), a virile young ex-marine arrives at a Catholic mission to take over from the elderly, ailing and waspish Father Bovard (Clifton Webb). O’Bannion is embarrassed by the fact that 189

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he is followed to the mission by a young Chinese girl Siu Lan (France Nuyen), whose life he has saved and who has fallen in love with him. She becomes the cook at the mission. But the mission is taken over by a detachment of the Red Army, led by Colonel Ho-San (Weaver Lee), once a Christian and an intending priest and now a fanatical Communist. His men desecrate the chapel, installing a huge poster of Chairman Mao in place of the altar crucifix and destroying the dispensary and its supply of life-saving drugs. The priests are lectured, brutalised and starved, as Ho-San tries in vain to get them to sign confessions that they have misled and systematically robbed the people. The mission is turned into a barracks and the priests imprisoned. Ho-San then rapes Siu-Lan, who stabs him. Displaying true Christian spirit, O’Bannion drives to a nearby mission to get penicillin to cure the feverish Ho-San. Ho-San’s failure to extract confessions leads to a visit from his superior, Chung Ren, who is advised and prompted by the Russian agent Kuznietsky. They torture the priests into confessing and Bovard agrees to address a village gathering. But instead of confessing, he denounces the Communists for destroying freedom of religion and reducing the villagers to slaves, urging them to hold on to their faith in God. When Chung Ren strikes him, the villagers rise up and attack the Communist troops. Ho-San now undergoes an implausible volte-face, after Siu-Lan gives birth to his son and his parents are shot dead for trying to return the crucifix to the chapel. Ho-San helps the priests, Siu-Lan and her baby to escape, shooting a guard in the back and blithely declaring ‘This is my last act as a non-Christian.’ Bovard sacrifices his life to help them get across the frontier and Ho-San and Siu-Lan settle in Hong Kong. The film ends with the baptism of the baby who is christened Ho-Bannion. This was not the ending McCarey had intended. He sought to stress in the film the tension in O’Bannion between his desire for Siu-Lan and his vows of celibacy. This was to be resolved by O’Bannion dying to help Siu-Lan and Ho-San escape. But Holden wanted his character to survive and appealed to 20th Century-Fox who overruled the director and changed the ending. McCarey walked off the film in disgust, leaving an assistant to supervise the final five days of filming.29 The film was a critical and commercial failure. New York Post (22 February 1962) said it was ‘embarrassingly predictable until it becomes so bad that you couldn’t even imagine it’. 190

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Britain’s contribution to Cold War propaganda came with Michael Anderson’s Yangtse Incident (1957), a sober and realistic but enthralling drama-documentary written by Eric Ambler, recreating the escape of HMS Amethyst down the Yangtse in 1949. It was actually filmed on the River Orwell in Suffolk but was able to use the actual Amethyst, by now decommissioned and mothballed, for the filming. The film opens in the final stages of the Chinese Civil War with HMS Amethyst proceeding up the Yangtse from Shanghai to Nanking with supplies for the British Embassy. The ship is shelled and disabled by Communist gun batteries. It runs aground and the captain is killed. The British Embassy send the assistant naval attaché, Lieutenant Commander J. S. Kerans to take command. He evacuates the wounded, refloats the ship and effects repairs. But all attempts by other Royal Navy ships to rescue it fail. Kerans negotiates with the Communist Chinese who insist on the British accepting responsibility for the action and for opening hostilities. He refuses and after months of cat and mouse diplomacy, he decides to make a break for freedom (‘I don’t know if we’ll make it but we’ll have a damned good try’). They slip away after dark, get through a boom and survive fierce shelling at several points to reach the open sea. Kerans sends for a cup of tea and with classic understatement signals: ‘Have rejoined the fleet south of Shanghai. No major damage or casualties. God Save the King.’ The film ends as it began with Leighton Lucas’s Elgarian title music and a close-up of the ragged White Ensign still flying defiantly. Superimposed is a message from the King: ‘The courage, skill and determination shown by all on board have my highest commendation. Splice the mainbrace. George R.’ Richard Todd makes the perfect stiff-upper-lip naval commander, a cast of familiar and reliable British character actors play the officers and other ranks and two Hollywood veterans Akim Tamiroff and Keye Luke appear as a brace of humourless and fanatical Communists, political commissar Colonel Peng and garrison commander Captain Kuo Tai of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. It is perhaps a reflection of different national sensibilities that while in Britain the film bore the modest title Yangtse Incident, in America it was given the more bombastic title Battle Hell. The continuing threat from Red China gave a contemporary resonance to Samuel Bronston’s 1962 production, 55 Days at Peking, the latest epic to be produced by the producer in Spain following King of Kings and El Cid. 191

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Figure 8.3. Clifton Webb and William Holden defying Communists in Satan Never Sleeps

Bronston spared no expense to build Peking outside Madrid and the film was superbly designed by Veniero Colasanti and John Moore. Scripted by Philip Yordan and Bernard Gordon, it was assigned to director Nicholas Ray but he fell ill after shooting something less than half the film and veteran second unit director Andrew Marton was brought in to complete the film. It was Marton who devised the imaginative opening sequence which musically summed up the background of the film. It is 1900 and the camera moves from legation to legation as the flags are raised and the different national anthems played. Eventually the anthems of Russia, the United States, France, Japan, Germany, Spain, Italy and Great Britain overlap. The camera comes to rest on two Chinese men eating rice. One covers his ears: ‘What is this terrible noise?’ The other replies: ‘Different nations saying the same thing at the same time: we want China.’ At the end, the relief force arrives with each national unit playing a different march tune. The Briton Sir Arthur Robertson (David Niven) comments: 192

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Figure 8.4. David Niven defying the Chinese Empress (Flora Robson) in 55 Days at Peking

‘They are all playing different tunes’ and the American Major Lewis (Charlton Heston) says: ‘For fifty five days we played the same tune … Maybe people will remember some day.’ In between the two sequences the film tells the story of the Boxer uprising and the siege of the Western legations from a Western viewpoint and in such a way as to emphasise a United Nations spirit. This was reinforced by Bronston’s technique of employing international casts to maximise interest in different countries. So 55 Days at Peking has American stars (Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, John Ireland), British stars (David Niven, Flora Robson, Leo Genn), Hungarian (Paul Lukas), Austrian (Kurt Kasznar), French (Phillipe Leroy, Jacques Sernas), Italian (Massimo Serato) and Australian stars (Robert Helpmann). The film is punctuated by spectacle: Queen Victoria’s birthday ball, disrupted by a martial arts display by the Boxers; the Boxer attacks on the legations; a raid on an imperial arsenal; an attack on the walls by rocket-launching siege engines. But the overwhelming image is of yellow hordes, wave after wave of Chinese Boxers and imperial troops 193

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hurling themselves against the fragile defences of the comparative handful of Westerners. The imagery justifies Sir Arthur’s quotation from Napoleon: ‘Let China sleep for when she wakes the world will tremble.’ The film shows some respect for China. Major Lewis lectures his Marines:  ‘China is an ancient and highly cultured civilization’ and tells them not to think of themselves better than the Chinese just because the Chinese cannot speak English. American Captain Andy Marshall has a half-Chinese daughter Teresa (Lynne Sue Moon), whom Lewis ends up adopting when her father is killed. Lewis has an affair with Baroness Natasha Ivanoff (Ava Gardner) whose husband committed suicide when she was unfaithful to him with a Chinese general. She later redeems herself by nursing the wounded, sacrificing a priceless necklace to obtain food and medical supplies for the besieged and finally dying of her wounds after being shot. The major Chinese figures are all authentic historical personalities. The Dowager Empress Tsu-Hsi (Flora Robson, looking exactly like contemporary portraits of the Empress) is accurately shown wavering between the policies of the moderates and the anti-foreigner extremists. General Jung Lu (Leo Genn) represents the moderate faction at court and the villainous Prince Tuan (Robert Helpmann), the hard-liners. But the names of the Westerners have been changed. British minister Sir Claude Macdonald becomes Sir Arthur Robertson; American envoy Edwin Conger becomes Mr Maxwell; Russian minister Baron von Giers becomes Baron Ivanoff; the German minister Baron von Ketteler becomes Baron von Meck (his murder prompted by the abduction and murder of a Chinese boy and not, as in the film, shouting ‘Bravo’ when Lewis humiliates a Boxer). Relief column commander Admiral Sir Edward Seymour became Admiral Harold Sydney. Only the Japanese military attaché Colonel Shiba retains his real name. The critics generally praised the costumes and sets but not the script. The New York Times (30 May 1963) typically said: As a fictional version of the final gasps of the dying Manchu Dynasty in and around the Forbidden City in 1900, it is no more historic than a Gene Autry epic. But Nicholas Ray, director; his associate Andrew Marton; Philip Yordan and

194

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According to Bronston’s biographer, Mel Martin, ‘55 Days didn’t make a profit in the United States but recouped its nine-million dollars investment with pre-bookings in the rest of the world.’30 There was still plenty of mileage left in the ‘Yellow Peril’.

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9 The Oriental Detectives: Charlie Chan, James Lee Wong and Mr Moto

The inscribing of the Chinese arch-villain Dr Fu Manchu, ‘the yellow peril incarnate in one man’, in the popular culture of Britain and America was partly due to the iconic visualisation of the character by the actors Warner Oland and Boris Karloff. They later made amends by giving equally memorable performances as detectives Charlie Chan and James Lee Wong, two of the most positive cinematic depictions of Chinese men in the heyday of Hollywood. Charlie Chan, a sergeant in the Honolulu police department, was created by the novelist Earl Derr Biggers in six novels published between 1925 and 1932. He went on to feature in forty-seven Hollywood films made between 1926 and 1949, becoming in the words of Chinese scholar Yunte Huang, ‘one of America’s most beloved movie characters’.1 Earl Derr Biggers was on holiday in Hawaii when he read of the exploits of Chinese-born detective Chang Apana and he based his character Charlie Chan directly on Apana. Although he was only a supporting character in his first appearance in The House Without a Key (1925), he captured the fancy of the reading public and Biggers developed Charlie Chan further in five more novels, The Chinese Parrot (1926), Behind That Curtain (1928), The Black Camel (1929), Charlie Chan Carries On (1930) and Keeper of the Keys (1932). Biggers said of the character: ‘I have seen movies depicting and read stories about Chinatown and wicked Chinese villains … and it 196

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struck me that a Chinese hero, trustworthy, benevolent, and philosophical, would come nearer to presenting a correct portrayal of the race.’2 The first five novels were all to be filmed, though curiously the final one, Keeper of the Keys (1932), never has been. There was an adaptation on the Broadway stage in 1933 but it ran for only three weeks. The House Without a Key was turned into a ten-part serial by Pathé in 1926. Charlie, only a supporting character, was played by the Japanese actor George Kuwa. No print of the serial is known to exist. The Chinese Parrot (1927) was directed for Universal by the celebrated German director Paul Leni, a noted pictorialist. Another Japanese actor, Sojin, played Charlie. Sadly this too is a lost film and, given Leni’s record, could be a major loss. Behind That Curtain (1929) does survive. Directed by Irving Cummings for Fox, it is a stilted, slow-moving, intrigue-laden melodrama largely set in English high society circles. Starring Warner Baxter and Lois Moran, it has sequences set in Britain, India and Persia and was more of a prequel to Biggers’s novel than a straight adaption. Charlie Chan only appears in the finale set in San Francisco. He is played by E.  L. Park, often erroneously described as an elderly English actor.3 Park’s Oriental features and Korean surname suggest an Eastern rather than an English origin. The Fox Film Corporation began a Charlie Chan series with new adaptations of the first five Biggers novels. Fox cast the Swedish actor Warner Oland as Charlie. Oland, who had made his screen debut in 1915, had regularly been cast in Oriental roles because of the cast of his features, which he attributed to Mongolian penetration of Northern Sweden in the Middle Ages. He played Orientals in The Lightning Raider (1919), Mandarin Gold (1919), The Fighting American (1924), Curly Top (1924), Tell it to the Marines (1926), Old San Francisco (1927) and Chinatown Nights (1929). With the coming of sound, Paramount cast Oland as Sax Rohmer’s Dr Fu Manchu in The Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu (1929), The Return of Dr Fu Manchu (1930) and Daughter of the Dragon (1931).4 Fox chose Oland to play Charlie as he approximated to the description Biggers gave of the character on his first appearance: He was very fat indeed, yet he walked with the light dancing step of a woman. His cheeks were as chubby as a baby’s, his skin ivory-tinted, his black hair close cropped, his amber eyes slanting.5

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Figure 9.1. Warner Oland as Charlie Chan

Although comfortably plump rather than very fat, Oland fitted the bill and Biggers was delighted with him, thinking him ‘perfect in the part, he dresses it correctly and looks it beautifully, and he acts it charmingly and graciously, so that the spectators are bound to like him’.6 Sadly four of the first five Oland Chans are lost. The first, Charlie Chan Carries On (1931), directed by Hamilton McFadden from a screenplay by Philip Klein and Barry Connors based on Biggers’s 1930 novel, had Charlie joining a world cruise at Honolulu and solving a series of murders. It was enthusiastically received and Fox was encouraged to proceed to further productions. The Black Camel (1931), also directed by McFadden from a screenplay by Hugh Stange, Philip Klein and Barry Connors based on the 1929 novel, had Charlie solve the murder of a film star making a film on location in Hawaii. Charlie Chan’s Chance (1932), directed by John G.  Blystone from a screenplay by Philip Klein and Barry Connors, was based on Behind That Curtain and was a much more faithful version of the book than the earlier adaptation, though the action was transferred from San Francisco to New York. The film had Charlie Chan with Inspector Fife of Scotland Yard and Inspector Flannery of the New  York Police investigating the murder of Sir Lionel Gray of Scotland Yard. Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (1933), directed by McFadden from a screenplay by Lester Cole and Marion Orth based on Biggers’s novel The House Without a 198

The Oriental Detectives: Charlie Chan, James Lee Wong and Mr Moto

Key, had Charlie solving the murder of a Hawaiian millionaire. Charlie Chan’s Courage (1934), directed by George Hadden and Eugene Forde and scripted by Seton I. Miller, was a remake of The Chinese Parrot and saw Charlie posing as a Chinese servant on a western ranch while seeking to recover a stolen necklace. Only Black Camel survives from this group of direct Biggers adaptations and it is so good that one cannot but regret the absence of the others. The only Chan film to actually be shot on location, it has a visual freshness and engaging open-air feel, enhanced by Hamilton McFadden’s mobile camerawork. Oland’s Charlie is a fully rounded and delightful characterisation and he is well-matched by Bela Lugosi as a sinister psychic who is suspected of being the murderer. His presence foreshadows the consistent use of established and recognised screen villains in the Chan series who almost invariably turn out to be ‘red herrings’. They include Boris Karloff, George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, Douglass Dumbrille, Victor Jory, C. Henry Gordon and Henry Daniell. The film’s title derives from the saying: ‘Death is a black camel that kneels unbidden at every gate’. In 1933, both Biggers and his inspiration, Chinese detective Chang Apana, died. Biggers had refused to allow Fox to employ other writers to continue the film series once the original novels had been used up. But after his death, his widow sold the rights to the character to Fox and the studio decided to send Charlie round the world. The Chan films were made not at the main Fox studio at Westwood but at the subsidiary Western Avenue studio where the B pictures and series were filmed under the management of Sol Wurtzel. Budgeted at $200,000 to $250,000 per film, the Chans regularly brought in a million dollars in profit. The directors were mainly efficient journeymen who rarely rose from the ranks of B picture directors to A pictures. Bruce Humberstone and Norman Foster were exceptional in making the transition. Charlie Chan in London (1934) was scripted by British thriller writer Philip McDonald and directed by Eugene Forde. It is an English country house murder mystery complete with aristocratic characters, a fox hunt and a butler behaving suspiciously who turns out to be an undercover military intelligence officer. Charlie solves the murder of an RAF officer who has invented a silencer for war planes. The murderer is the house owner Geoffrey Richmond (Alan Mowbray), exposed at the end 199

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as a foreign-born masterspy Paul Frank, whose nationality is not disclosed, though audiences would probably assume him to be German. Charlie Chan in Paris (1935), written by Stuart Anthony and Edward T. Lowe from an original story by Philip MacDonald, was directed by Lewis Seiler. It has Charlie smashing a counterfeit bond racket, run by employees of a leading bank. Paris is characterised by louche cafés where wild ‘Apache’ dances are performed, elegant apartments and crime-haunted sewers. A new character entered the series now, Lee Chan, the thoroughly Americanised eldest of Charlie’s thirteen children. Lee, always described as ‘Number One Son’, and whose regular refrain was ‘Gee, Pop’, became Charlie’s good-looking, athletic, eager-beaver assistant in a bid to improve the series’ appeal to younger audiences. As played by Keye Luke, Lee was rapidly established as integral to the series. Luke (1904–91) had been born in Canton where his Chinese-American family were on holiday but he was raised in the United States where he became an accomplished artist. It was while working for the film studios in that capacity that he was persuaded to audition for The Painted Veil and thus embarked on a new career as an actor. He established a great rapport with Oland and left the series when Oland died, returning only for the last two Roland Winters Chans. During the war, he played Chinese and Japanese roles and subsequently appeared on Broadway (The Flower Drum Song) and in television series (Kung Fu, Anna and the King). The spookily atmospheric Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935), written by future series regulars Robert Ellis and Helen Logan and directed by Louis King, took its cue from the Tutmania which followed the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 and the subsequent publicity about an alleged Pharaoh’s curse, capitalised on by the Boris Karloff horror film The Mummy (1932). Subsequent Chan films would draw on horror film themes to provide inspiration: The Phantom of the Opera for Charlie Chan at the Opera and The Mystery of the Wax Museum for Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum. Charlie Chan in Egypt focused on an archaeological expedition and the excavation of an ancient tomb, that of the High Priest Ahmati. The discovery and opening of the tomb drew directly on accounts of the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb and the series of murders which follows is attributed to a similar curse. Charlie is sent by the French Archaeological Society to 200

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investigate the theft and sale of ancient relics from the tomb. He is assisted this time not by fast-talking Lee but slow-moving, sleepy-eyed, drawling black comic actor Stepin Fetchit as Snowflake. A series of apparently supernatural happenings, a murdered professor discovered in a mummy case, his son apparently dropping dead while playing Egyptian music, mysterious appearances by the god Sakhmet in the tomb, all turn out to have had human origin and the culprit is exposed as one of the other archaeologists who undertakes the murders in order to get his hands on a secret hoard of treasure discovered in a hidden vault in the tomb. Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935) was directed by James Tinling and written by Edward T.  Lowe and Gerard Fairlie. Like MacDonald, Fairlie was an imported British thriller writer who had taken on the task of writing Bulldog Drummond adventures after the death of his creator, Sapper. Charlie, assisted again by his enthusiastic son Lee, visits the land of his birth, characterised by luxury hotels and waterfront dives, this time assisting the British and American intelligence services who on behalf of the League of Nations are seeking to break up an opium-smuggling ring. The ring’s mysterious leader turns out to be an American crook posing as a secret service agent. The Chan films continued to be a staple of production after the merger which created 20th Century-Fox. The first film after the merger was Charlie Chan’s Secret (1936). It was scripted by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan, joined on this occasion by Joseph Hoffman. Ellis and Logan were to provide some of the best scripts in the series. The film was stylishly directed by Gordon Wiles, better known as an art director and his experienced visual sense was evident throughout. He made excellent use of a sinister old house, honeycombed with secret passages and fitted out with all the paraphernalia for staging fake séances, which was the main locale of the action. Charlie travels to San Francisco and solves the disappearance and subsequent murder of the heir to the Colby fortune which involves him with a formidable old matron (Henrietta Crosman) who has a fondness for séances and the Ouija board and her assorted relatives, one of whom turns out to be a murderer. The themes of séances and spiritualism tapped into the upsurge of interest in the desire to contact the dead following the slaughter of the Great War. Following this, Charlie was put into a series of stories with domestic American settings and a background in the flourishing leisure industries 201

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(the circus, the racetrack, the opera, Broadway) which saw the production team on top form. There were only two overseas excursions (Berlin for the Olympics and Monte Carlo), no doubt a reflection of the uncertain international situation where war clouds were gathering both in the West and the East. The engaging Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936), directed by Harry Lachman and written by Robert Ellis and Helen Logan, had Charlie and his family (thirteen children and his wife) visiting the circus, with location scenes shot at a real circus wintering in Los Angeles. Charlie solves the murder of the circus proprietor and the shooting of a trapeze artist in a story that involves a killer ape, Charlie menaced by a poisonous snake, Lee Chan in drag as a nursemaid and a delightful team of midget dancers, George and Olive Brasno. Charlie Chan at the Racetrack (1936) was directed by Bruce Humberstone from a screenplay by Robert Ellis, Helen Logan and Edward T. Lowe, based on an original story by Lou Breslow and Saul Elkins. Taking place partly on a liner travelling from Hawaii to California and partly at the Santa Juanita racetrack (for which scenes were shot at the real Santa Anita Racetrack), this has Charlie (assisted by Lee who had signed on with the liner’s crew as a cabin boy) breaking up a race track gambling ring which switched horses and fixed races, murdering an owner and a jockey to protect their operation. This entry in the series achieved the perfect balance of pace, mystery and humour. Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936), directed by Humberstone from a screenplay by Scott Darling and Charles Belden based on an original story by Bess Meredyth, is often cited as Chan fans’ favourite film. This is because it gives Oland a worthy co-star in Boris Karloff, who plays with his customary power and sincerity an amnesiac opera singer, escaped from a mental asylum, who is suspected of committing the murders of two singers backstage at the opera. With intriguing overtones of the horror classic The Phantom of the Opera, this has the added novelty of featuring a pastiche opera Carnival composed by Oscar Levant in which Karloff appears as Mephisto, his singing voice dubbed by baritone Tudor Williams. There is a particularly funny scene when Lee, who is acting as an extra in the opera dressed as a medieval guardsman, is chased by police sergeant Kelly but cannot be identified as he discovers all the guardsmen are played by Chinese extras. 202

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In Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937), directed by Humberstone from a script by Ellis and Logan based on a story by Paul Burger, a revolutionary new remote control device is stolen from an experimental plane in Hawaii. Charlie follows the trail to Berlin, travelling on the airship Hindenburg. Coincidentally Charlie’s number one son, Lee, is part of the US Olympic team as a swimmer. In Berlin Charlie investigates and thwarts attempts by an international arms dealer, the classic bogeyman of interwar fiction, and the senior diplomat of an unnamed foreign power to get hold of the device. Charlie succeeds in recovering it and identifies the thief – the inventor of the device who has sold the rights to someone else and now wanted to get it back and profit from it. Not only was Lee Chan on hand but also number three son, a boy scout, Charlie Chan Jr., played by Layne Tom Jr., who later also played number five son, Tommy, and number seven son, Willy. Perhaps inevitably the focus of the film is firmly on the American participants in the Olympics. Thanks to newsreel footage, cleverly incorporated into the film, we see the US Olympic team arriving in Berlin, the torchbearer entering the stadium and lighting the Olympic flame, and the procession of the athletes, shown in longshot. The only non-American participant seen is Jack Lovelock of New Zealand winning the 1500 metres. We see the American team, including Jesse Owens, winning the 400 metres relay, the footage intercut with the film’s characters on the sidelines, shouting ‘Come on, Jesse’. Two of the characters in the film participate in the Games, Dick Masters in the pole vault and Lee Chan in the swimming, their participation indicated by close-ups of the actors intercut with longshots of the actual events. The film ends with Lee Chan winning the gold medal in the 100 metres freestyle. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – the venue of the 1932 Olympics – was used to film location scenes with the actors. What is remarkable about the depiction of the Olympics in the film is that it is completely de-Nazified. There is no Hitler, no swastikas, no ‘sieg heil’ salutes and no SS uniforms. The swastika is even blacked out on the tail of the Hindenburg. The use of the airship in the film is historically interesting as it blew up and burned only two weeks before the film was released in 1937. The German authorities in the film are represented by a comically pompous German police inspector and his policemen, all clad in their traditional pre-Nazi police uniforms. So if Hitler had intended the 203

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Olympics to boost his regime and ideology, 20th Century-Fox, the producers of the film, at least did not contribute to that plan. The writers of the script Robert Ellis and Helen Logan certainly saw the propaganda intent behind the games as they have the leading spy, Charles Zaraka, say: A most illuminating spectacle, Mr Chan. The nations of the world about to struggle for supremacy in the field of sports. Yet behind all this there is another struggle going on constantly – for world supremacy in a more sinister field. It is not a game for amateurs, Mr Chan. I hope you get my meaning.

To which Charlie replies: ‘Could not be more clear if magnified by 200 inch telescope’. This was prescient as Hitler himself said in 1937: ‘Athletes are to be admired not as sportsmen, but rather as political troops who treat sporting contests only as their particular branch of the great struggle as a whole.’ The de-Nazification of the Games and the heroic presence of Jesse Owens probably explains why the Nazis saw fit to ban the film from being shown in Germany.7 Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937) saw the return of Eugene Forde as director, working now with a script by Charles Belden and Jerry Cady from a story by Art Arthur, Robert Ellis and Helen Logan. Back into New York and a familiar world of nightclubs, gangsters and fast-talking reporters, Charlie and Lee are caught up in the murder of a gangster’s moll and the search for her diary which reveals many secrets involving the criminal underworld. Charlie unmasks the culprit as a blackmailing reporter, who feared exposure. Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo (1937) was again directed by Forde from a script by Belden and Cady based on a story by Ellis and Logan. This found Charlie and Lee on their way to the Paris Exposition where Lee was due to exhibit one of his paintings. In Monte Carlo, characterised by its casino and luxury hotels, Charlie solves the theft of a million dollars’ worth of bonds and three associated murders. But the film is distorted by a hammy over-the-top performance by Harold Huber as a comical local police chief, who gets far too much footage. This was a pity as the film turned out to be Warner Oland’s last and it was inferior to many of the other 20th Century-Fox Chans. Oland’s heavy drinking was an open secret but it eventually led to the collapse of his marriage which in turn induced a nervous breakdown. Work 204

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was under way on Charlie Chan at the Ringside, directed by James Tinling from a Belden and Cady script, in which Charlie solves the murder of a boxer and breaks up a corrupt gambling ring. Rather than scrap it, Fox simply had it reworked as a vehicle for their other Oriental detective Mr Moto and completed it as Mr Moto’s Gamble, with Peter Lorre investigating, assisted by Lee Chan, who is said to be taking a course in criminology under the celebrated sleuth. After his hospitalisation, Oland signed a new contract with Fox for three more Chan films and left for a visit to his boyhood home in Sweden. While there, he contracted bronchial pneumonia and died aged only 58 on 6 August 1938. Gerard Fairlie recorded his memories of the experience of writing Charlie Chan in Shanghai in his autobiography: It was fun writing a Charlie Chan picture at Fox at that time, for the whole studio seemed to have an affectionate feeling about Charlie and took a proprietary interest in any new adventure of his. That small studio was a happy family.

He recalled of Warner Oland: Warner Oland was a sound actor, who got typed as Charlie Chan in spite of himself, and was tremendously successful in the role. He could portray the deceivingly mild, polite and apparently slow old Chinaman … with great effect. In many scenes he could hold the audience spellbound while standing perfectly still, and only moving his eyes in one direction or another, before he gently gave utterance to an apt Chinese proverb. This was always most effective.

But Fairlie adds that Oland’s memory was failing due to age and the director had a blackboard erected on the set with Oland’s lines inscribed in large letters. The producer Edward Lowe warned Fairlie when writing to keep the individual scenes as short as possible, particularly when Oland had dialogue to speak. This may have had the beneficial effect of speeding up the pace of the film. But it was almost certainly the drinking rather than his age that caused the memory problems.8 Oland had initially continued to undertake Oriental villain roles alongside his Charlie Chan films. He played the treacherous Chinese warlord 205

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in Shanghai Express (1932), the murderous Chinese secret society leader in The Son-Daughter (1931), the corrupt Eurasian nightclub owner in Mandalay (1934), the sinister Indian Prince in Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934) and the Japanese werewolf in The Werewolf of London (1935). But after 1935 he appeared exclusively in Chan films and he became identified totally with the role. His value to Fox is demonstrated by his increases in salary. He was initially contracted for $10,000 per film but this soon went up to $12,500. From Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936) he received $20,000 a film, and from Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937) $30,000. The offer of a new three film contract even after his breakdown underlines his value to Fox. For Charlie was not only popular in America, he was equally popular in Europe. Graham Greene, then a film critic, wrote of Charlie Chan at the Circus in The Spectator (17 July 1936): As for Charlie Chan he needs no recommendation. The films in which he appears are all genuine detective films as distinct from thrillers, they are always well made and well-acted. The new picture is particularly agreeable, for we see Mr Chan for the first time in a domestic setting and meet not only his amorous eldest son but his complete family of fourteen.

The degree of cultural penetration of the Chan films in Britain can be demonstrated by a reminiscence. My father, who spent his entire life in Birmingham and had no connection with either the United States or China, always referred to me as ‘Number One Son’. It was not until I became familiar with the Charlie Chan films that I  understood the reference and not until I started work on the book that I recognised it as potent evidence of the impact of the series on a young working-class Englishman in the 1930s. The popularity of the Chan character both at home and abroad led 20th Century-Fox to seek a replacement for Oland. They tested a variety of actors before settling on Missouri-born character actor Sidney Toler. He needed more makeup than Oland to be convincingly Oriental and turned in a Charlie Chan who was more sardonic and sharp-tongued. While smiling as much as his predecessor, he had less of Oland’s genuine warmth and benignity but he displayed the razor-sharp intelligence more obviously than the mild-mannered Oland. However, he was effective in the role and 206

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Figure 9.2. Sidney Toler as Charlie Chan

it made him a star. Keye Luke chose not to continue as Lee Chan without Oland, with whom he had developed a particular rapport. To launch Toler, Fox recalled series veterans, director Humberstone, perhaps the best of all the Chan directors, and scriptwriter Charles Belden, who had provided the final two Oland scripts. The story was set on Chan’s home turf in Honolulu. But the action, set mainly aboard a freighter in the harbour, was absolutely conventional. A mystery man is murdered and $300,000 stolen. An array of suspects emerges, including the great George Zucco gleefully parodying his customary mad doctor role as a psychologist who keeps a human brain alive in a chemical apparatus, before the least likely person is unmasked as the culprit. But, setting the pattern for future Tolers, there was a greater injection of comedy than in the Oland Films. The unremarkable plot was enlivened by much more footage than usual of the Chan family. The thirteen children are comically unruly at dinner and there is a summons to the hospital by son-in-law Wing Foo (Philip Ahn) for the birth of the first Chan grandchild. Instead of number one son Lee, 207

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said to be away at college, Charlie is now hampered by number two son, Jimmy, and number five son, Tommy. The perpetually blundering Jimmy was played by Victor Sen Yung in the same eager-beaver manner as Keye Luke’s Lee but was considerably more irritating than Lee had been. Tommy was played by Layne Tom Jr., who had previously played number three son, Charlie Jr. in Charlie Chan at the Olympics. Further comic relief was supplied by Eddie Collins as the nervous animal keeper supervising a cargo of wild animals being transported on the freighter to the zoo. Charlie Chan in Honolulu having proved successful at the box office, Fox resumed the series with Toler settling comfortably in the role. Charlie Chan in Reno (1939) was scripted by Frances Hyland, Albert Ray and Robert E. Kent from a story by Philip Wylie, and was directed by Norman Foster, fresh from his triumphs in the Mr Moto series. It was the first of three highly successful Chan pictures from him. Neatly plotted and well-paced, the film also had a generous leavening of comedy from Eddie Collins as a nervous, garrulous cabdriver, Slim Summerville as a disgruntled, lugubrious local sheriff and Victor Sen Yung as an over-exuberant Jimmy Chan who contrives to be robbed of his car and his clothes en route to Reno. Set in the divorce capital of America, it has a divorcee Mrs Bentley found murdered in an exclusive hotel, another intending divorcee arrested for the murder and Charlie Chan, called in by her husband, identifying the real murderer. Hamilton McFadden, who had made a very good job of directing Warner Oland in The Black Camel but abandoned directing after a largely unremarkable career in B pictures in the 1930s, played the small role of the hotel clerk as he embarked on an equally unremarkable acting career. Charlie Chan on Treasure Island (1939), directed by Norman Foster from an original script by John Larkin, was Toler’s equivalent of Charlie Chan at the Olympics. It took place in part at the San Francisco World’s Fair on Treasure Island in the bay, utilising background footage of the actual site. After Charlie’s friend, the writer Paul Essex, commits suicide aboard the China Clipper, Charlie unmasks a fake psychic Dr Zodiac as the brains behind a blackmail racket which drove Essex to kill himself. He further demonstrates that Zodiac is in reality the magician Rhadini (Cesar Romero). He kills his own servant, disguised as Zodiac, to put people off the scent, but is exposed during his stage magic act in a dramatic theatrical 208

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finale. There are several atmospherically staged séances and much comical blundering from Jimmy Chan (‘Gee, I’m sorry, Pop’). Compared to Oland, Toler spends comparatively little time outside the United States, probably due to the uncertain international situation. A  notable exception to this is Charlie Chan in City in Darkness (1939), directed by Herbert Leeds. It is the last script for Chan to be written by the team of Robert Ellis and Helen Logan, who were involved in eight Chans altogether. When Bruce Humberstone was promoted from B pictures to A pictures and embarked on a string of hit musicals (Sun Valley Serenade, Iceland, Hello, Frisco, Hello) he took Logan and Ellis with him. Unusually, this Chan was based on a stage play by two émigré authors, the Austrian Jew Gina Kaus and the Hungarian Ladislas Fodor. Uniquely the film opens with a newsreel montage of events in September 1938. Europe is on the brink of war over the Czech crisis; Hitler’s armies are massed on the borders of Czechoslovakia and he demands the cession of the Sudetenland; the French army has been mobilised; the British cabinet is in emergency session and Mussolini is preparing to join Hitler. In Paris an air raid drill is being staged, with the city plunged into darkness. Charlie is in Paris for a reunion of First World War veterans. While there he helps to expose an espionage ring who are exporting munitions to France’s enemy, unnamed. The leading villain is arms dealer Petroff (Douglass Dumbrille) who ridicules France’s commitment to liberty and asks why France should fight for Czechoslovakia. He is murdered and the killer turns out to be his patriotic French butler who kills him in a struggle to prevent him authorising the shipment of the munitions. The Prefect of the Police tells the butler he is likely to be decorated rather than imprisoned for his actions. The film ends with the news that Hitler has invited the British and the French premiers to Munich to negotiate. The Prefect declares that there will be no war. Charlie sagely observes:  ‘Beware of spider who invites fly into parlour’. The film was shot in July 1939 and released in November, by which time Britain and France but not yet America were at war with Germany. There is no Jimmy Chan in this film but it is unbalanced by Harold Huber’s grotesque caricature of a Romanian police official, working with the Prefect of the Paris Police. Charlie Chan in Panama (1940), directed by Norman Foster, had a screenplay by John Larkin and Lester Ziffren, a former journalist who had worked 209

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in Latin America and Spain during the Civil War. With Charlie acting as an undercover agent in Panama, it had something of the feel and style of a Mr Moto film. Not surprising when you discover it is a script intended for the Moto series and revamped for Charlie Chan when the Moto series was discontinued. It was probably inspired by the arrest in 1938 of thirty Germans, accused of photographing American military installations in the Canal Zone. Charlie is seeking to identify a masterspy Reiner operating in the canal zone. The nationality is not specified but the clue is in the name. There is a series of murders and the discovery of a plot to sabotage the locks of the Panama Canal as the US fleet is sailing through. There is a series of ‘red herring’ suspects: Dr Grosser, a Viennese scientist experimenting with plague rats, a Czech refugee with a false passport who turns out to be an émigré baroness, an Egyptian cigarette seller Achmed Hamide and an English novelist Cliveden Compton (Lionel Atwill) who is revealed to be a British intelligence agent also on the trail of Reiner. Reiner turns out to be the least likely suspect, a fussy American school teacher Miss Finch who is duly arrested. At the end, as they watch the US fleet passing safely along the Canal, Jimmy observes:  ‘Gee, that’s a great sight’ and Charlie replies: ‘Intelligent defence of nation best guarantee for years of peace’. Veteran Chan director Eugene Forde was back for Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise, scripted by Robertson White and Lester Ziffren. It was a much altered remake of the novel Charlie Chan Carries On, much altered because in the original novel Charlie only appears halfway through. This begins in Honolulu with comic byplay between Charlie and his sons number two, Jimmy, and number seven, Willie (Layne Tom Jr.), before Charlie’s old friend, Inspector Duff of Scotland Yard is strangled in Charlie’s office. Charlie joins a world cruise which has already seen two murders by strangulation and which Duff was accompanying to identify the killer. There is another murder before the killer is exposed – a mad jewel thief posing as an archaeology professor. Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940) was directed by Lynn Shores from an original John Larkin script. This gripping and atmospheric thriller, with its horror film overtones of the classic The Mystery of the Wax Museum, was set almost entirely in a wax museum, Dr Cream’s Museum of Crime, during a thunderstorm, and came complete with chamber of horrors, a prowling criminal with a bandaged face, a chess-playing automaton, secret 210

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rooms and sliding panels. The Museum of Crime is the setting for a weekly outside broadcast of a radio programme called ‘The Crime League’. Charlie Chan and rival criminologist Dr Von Brom are guests on the show, discussing an old case on which they had disagreed. Von Brom is murdered and so too is the bandaged criminal. Chan exposes as the culprit the host and director of the programme, another criminal, believed dead, who had also had his face changed by plastic surgery. The final four films in the Toler series at Fox show signs of budget cuts. The average running time of the entries goes down from seventy-five minutes to sixty and the action of the films tends to be largely confined to a single set (luxury apartment, ancient ship, desert castle). But all four films were directed by Harry Lachman, who had been a painter and illustrator, and who bought a painterly sensibility to the construction of his images and used various camera angles and atmospheric lighting to ensure audience interest was maintained. Murder Over New York, scripted by Lester Ziffren, was yet another remake  – the third version  – of Behind That Curtain. This includes many elements from the original novel (a murdered Scotland Yard inspector who has been travelling across the world in pursuit of a missing woman; the disappearance of the inspector’s briefcase which is vital to the investigation; similar suspects to the book, including a suspiciously acting butler and an Indian man servant). Much of the action takes place in a penthouse apartment in New York. But it is all put into a topical wartime context. Inspector Drake, an old friend of Charlie’s, seconded from Scotland Yard to British Military Intelligence, is pursuing an agent called Narvo, responsible for acts of sabotage in the colonies and the United States. Charlie is enlisted to help and replies: ‘British tenacity and Chinese patience – unbeatable’. Drake is murdered and Charlie investigates. The finale takes place aboard a new experimental plane which Narvo plans to blow up but on which Charlie takes off with the suspects and unmasks respectable British stockbroker Richard Jeffrey (John Sutton) as Narvo. Dead Men Tell (1941), scripted by John Larkin, is a beautifully crafted little mystery, atmospherically lit and dominated by intense close-ups as Charlie investigates the murder of a feisty old woman, Patience Nodbury, who divides her pirate ancestor’s treasure map between four people as she prepares to stage a treasure hunt by ship to the Cocos Islands. It involves 211

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spectral appearances by the peg-legged, one-eyed ghost of the pirate Black Hook, actually the murderer in disguise, and Jimmy continually falling in the water. There are notable performances from Ethel Griffies as Patience and Milton Parsons as a sinister neurotic. Charlie Chan in Rio (1941), written by Samuel G.  Engel and Lester Ziffren, is a streamlined and simplified remake of The Black Camel with the action transposed from Hawaii to Rio. This was part of Fox’s cinematic implementation of the United States ‘Good Neighbour’ policy, aiming to cultivate good relations and improved markets in Latin America with the shrinking of Eastern and European markets resulting from the war. Fox produced a series of Technicolor musicals such as Down Argentine Way, That Night in Rio and Weekend in Havana as part of this programme. Local Latin colour is provided in a nightclub scene that recycles the songs from That Night in Rio but much of the action takes place in Lola Dean’s home. Charlie has arrived to arrest her for a murder but she too is murdered. An alleged Hindu mystic Marana (Victor Jory) turns out to be the murdered man’s brother seeking to find out the truth and the murderer of Lola is her faithful companion Helen Ashby, who is in reality the widow of the murdered man. There is some comic relief in an amusing scene of Jimmy being hypnotised and at the end of the film he is drafted. The final Fox film in the Toler series, Castle in the Desert (1942) was another original script by John Larkin. Like the other Lachmans it is carefully composed, beautifully lit and full of painterly touches. The intriguing premise has a series of murders committed at a castle in the Mojave Desert, which utilised the Baskerville Hall set from the 1939 production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, embellished with torture chamber, suits of armour and poison cabinet. Here lives eccentric, disfigured millionaire Paul Manderley (Douglass Dumbrille), who is writing a book about Cesare Borgia and insists on living in sixteenth-century conditions, without telephones or electric light. He is married to a descendant of the Borgias, Princess Lucretia della Borgia (known as Lucy). It is she who summons Charlie, accompanied by an on-leave Jimmy, to help. There turn out to be two overlapping plots. The two murders have been faked by Manderley’s lawyer and doctor who are scheming to get Manderley to declare his wife insane, which will lose Manderley his fortune under the terms of his father’s will. But Lucy’s stepbrother, believed killed in the Spanish Civil War, also 212

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turns up posing as a detective Watson King (Henry Daniell) and planning to get his hands on his sister’s money by murdering her husband. After Castle in the Desert Fox terminated the Chan series, partly because the closure of the Asian and European markets had affected profits on the series and partly because the federal government had begun to file anti-trust suits against the big film production companies and they started to reduce their output of B pictures and concentrate on quality A films. But Sidney Toler was reluctant to give up the role that had made him a star. He acquired the rights to the character from Biggers’s widow and did a deal to revive the series at the Poverty Row studio, Monogram. This resulted in some drastic changes. Budgets were reduced from $200,000 per film to $75,000 and shooting schedules from eight to three weeks. Victor Sen Yung departed and a variety of other Chan offspring turned up until Benson Fong became a regular in the role of number three son, Tommy Chan. Monogram sought insurance by casting black comedian Mantan Moreland as a regular, playing a variety of parts, latterly Charlie’s chauffeur Birmingham Brown. He played the character as a comic-cowardly rolling-eyed ‘darky’. This casting was designed to ensure bookings in cinemas in predominantly black areas. In two of the films, The Scarlet Clue and Dark Alibi, Moreland’s partner in his nightclub act, Ben Carter, turned up and their comic cross-talk act was incorporated into the action. The reduction in budgets showed, however, with the films having the familiar Monogram characteristics of unremarkable sets, supporting casts which with a few exceptions (Ian Keith, Milton Parsons, Cyril Delevanti, Mary Gordon) were usually mediocre and uninspired functional direction. Six of the Toler Monograms were directed by Phil Rosen, another of those once important directors who had passed their peak by the time the talkies arrived. Rosen had had a notable career in silent films, directing a highly praised biopic Abraham Lincoln (1924) and a lavish Valentino vehicle The Young Rajah (1922), but since the early 1930s he had been permanently mired in the lower depths of filmmaking. The first eight Toler Chans were all scripted by George Callahan. Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (1944) established Charlie as a member of the secret service stationed in Washington. But the first entry in the new series was an unpromising start. It is a tedious exercise in which an inventor is murdered and the plans for a revolutionary new torpedo stolen. 213

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It consists largely of Charlie interviewing the suspects until he unmasks the culprit Mrs Winters as a German masterspy. The only novelty was in having Charlie assisted by number three son, Tommy Chan (Benson Fong), and a daughter Iris (Marianne Quon). The Chinese Cat (1944) was a considerable improvement on its predecessor as Charlie, taking time off from his secret service work, sought to assist Leah Manning, whose stepfather Thomas Manning had been the victim of a locked-room murder mystery. Leah approaches Charlie when the eminent criminologist Dr Paul Rehnik (Ian Keith) publishes a book suggesting that her mother is the murderer. Charlie bets Rehnik that he can solve the murder in forty-eight hours, the loser paying $20,000 to Chinese War Relief. There are two more murders before Charlie demonstrates that Manning was killed by his business partner, Webster Deacon, with whom he had been involved in the theft of a fabulous collection of diamonds and whom he had double-crossed. Deacon is then murdered by another of the gang. The gang are eventually rounded up in their pier-end funhouse headquarters, after Tommy is subjected to a particularly brutal interrogation, and the stolen diamonds are found concealed in Chinese curios, in particular a large black Chinese cat. Charlie wins his bet. Charlie Chan in Black Magic (1944) has Charlie, this time assisted by his daughter Frances (played by an eponymous actress Frances Chan), breaking up a phony spiritualist racket. Bonner, the fake medium who is also a blackmailer, is shot dead at the séance and his wife Justine later induced by hypnotism to jump off a high building to her death. The culprit turns out to be a once-famous stage magician seeking revenge for the fact that his wife eloped with Bonner some years ago. The exposure of all the tricks of the fake medium is interesting but Moreland’s interminable comic-cowardly routine is tiresome. The Jade Mask (1945) reworks the plot of Charlie Chan in the Secret Service but with considerably more inventiveness than was seen in the original. The setting is still a lonely, fog-bound house where an inventor Harper (this time for a process for hardening wood to the consistency of steel) is murdered. Subsequently there are two more murders and the investigation proceeds against a background of gas chambers, death masks, vanishing policemen and various electrical gadgets. The murderer turns out to be the son of the original inventor of the process, anxious to retrieve 214

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it, and who is impersonating the murdered Harper’s assistant. His murder weapon is a ventriloquist’s dummy that fires poisoned darts. Charlie is assisted this time by number four son, Eddie Chan, played by Edwin Luke, the brother of Keye. The Scarlet Clue (1945), entertaining and inventive, makes excellent use of its setting in a 1940s radio and television studio. Charlie, assisted by Tommy and Birmingham, seeks to prevent foreign agents from stealing radar plans from a laboratory located on the floor above the radio and television studio. The setting allows for a series of broadcasting jokes (the bad-tempered sponsor, a Shakespearean actor reduced to playing ‘The Mad Monster’ and a male character actor playing Grandma in a radio soap opera). An actor and actress are killed by poison gas and the radio station owner is murdered when the floor of the elevator is retracted and he falls down the shaft. The culprit and masterspy turns out once again to be a woman – Mrs Marsh the sponsor. By far the best of the Tolers is The Shanghai Cobra (1945), co-written by George Callahan and George Wallace Sayre, and directed not by a tired hack at the end of their career but by a talented young director at the start of his. Phil Karlson went on to earn a notable reputation as a director of hard-edged, fast-paced crime films. He succeeds in imbuing this low-budget entry with real flair and style, by the use of inventive camera angles, atmospheric lighting, pacey staging and a film noir feel. Charlie, assisted by Tommy and Birmingham, helps to foil the theft of the government’s radium deposits from a bank vault and to identify a murderer who uses needles coated in cobra venom to kill his victims. There is even a flashback to Shanghai in 1935 to see the arrest and escape of the suspected murderer. The Red Dragon (1945), last of the Phil Rosen efforts, saw George Callahan recycling the stolen secret weapon gambit yet again. Charlie, assisted by Tommy and Birmingham’s cousin Chattanooga Brown (played by Willie Best), foils the plot by a gang of foreign agents to steal the secret of the ‘ninety fifth element’ (whatever that was). The only real novelty was the setting in Mexico, which taxed the threadbare resources of Monogram to the limit. Dark Alibi (1946) saw Karlson back to shoot a George Callahan script and showed him using his burgeoning cinematic skills to keep the film interesting, varying the pace, introducing elaborate tracking shots 215

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to break up the action, and creating gripping and effective sequences in prison and in a boarding house full of suspicious characters. Charlie, with Tommy and Birmingham, breaks up a racket in which banks are robbed and ex-convicts framed by the forging of their fingerprints. The ring-leader turns out to be a young and apparently sympathetic prison guard who is in fact a criminal mastermind. There was a new director, Terry Morse, and a new scriptwriter, Raymond Schrock, for the next Toler film, Shadows Over Chinatown (1946), which also saw the return of Victor Sen Yung as Jimmy Chan. In this film, Chan investigates a series of ‘torso murders’, in which wealthy older men married to younger women die on their honeymoons and their beneficiaries then disappear to turn up as torso murder victims. Dangerous Money (1946), directed by Terry Morse from a script by Miriam Kissinger, saw Charlie being assisted by Jimmy and Chattanooga Brown (Willie Best) in breaking up a ring of crooks responsible for the theft and circulation through the Pacific islands of ‘hot money’, looted at the end of the war. Half of the film takes place on a liner heading for Samoa and half on Samoa itself. There is a series of knife murders before Charlie apprehends the gang, headed by a fake missionary and his supposed wife, who is actually a man in drag. The Trap (1947), directed by Howard Bretherton and written by Miriam Kissinger, was Toler’s last Chan film and was a poor, studio-bound piece, mainly set in a Malibu beach house. The confused and tiresome story centred on a variety troupe holidaying on the beach. Several are strangled and the murderer is eventually killed in a car crash fleeing from the police. After eleven films at Monogram Sidney Toler died of cancer in February 1947. But the series was evidently profitable enough for Monogram to continue it, casting actor Roland Winters as Charlie. Mantan Moreland continued as Birmingham Brown and Victor Sen Yung remained, but now playing Tommy instead of Jimmy Chan. Keye Luke would return as Lee Chan for the final two films. But Monogram economised on production by recycling two of their Mr Wong scripts as Chan films. The Chinese Ring (1947), directed by William Beaudine and written by Scott Darling, is a scene for scene, line for line remake of Mr Wong in Chinatown, with Charlie now solving the murder of a visiting Chinese princess. Philip Ahn appears as a crooked Chinese sea captain. The Docks of New Orleans (1948), 216

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directed by Derwin Abrahams and written by Scott Darling, reworked Mr Wong, Detective and had Charlie solve the three locked-room murders of the partners in a chemical firm. Shanghai Chest (1948), directed by William Beaudine from a script by Scott Darling and Sam Newman, has Charlie solve a series of murders of people (judge, district attorney, juror) involved in the conviction of an innocent man. The Golden Eye (1948), directed by William Beaudine and written by Scott Darling, has Charlie break up a gold smuggling gang operating from a dude ranch in Arizona. The Feathered Serpent (1948), directed by William Beaudine, saw screenwriter Oliver Drake rework his 1936 screenplay for The Riders of the Whistling Skull to feature Charlie Chan and his sons Lee and Tommy. Set in Mexico, it has Charlie solving several murders linked to an Aztec temple, an ancient death curse and a search for hidden treasure. The final Winters Chan was The Sky Dragon (1949), directed by Lesley Selander from a script by Oliver Drake and Clint Johnston. Charlie with Lee and Tommy solves the theft of a large quantity of money from a plane after the crew and passengers have all been drugged. Apparently Monogram planned to make three more Chans in London to utilise frozen funds but the British government devalued the pound seriously reducing the amount of money available. The Chan series was terminated. It may also have been influenced by the fact that 1949 saw the final victory of the Communists in China and the creation by Mao Tse-Tung of the People’s Republic, after which Hollywood showed considerably less interest in China and the Chinese. Like Warner Oland, Boris Karloff did his bit to make amends for the negative portrayal of China in his Fu Manchu films. He took on the role of James Lee Wong. The character, created by Hugh Wiley and introduced in 1934, featured in a dozen short stories published in Collier’s Magazine. He was a thoroughly Americanised Chinese, a Yale graduate, an expert in Chinese literature and culture, a perfect English speaker who worked as an undercover agent in San Francisco for the State Department. Inspired by the success of 20th Century-Fox with Charlie Chan and Mr Moto, Poverty Row studio Monogram purchased the rights to the character and were fortunate enough to secure the services of Boris Karloff, who 217

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had not only played Fu Manchu for MGM but also the Chinese warlord Wu Yen Fang for Warner Bros. He signed a six-picture contract. In deference to Karloff ’s English accent, his James Lee Wong was made a graduate of Oxford and Heidelberg Universities and a private investigator rather than State Department agent. Karloff is the sole raison d’être of the Wong films. As The Los Angeles Times (13 October 1938)  put it, Karloff ‘enacts a Chinese detective … in a splendid fashion. He completely immerses himself in the role.’ This is a wholly accurate assessment. Karloff ’s Mr Wong is elegant, bespectacled, softly spoken, ultra-polite, shrewd and highly intelligent. He sports a flower in his button hole, a rolled umbrella and a homburg hat. Karloff brought the same dedication and sincerity to these low-budget thrillers as he did to much more important, bigger budget productions. This is demonstrated for instance in the powerful scene in which he convinces three spies that they have inhaled poisoned gas and are slowly dying. Wong’s civilised qualities are emphasised by contrast with the behaviour of the American police captain Bill Street (Grant Withers), with whom he works on his cases. Street is obnoxious, a loud-mouthed, boorish, bad-tempered bully, even with his ostensible girlfriend, the eager-beaver female reporter Bobby Logan (Marjorie Reynolds). Apart from Karloff, the films are characterised by limited sets, mediocre supporting casts and totally uninspired direction. William Nigh, who directed all five of Karloff ’s Wong films, had been a top MGM director in silent-screen days, responsible for such notably exotic melodramas as Mr Wu with Lon Chaney, Across to Singapore with Ramon Novarro and Desert Nights with John Gilbert. But since the coming of sound, he had been relegated to the ranks of Poverty Row hacks. He was content to cut from one medium shot set-up to the next with almost no changes of camera angle and few close-ups, rendering the films visually uninteresting. They survive by virtue of their mystery plots and Karloff ’s attractive characterisation. In Mr Wong, Detective (1938), scripted by Houston Branch, Wong solves the locked-room murders of the three owners of a chemical plant. The culprit was the inventor of a poison gas who believed his formula had been stolen from him by the three men. The murder weapon was his poisoned gas stored inside a glass globe, shattered by the sound of police car sirens. It was a similar method to the one employed by the murderer in Charlie Chan in Egypt when the glass containing the 218

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poison gas was shattered by the high note of a violin. Wong not only solved the murders but rounded up a gang of spies, led by Captain Anton Mohl, seeking to steal the gas formula for an unnamed foreign country. The Mystery of Mr Wong (1939), written by Scott Darling, has Wong solving the murder of an unpleasant and unpopular collector of Oriental curios, Brandon Edwards, who is shot dead during a game of charades at his own party. His recent acquisition, the finest sapphire in the world, ‘The Eye of the Daughter of the Moon’, also disappears. Wong succeeds in proving that Edwards was murdered by a fellow criminologist to avenge his sister, Edwards’s first wife, whom he had driven to suicide. Wong also recovers the sapphire. Mr Wong in Chinatown (1939), written by Scott Darling, which The Los Angeles Times (14 July 1939) called ‘without doubt the best of the James Lee Wong stories’, has Wong solving the murder of a Chinese princess visiting America to buy warplanes. She was murdered by her American banker so he could steal the funds she deposited with him and cover his own embezzlement from the bank. The Fatal Hour (1940) (UK Mr Wong at Headquarters), written by Scott Darling and Joseph West, has Wong solving the murder of an undercover policeman investigating a waterfront smuggling racket, dealing in Chinese jade. The policeman had been a boyhood friend of Street. The leader of the smuggling ring is unmasked after he has also murdered a jewellery store owner, a radio performer and his own ex-mistress. Doomed to Die (1940) (UK The Mystery of Wentworth Castle) was written by Michel Jacoby and Ralph Bettinson. After the loss of the steamship Wentworth Castle following a mysterious fire at sea, shipping tycoon Cyrus Wentworth is found murdered and his daughter’s fiancé, of whom Cyrus disapproved, is arrested as the culprit. Wong discovers that the ship was carrying a million and a half dollars’ worth of bonds – the secret funds of a powerful tong – being smuggled into the United States. After the tong man Kai Ling, who was carrying the bonds, is also murdered, Wong is able to prove that both murders were carried out by the Wentworth lawyer and chauffeur who have stolen the bonds. There are interesting echoes of the current political situation in China in the stories. Although Japan with whom the United States was still at peace, is not mentioned by name, audiences would have been in no doubt what hostile country the films had in mind. The precious 219

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sapphire ‘The Eye of the Daughter of the Moon’ had been stolen during the looting of Nanking which, better known as the ‘Rape of Nanking’, was a Japanese war crime perpetrated in 1937. Wong returns the sapphire to China at the end of the film. The murdered Chinese princess was buying war planes for her country, implicitly for use against the Japanese invaders. The jade being smuggled into San Francisco, Wong is told by an elderly Chinese jeweller, had been taken from the ‘captured provinces’, rudely wrenched from the temple settings by ‘alien hands’ (i.e. the Japanese). The final film under Karloff ’s Monogram contract was not a Wong film but a horror film, The Ape (1940), also directed by William Nigh. This was produced to capitalise on a resurgence of popularity in the horror film genre indicated by the box office success of Son of Frankenstein (1939) and Tower of London (1939), big budget productions in which Boris Karloff had starred for Universal. Almost the only genuine Oriental in the casts of the Wong films had been Richard Loo who played the small parts of an elderly Chinese tong leader in Mr Wong in Chinatown and Doomed to Die and an elderly Chinese jeweller in the Fatal Hour. But Monogram took the bold decision to attempt to continue the Wong series without Karloff and with a genuine Chinese actor. Keye Luke, the erstwhile number one son of Charlie Chan, was cast as Wong, now known as Jimmy, in The Phantom of Chinatown (1941), directed by Phil Rosen and written by Joseph West. Four Wong films were planned with Luke. But the sad fact was that neither exhibitors nor audiences were interested in the series without Karloff, bookings were sparse and the series was terminated. This illustrated the problem Chinese actors encountered when reaching for stardom.9 Such was the success of Charlie Chan both on the page and on the screen that in 1934, after Earl Derr Biggers died, The Saturday Evening Post dispatched John P. Marquand to the East specifically to research and devise a detective series with a new Oriental sleuth. Marquand travelled extensively in China, Japan and Korea, keeping detailed notes on what he saw and heard and soaking up atmosphere. The result was not a new Chinese detective but a Japanese agent, Mr Moto. Marquand eventually produced five Moto tales serialised in the Post and subsequently published as hardback novels: No Hero (serialised as Mr Moto Takes a Hand) (1935), Thank 220

The Oriental Detectives: Charlie Chan, James Lee Wong and Mr Moto

You, Mr Moto (1936), Think Fast, Mr Moto (1937), Mr Moto is So Sorry (1938), and Last Laugh, Mr Moto (serialised as Mercator Island) (1942).10 Hollywood was immediately interested. Warner Bros bought the rights to No Hero but never filmed it. 20th Century-Fox bought the rights to Thank You, Mr Moto and Think Fast, Mr Moto and more significantly the right to commission original scenarios for the character. Marquand himself submitted ideas for further Moto films, notably Mr Moto in the Persian Oilfields and Mr Moto is So Sorry (which eventually became the basis for a novel) but Fox did not produce either of them. The likelihood is that they were thought to relate too closely to the current world political situation, something which the studios sought to avoid as much as possible. Mr Moto is So Sorry explored internal feuds within the Japanese establishment and rival bids by Japan and Russia to take over an independent principality on the borders of Mongolia. Eventually the Mr Moto film series ran to eight films released between 1937 and 1939. Fox cast Peter Lorre, who was under contract to them, as Mr Moto and he made an immediate hit in the role which was developed differently from the character in the books. Diminutive and bespectacled, ever smiling as if at some private joke, ultra-polite, Stanford University educated, milk-drinking and cat-loving, Mr Moto differed from Charlie Chan in his partiality for disguise and his mastery of ju-jitsu and from the Mr Moto of the books who had neither of these attributes. Although Lorre adopted elaborate disguises as a Mongolian camel driver, Persian street pedlar, a Tibetan lama, a Viennese archaeologist, and a German artist, once he spoke there was no mistaking the distinctive and much-imitated Lorre voice.11 There was also a certain ruthlessness about Moto, demonstrated by his casually throwing a crooked ship’s steward overboard in Think Fast, Mr Moto and repeatedly stabbing a murderous Mongolian in Thank You, Mr Moto. The first film in the series, Think Fast, Mr Moto was based on the third Marquand novel. It was assigned to Norman Foster to direct in what was a considerable act of faith by studio chief Sol Wurtzel. Foster had been an amiable but unremarkable young leading man in Fox films of the early 1930s but found himself being eclipsed by an up-and-coming young actor called Henry Fonda. So he switched to directing. He had only directed two films, both murder mysteries, I Cover Chinatown (1936) for a Poverty Row outfit and Fair Warning (1937), which he also wrote, for the Fox B Unit. Handed Think 221

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Fast, Mr Moto, he completely rewrote the script and considerably altered Marquand’s narrative which was mainly set in Hawaii and involved the transfer of funds via an American bank and a Honolulu gambling house to support Chinese rebels in Japanese-occupied Manchuria. This would have been too controversial politically for Fox. So the script now turned on Mr Moto (who is given the first name Kentaro) investigating the smuggling of drugs and diamonds from Shanghai to San Francisco concealed in Oriental curios. The Shanghai constructed for the film was like that in Charlie Chan in Shanghai a city of luxury hotels and waterfront dives. The accent of the film was on intrigue, action and adventure rather than detection. It was stylish, fast-moving and exotic, incorporating Chinese New Year celebrations in San Francisco, romance aboard an ocean liner, chases through the Shanghai streets and mayhem in a gambling den run by a sinister White Russian. Foster proved to have a strong visual sense, a feel for narrative drive and pace and, as an ex-actor himself, a good rapport with his cast. The result was that he would direct and co-write six of the Motos. As William K. Everson has observed: The films gave the impression of being produced on a much bigger scale than the Chan films, but this was largely an illusion. Moto got out of doors more than Chan, so that there was a greater use of exterior locations. Too there was more physical action, resulting in well-staged chases through the elaborate Fox street sets, which in the Chan films were often used only for quick establishing scenes … with the help of a double, Peter Lorre engaged in some extremely lively fight scenes which often brought the films to a much more rousing conclusion than the predictable confrontations of the Chans.12

The ju-jitsu scenes, in which Lorre was doubled by stuntman Harvey Parry, proved to be one of the most popular elements of the films. Also Foster made good use of documentary footage from Fox’s travelogues to impart authenticity to his foreign settings. Thank You, Mr Moto (1937), another much altered adaptation of a Marquand original, was directed by Norman Foster from his own script, co-written with Willis Cooper. After a striking opening in the Gobi desert where a disguised Moto survives a murderous attack by a Mongolian camel driver, the film centred on the attempts of a gang of 222

The Oriental Detectives: Charlie Chan, James Lee Wong and Mr Moto

Russian and German crooks in Peking to steal a set of ancient scroll paintings which together form a map indicating the whereabouts of the lost tomb of Genghis Khan and its fabulous treasure. The scrolls are owned by the impoverished aristocratic family, the Chungs. When all else fails, the gang seize and torture Prince Chung (Philip Ahn) who refuses to speak until they start beating up his mother, Madame Chung (Pauline Frederick). When Madame Chung tries to kill the gang leader, she is shot dead and, after the gang depart, Prince Chung kills himself because of the shame. Moto and young American diplomat Tom Nelson pursue and defeat the criminals, recovering the scrolls. But Moto burns them so his friend Prince Chung ‘can face his ancestors without shame’. Moto survives several attempts on his life and a high-speed car chase and crash into the harbour. The original and highly political Marquand plot had Mr Moto seeking to prevent the militarist faction in Japan manipulating Chinese warlord Wu Fung to cause an incident which would justify Japanese intervention in China. This was omitted from the film version. The next Moto film was a distinct departure from the formula. Mr Moto’s Gamble (1938), directed by James Tinling and written by Charles Belden and Jerry Cady, started out as a Chan film, Charlie Chan at the Ringside. But when Warner Oland was hospitalised, Sol Wurtzel ordered it rewritten as a Moto film, which enabled him to retain much of the already shot footage. Moto is in this version teaching a criminology course for would-be detectives, one of whom is Charlie’s son Lee Chan (Keye Luke). Moto has to solve the murder of a boxer shortly after a big fight and to unravel a betting scam, in a narrative more typical of Chan than Moto. But several ju-jitsu scenes were added for the benefit of Moto fans. It was back to the Orient for Mr Moto Takes a Chance (1938), directed by Foster from a script by Lou Breslow and John Patrick based on an original story by Foster and Willis Cooper. In this film Moto is instrumental in foiling a colonial revolt. The setting is the French protectorate of Tong Moi on the borders of Indo-China where Moto is working as an archaeologist and posing at times as an ancient Tibetan lama. He is searching for a munitions dump which he suspects of being assembled to facilitate a revolt. He locates the dump under a native temple and identifies the leader of the planned revolt as Bokor, the fanatical High Priest of Shiva. He declares that 223

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he plans to drive all foreigners from Asia. Moto is aided by two American newsreel cameramen and Victoria Mason, a round-the-world aviatrix, who turns out to be a British intelligence agent, also investigating rumours of an uprising and concerned about the threat to Burma. They defeat not only Bokor but also, when he has been neutralised, the local ruler, Rajah Ali, who wants to use the weapons supply to ‘restore the ancient glory of Tong Moi.’ Both Bokor and Ali are killed, the munitions destroyed and the potential revolts suppressed. This is the film that firmly establishes Moto’s official status. In Think Fast, Mr Moto, he is an amateur, an importer of Oriental curios who is seeking privately to stop the smuggling of drugs and chemicals. In Thank You, Mr Moto he is an official investigator for the International Association of Importers looking into the smuggling of Chinese art treasures. But by the time of Mr Moto Takes a Chance he has become and remains for the rest of the series an agent of the International Police. In the books, he is straightforwardly a secret agent of Japan. Mysterious Mr Moto (1938) was directed by Foster from a script by himself and the accomplished thriller writer Philip Macdonald. It is largely set in London as Moto seeks to break up the League of Assassins, hired killers of prominent people. Their latest target is the pacifist, Chopin-loving Czech industrialist Anton Darvak, ‘The Steel King of Prague’ (Henry Wilcoxon), who refuses to sell his new formula for hardened steel to munitions manufacturers. Having failed to buy it, these sinister figures have hired the League to assassinate him. Moto manages to prevent the assassination at an art gallery exhibition and to unmask the secret head of the League as an apparently comic upper-class Englishman David Scott-Frencham (Erik Rhodes). This film is full of delights:  the escape from Devil’s Island by Moto, posing as a Japanese murderer, and Brissac, a member of the League; Moto’s pose as a Japanese houseboy who can mix cocktails but cannot speak English properly; a spectacular pub brawl in Limehouse; a whirlwind chase through the London streets with Moto hijacking a taxi; Moto shinning up a drainpipe to escape pursuers and disarming his opponents by ju-jitsu. Mr Moto’s Last Warning (1939), directed by Foster from another original screenplay by Foster and Macdonald, was an excellent fast-moving, espionage thriller, more overtly political than other Moto films. Mr Moto, posing as a Port Said curio-shop owner, foils a plot by agents of an unnamed 224

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foreign power (presumably an Axis country) to blow up the French Fleet as it approaches the mouth of the Suez Canal, framing a British agent for the crime and undermining the friendship between France and Britain on which the peace of Europe depends. The head of the gang is ventriloquist Fabian the Great, who is eventually shot dead by his British girlfriend Connie Porter (Virginia Field) when she realises what he is up to. Moto is helped and frequently hindered by an English silly-ass travel writer Rollo Venable (Robert Coote). The setting – the raucous bars, seedy hotels, colourful music hall and shadowy backstreets of Port Said – is exploited to the full. Moto survives several attempts on his life and Lorre is supported by a strong cast, including Ricardo Cortez and George Sanders as the principal villains and John Carradine as an undercover British agent, who meets his end in a diving bell, starved of oxygen. Mr Moto in Danger Island (1939) saw a change of personnel with Herbert I.  Leeds directing and Peter Milne scripting from an adaptation by John Reinhardt and George Bricker of a novel not by Marquand but by John W. Vandercook. Murder in Trinidad had been filmed at Fox as a straightforward thriller in 1934 and involved Nigel Bruce as a British detective investigating murders in the British colonial setting of Trinidad. The new version transferred the setting to the American colony of Puerto Rico and made Mr Moto the detective. He is retained by the Diamond Syndicate to break a diamond smuggling racket on the island. He as usual survives several attempts on his life and eventually unmasks the smugglers’ leader, who has also murdered a detective and the island’s governor, as the benign shipowner Sutter (Jean Hersholt). The film has the usual quota of ju-jitsu bouts, an exciting speedboat chase and an atmospheric expedition into a fetid and reputedly haunted swamp. Moto is given a comic sidekick in the person of a slow-witted wrestler Twister McGurk played by Warren Hymer in his trademark bemused lunkhead manner. The final film in the series, Mr Moto Takes a Vacation (1939) saw the return of Foster as director and of Foster and Macdonald as writing team. They were on top form in a story which sees Moto in San Francisco, planning a holiday but called in to help protect the newly discovered crown of the Queen of Sheba. It is targeted by three different criminals, American gangster Joe Rubla, bogus insurance investigator Paul Borodoff and an international jewel thief called Metaxa, who is believed to be dead. 225

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There are the customary attempts on Moto’s life and as in Mr Moto’s Last Warning he is more hindered than helped by a silly-ass Englishman Archie Featherstone (George P.  Huntley Jr.). There is an exciting chase through Chinatown and two major brawls, one in a Chinese restaurant and the other in the Museum of Antiquities, before the three crooks are rounded up. Lorre is very well supported in this film by Lionel Atwill as the pompous museum curator and Joseph Schildkraut as an elderly crippled philanthropist who turns out to be the elusive Metaxa. By now Peter Lorre had tired of the role and was increasingly disgruntled at the fact that he earned only $10,000 per film when Warner Oland was on $30,000 per film for the Chan series. Added to this, anti-Japanese feeling was rising in America as a result of wartime atrocities in China and this was beginning to affect the film’s profitability. So Fox terminated the series and permitted Lorre to negotiate a way out of his contract. After freelancing for a few years, he signed with Warner Bros where he was to appear in a string of cinematic masterpieces, notably The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca and The Mask of Dimitrios. But film fans would remember him fondly for the Moto series. Charlie Chan’s popularity in the 1930s and 1940s turned to vilification in the 1970s and afterwards as Civil Rights activists began to denounce earlier ethnic characters as racist. A new term ‘Asian-American’ emerged to replace the previous and now condemned terms ‘Oriental’ and ‘Asiatic’. Jessica Hagedorn titled her anthology of contemporary Asian American fiction Charlie Chan is Dead (1993) and denounced the character as ‘a part of the demeaning legacy of stereotypes’. Lan Cao and Himilce Novas in Everything You Need to Know about Asian-American History (1996) declared:  ‘In the eyes of many Asian Americans, Charlie Chan is in essence an effeminate, wimpy, nerdy, inscrutable Asian male, who helped plant the seed of the pervasive racist stereotype of Asian Americans as the “model minority”.’ When the Fox Movie Channel planned to run a series of Chan films in 2003, three leading Asian-American organisations – the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium, the National Asian American Telecommunications Association and the Organization of Chinese Americans  – organised a successful campaign to have the series cancelled, calling Chan ‘one of the most offensive Asian caricatures of America’s cinematic past’.13 226

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Karla Rae Fuller, in a thoughtful account of the Oriental detectives, brackets Chan together with Mr Moto and James Lee Wong and subjects them to similar criticism. These are that the roles are played by Caucasian rather than Asian actors, that they act in the service of Western institutions and interests rather than non-Western and that they wear Western dress.14 But these are unrealistic objections. She asks why Asian actors, who played Charlie in silent films, were no longer used after the arrival of the talkies. The answer to that is simple. In the silent films, Charlie is a subordinate character and could easily be played by Asian actors. Once he moved centre stage, the studios needed a star and since the career decline of Sessue Hayakawa, there was no Asian male star in Hollywood. When Mongram tried the experiment of casting a handsome and talented Chinese American actor Keye Luke as James Lee Wong, audiences rejected the film. Studios had to take audience expectations into consideration when producing films. Their aim of maximising audiences was met by dramatising popular and widely held value systems and worldviews. In their films with Oriental detectives, they do not seek to explain China or Japan but, against a background of deep-rooted racism towards Chinese and Japanese Americans, enshrined in federal and state laws, they seek to advance the official American ideal of integration in the ‘melting pot’ of immigrant communities. This explains Mr Moto’s education at Stanford University but also the total Americanisation of Chan’s children. All three of the Oriental detectives however don traditional dress in their off-duty leisure hours. The idea that Chan demeans the Chinese, Keye Luke, ‘one of the most eloquent defenders of the series’, dismissed: ‘‘Demeans! My God! You’ve got a Chinese hero.’15 Indeed Charlie is the most positive image of a Chinese man in Hollywood cinema. He is clever, courteous, philosophical, wise, patient, urbane and noble, a devoted husband and father and a master of the witty put-down. These put-downs were embodied in the celebrated Chan aphorisms, which the writers clearly had great fun in devising: ‘perfect crime, like perfect doughnut, has hole’, ‘hasty conclusion like gunpowder – easy to explode’, ‘foolish rooster who sticks head in lawnmower ends in stew’ and so on. He is also conspicuously brighter than any of the white characters he encounters. The often repeated criticism, mainly made by people who have not seen the films, is that Charlie speaks in pidgin English. He does not. He speaks 227

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English as a foreign language very formally and precisely. Characters who mock or resent Charlie (Sergeant Kelly in Charlie Chan at the Opera, Sheriff Fletcher in Charlie Chan in Reno and Max Corday in Charlie Chan in Paris) are themselves ridiculed by the films. Ignorance of Chinese customs and culture is sent up, as when Lieutenant Nelson of the New York police in Charlie Chan on Broadway, thinking ‘Chinatown, My Chinatown’ is the Chinese National Anthem, orders it played to welcome Charlie, entirely forgetting that he is an American citizen. Everyone else normally greets Charlie as an equal and acknowledges his gifts with respect and admiration. Perhaps the most decisive evidence that Charlie was seen as a positive image and role model is the reaction of China to the films. At a time when the Chinese government regularly protested about Hollywood’s depictions of China and banned anything they considered derogatory or demeaning, they never complained about the Charlie Chan films and when Warner Oland visited China in 1936 he was mobbed by his fans. For the moment, Charlie Chan’s illustrious career has ended in parody, just like that of Dr Fu Manchu. Peter Ustinov did a comic version of Charlie in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981), filming of which was picketed by Asian-American activists carrying banners reading ‘Charlie Chan is Racist’, and just as he would spoof Fu Manchu in The Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu (1980), Peter Sellers did a send-up of Charlie as detective Sidney Wang in Neil Simon’s comedic get-together of classic sleuths, Murder by Death (1976). One thing is certain:  if Charlie ever returns to the screen, he will be played by an Asian actor. The days of ‘yellow-face’ acting have gone forever.

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Notes Chapter 1: Western Attitudes to China and the Chinese 1 There is a large literature on Western attitudes to China and the Chinese. I  have found the following titles the most useful for this work:  Harold R. Isaacs, Images of Asia:  American Views of China and India (revised edn), New York:  Capricorn Books, 1962; Colin Mackerras, Western Images of China, Oxford:  OUP, 1989; Jonathan Spence, The Chan’s Great Continent:  China in Western Minds, New  York:  W. W.  Norton, 1998; T. Christopher Jespersen, American Images of China 1931–1949, Stanford, CA:  Stanford University Press, 1996; Karen J. Leong, The China Mystique, Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 2005; Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism:  Asia in the Middlebrow Imagination, 1945–1961, Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 2003; William Wu, The Yellow Peril:  Chinese Americans in American Fiction 1850–1940, Hamden, CT:  Archon Books, 1982; Robert Bickers, Britain in China, Manchester:  Manchester University Press, 1999; Sascha Auerbach, Race, Law and ‘The Chinese Puzzle’ in Imperial Britain, Basingstoke:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2009; Frances Wood, No Dogs and Not Many Chinese: Treaty Port Life in China 1843–1943, London:  John Murray, 1998. Ross G. Forman, China and the Victorian Imagination, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. 2 Paul A. Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience and Myth, New York: Columbia University Press, 1997, p. 15. 3 Wu, The Yellow Peril, p. 7. 4 Wu, The Yellow Peril, pp. 30–40. 5 Wu, The Yellow Peril, p. 71. 6 Colin Holmes, John Bull’s Island:  Immigration and British Society 1871–1971, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 79. 7 Marek Kohn, Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1992, p. 59. 8 Virginia Berridge and Griffith Edwards, Opium and the People: Opiate Use in Nineteenth-Century England, New Haven and London:  Yale University Press, 1987, pp. 195–205. 9 Jenny Clegg, Fu Manchu and the Yellow Peril:  The Making of a Racist Myth, Oakhill: Trentham Books, 1994, p. 32.

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Notes to pages 5–24 10 Auerbach, Chinese Puzzle. 11 Kohn, Dope Girls, p. 96. 12 See Kohn, Dope Girls, for detailed discussion of the Billie Carleton and Freda Kempton cases. 13 Jespersen, American Images of China, p. xx 14 Bickers, Britain in China, p. 232. 15 Isaacs, Images of Asia, p. 46. 16 Leong, The China Mystique, pp. 141–3. 17 Isaacs, Images of Asia, p. 187. 18 Isaacs, Images of Asia, p. 37. 19 Klein, Cold War Orientalism, p. 5. 20 Klein, Cold War Orientalism, p. 22. 21 Klein, Cold War Orientalism, p. 34.

Chapter 2: ‘The Yellow Peril Incarnate in One Man’: The Literary Fu Manchu 1 Sax Rohmer, The Bride of Fu Manchu, London: Corgi Books, 1967, p. 13. 2 M. P. Shiel, The Yellow Danger, New York: R. F. Fenno & Co., 1899, p. 127. 3 Arthur Conan Doyle, The Final Problem, in The Complete Sherlock Holmes Short Stories, London: John Murray, 1963, pp. 540–1. 4 Sax Rohmer, The Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, London: Corgi Books, 1967, p. 16. 5 Northrop Frye, The Secular Scripture, Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 50–4, 161–71, 177. 6 Marek Kohn, Dope Girls:  The Birth of the British Drug Underground, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1992, p. 57. 7 Sax Rohmer, The Drums of Fu Manchu, London: WDL, 1963, p. 110. 8 Sascha Auerbach, Race, Law and ‘The Chinese Puzzle’ in Imperial Britain, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009, pp. 109–10. 9 Cay Van Ash and Elizabeth Sax Rohmer, Master of Villainy, London:  Tom Stacey, 1972, p. 297. 10 J. C. Robertson, The Hidden Screen, London:  Routledge, 1989, p.  25; Kohn, Dope Girls, pp. 134–9. 11 Rohmer, Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, p. 153. 12 Rohmer, Mystery, p. 71. 13 Rohmer, Daughter of Fu Manchu, London: Corgi Books, 1967, pp. 188–9. 14 Rohmer, The Bride of Dr Fu Manchu, London: Corgi Books, 1967, p. 140. 15 Rohmer, Bride, p. 73. 16 Rohmer, Bride, p. 139. 17 Rohmer, President Fu Manchu, London: Corgi Books, 1967, p. 23.

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Notes to pages 24–44 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

Rohmer, President Fu Manchu, pp. 75–6. Rohmer, President Fu Manchu, p. 76. Rohmer, Drums, pp. 9–10. Rohmer, Drums, pp. 27, 28, 29. Rohmer, Drums, p. 31. Rohmer, Drums, p. 44. Rohmer, Drums, p. 155. Rohmer, The Island of Fu Manchu, London: WDL, 1965, p. 208. Rohmer, Island, p. 185. Rohmer, Island, pp. 260–1, 282. Rohmer, The Shadow of Fu Manchu, New York: Pyramid Books, 1970, p. 35. Rohmer, Shadow, p. 67. Rohmer, Re-enter Dr Fu Manchu, London: Corgi Books, 1967, p. 138. Rohmer, Emperor Fu Manchu, London: Herbert Jenkins, 1959, p. 16. Rohmer, Emperor Fu Manchu, p. 141. Rohmer, Emperor Fu Manchu, p. 142. Rohmer, Emperor Fu Manchu, pp. 181–4. Robert Bickers, Britain in China, Manchester:  Manchester University Press, 1999, p. 25. 36 William F. Wu, The Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American Fiction 1850–1940, Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1982, p. 164.

Chapter 3: The Devil Doctors: Cinematic Fu Manchu 1 Letter from Mary Cadogan to the author, 20 July 2013. 2 Sean Street, Crossing the Ether:  British Public Service Radio and Commercial Competition 1922–1945, Eastleigh: John Libbey Publishing, 2006, p. 88. 3 On the radio versions of Fu Manchu, see W. O. G. Lofts and R. E. Briney, ‘Sh-h-h! Dr Fu Manchu is on the Air’, Rohmer Review, 11 (Dec. 1973), pp. 9–10, 15–16; Ray Stanich, ‘Radio Fu Manchu’, Rohmer Review, 12 (Sept. 1974), pp. 13–15; John Nieminski, ‘Sax Rohmer in Chicago’, Rohmer Review, 14 (July 1976), pp. 5–7. 4 Charles Higham, Merchant of Dreams: Louis B. Mayer, M.G.M. and the Secret Hollywood, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1993, p. 182. 5 John Baxter, Hollywood in the Thirties, London: A. Zwemmer Ltd, 1968, p. 81. 6 James Kotsilibas-Davis and Myrna Loy, Myrna Loy:  Being and Becoming, London: Bloomsbury, 1987, p. 75. 7 On the making of The Mask of Fu Manchu see George E. Turner and Michael H. Price, ‘Behind The Mask of Fu Manchu’, American Cinematographer (Jan. 1995), pp. 68–74, and Gregory William Mank, ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu: A Production History’, Scarlet Street, 24 (1997), pp. 42–51, 78–81. 8 Sax Rohmer, The Mask of Fu Manchu, London: Corgi Books, 1967, p. 175.

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Notes to pages 46–59 9 Cay Van Ash and Elizabeth Sax Rohmer, Master of Villainy, London:  Tom Stacey, 1972, p. 114. 10 The PCA file on The Mask of Fu Manchu, Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Los Angeles. 11 Mank, ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu: A Production History’, p. 81. 12 Rohmer Review, 9 (Aug. 1972), p. i. 13 Jim Harmon and Donald F. Glut, The Great Movie Serials, London:  Woburn Press, 1973, p. 176. 14 Mank, ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu: A Production History’, p. 84. 15 Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome, London: Mayflower Books, 1978, p. 249. 16 Tsai Chin, Daughter of Shanghai, London: Corgi Books, 1990, p. 189. 17 Douglas Wilmer, Stage Whispers, Tenbury Wells, Worcs.:  Porter Press International, 2009, p. 168. 18 Tim Bergfelder, International Adventures: German Popular Cinema and European Co-Productions in the 1960s, New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2005, pp. 216–22. 19 Monthly Film Bulletin 32 (Nov. 1965), p. 163. 20 David Del Valle, ‘The Return of the Horror King Christopher Lee’, Scarlet Street, 45 (2002), p. 50. 21 Antonio Lazaro-Reboll, ‘Daring Cycles:  The Towers-Franco collaboration, 1968–70’, New Review of Film and Television Studies, 11 (2013), p. 98. 22 Terry Pace, ‘The Elusive Harry’, Scarlet Street, 44 (2002), p. 72. 23 There is now a definitive account of Sax Rohmer and his creation in Christopher Frayling, The Yellow Peril:  Dr Fu Manchu and The Rise of Chinaphobia, London: Thames & Hudson, 2014.

Chapter 4: Fu Manchu’s Daughter: The Unique Career of Anna May Wong 1 Karla Rae Fuller, Hollywood Goes Oriental: Caucasian Performance in American Film, Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010, pp. 24–5. 2 There are two excellent biographies of Anna May Wong, Anthony B. Chan’s Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna May Wong (1905–1961), Lanham, MD:  Scarecrow Press, 2003, and Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012, and there is a complete guide to her film, stage, radio and television work in Philip Leibfried and Chei Mi Lane, Anna May Wong, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2004. 3 James Robert Parrish and William T. Leonard, Hollywood Players: The Thirties, Carlstadt, NJ: Rainbow Books, 1976, p. 533.

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Notes to pages 60–79 4 On ‘Film Europe’ see Andrew Higson and Richard Maltby, eds, ‘Film Europe’ and ‘Film America’:  Cinema, Commerce and Cultural Exchange 1920–1939, Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1999. 5 Chan, Perpetually Cool, p. 215. 6 Chan, Perpetually Cool, p. 219. 7 Roy Moseley, Evergreen:  Victor Saville in his own Words, Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000, p. 51. 8 On Anna May Wong’s European career, see Tim Bergfelder, ‘Negotiating Exoticism: Hollywood, “Film Europe” and the Cultural Reception of Anna May Wong’, in Higson and Maltby, ‘Film Europe’, pp. 302–24. 9 Hodges, Anna May Wong, pp. 88–9. 10 Basil Dean, Mind’s Eye, London: Hutchinson & Co., 1973, p. 64. 11 Dean, Mind’s Eye, pp. 67–8. 12 Dean, Mind’s Eye, p. 67. 13 Margaret Lane, Edgar Wallace, London: Book Club, 1939, p. 342. 14 Lane, Edgar Wallace, p. 343. 15 Daisuke Miyao, Sessue Hayakawa:  Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom, Durham, NC, and London: Duke University Press, 2007, p. 15. 16 Miyao, Sessue Hayakawa, p. 174. 17 Miyao, Sessue Hayakawa, pp. 214–20. 18 There is no evidence that the rebels are intended to be Communists as Chan, Perpetually Cool, p. 228, suggests. 19 Brian Taves, Robert Florey, The French Expressionist, Metuchen, NJ, and London: Scarecrow Press, 1987, pp. 150–4. 20 Kevin Brownlow, Behind the Mask of Innocence. London: Jonathan Cape, 1990, pp. 332–3. 21 John Loder, Hollywood Hussar, London: Howard Baker Press, 1977, p. 112. The self-evident opium addiction of another of the characters may also have led to censorial intervention. 22 Anne Veronica Witchard, Thomas Burke’s Dark Chinoiserie, Farnham: Ashgate, 2008, p. 119. 23 Jeffrey Richards, The Age of the Dream Palace, London:  I.B.Tauris, 2010, p. 112. 24 Karen J. Leong, The China Mystique, Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 2005, p. 81. 25 Hodges, Anna May Wong, p. 110. 26 Chan, Perpetually Cool, pp. 147–8. 27 Taves, Robert Florey, p. 207. 28 Richards, Dream Palace, p. 114. 29 Taves, Robert Florey, pp. 209–10. 30 Leong, China Mystique, p. 103.

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Notes to pages 79–90 31 Leong, China Mystique, p. 1. 32 Hodges, Anna May Wong, p. 204.

Chapter 5: Chinatown Nights 1 Ruth Mayer, ‘ “The Greatest Novelty of the Age”: Fu-Manchu, Chinatown and the Global City’, in Vanessa Künnemann and Ruth Mayer (eds), Chinatown in a Transnational World, London: Routledge, 2011, p. 118. 2 In continental Europe, the small Chinese settlements were known as ‘Chinese quarters’ rather than Chinatowns. See Künnemann and Mayer, Chinatown, p. 45. 3 Quoted in Anne Veronica Witchard, Thomas Burke’s Dark Chinoiserie: Limehouse Nights and the Queer Spell of Chinatown, Farnham, Surrey : Ashgate, 2009, p. 1. 4 Thomas Burke, Limehouse Nights, London: Daily Express Fiction Library, n.d., pp. 7–10. 5 Witchard, Dark Chinoiserie, pp. 6–7, 148–50. 6 Witchard, Dark Chinoiserie, pp. 171–2. 7 Robert Lee, Orientals: Asian Americans in Popular Culture, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999, p. 129. 8 See Julie Lesage, ‘Artful Racism, Artful Rape’, in Christine Gledhill (ed.), Home is Where the Heart is: Studies in Melodrama and the Woman’s Film, London: BFI, 1987, pp. 235–54; Gina Marchetti, Romance and the ‘Yellow Peril’, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1993, pp. 32–45; Lee, Orientals, pp. 127–36. 9 Edward Wagenknecht, The Movies in the Age of Innocence, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962, pp. 123–4. 10 Jon Burrows, ‘ “A Vague Chinese Quarter Elsewhere”: Limehouse in the Cinema, 1914–36’, Journal of British Cinema and Television, 6 (2009), pp. 282–301. See also John Seed, ‘Limehouse Blues: Looking for Chinatown in the London Docks 1900–40’, History Workshop Journal, 62 (2006), pp. 58–85. 11 On the 1936 Broken Blossoms see Rodney Ackland and Elspeth Grant, The Celluloid Mistress, London:  Allan Wingate, 1954, pp. 57–66; Richard Schickel, D. W. Griffith: An American Life, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984, pp. 578–81; and Tobias Hochscherf, The Continental Connection: German-Speaking Émigrés and British Cinema, 1927–45, Manchester:  Manchester University Press, 2011, pp. 114–15. 12 Paul O’Dell, Griffith and the Rise of Hollywood, London:  Zwemmer, 1970, p. 123. 13 Kevin Gough-Yates, ‘The British Feature Film as a European Concern: Britain and the Émigré Film-Maker, 1933–45’, in Günter Berghaus (ed.), Theatre and Film in Exile: German Artists in Britain, 1933–1945, Oxford: Berg, 1989, p. 158. 14 Schickel, D. W. Griffith, p. 450. 15 Arthur Lennig, ‘Dream Street’, The Silent Picture, 17 (1973), p. 31. 16 Lennig, ‘Dream Street’, p. 35.

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Notes to pages 91–113 17 Peter Stanfield, ‘ “American as Chop Suey”:  Invocations of Gangsters in Chinatown’, in Lee Grieveson, Esther Sonnet and Peter Stanfield (eds), Mob Culture, Oxford: Berg, 2005, pp. 238–9. 18 Kevin Brownlow, Behind the Mask of Innocence, London: Jonathan Cape, 1990, p. 321. 19 Brownlow, Behind the Mask, p. 330. 20 William K. Everson, American Silent Film, New York: Oxford University Press, 1978, p. 345. 21 Frank T. Thompson, William A. Wellman, Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1983, pp. 90–1. 22 Thompson, William A. Wellman, p. 121. 23 Edward G. Robinson, All My Yesterdays, New  York, Hawthorn Books, 1973, p. 126. 24 Monthly Film Bulletin, 30 (1963), p. 145. 25 Lucy Chase Williams, The Complete Films of Vincent Price, Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1998, p. 176. 26 On Flower Drum Song see Lee, Orientals, pp. 172–9; Christina Klein, Cold War Orientalism, Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 2003, pp. 226–41; Karla Rae Fuller, Hollywood Goes Oriental, Detroit:  Wayne State University Press, 2010, pp. 192–200. 27 Derek Elley (ed.), Variety Movie Guide, London: Hamlyn, 1991, p. 204. 28 Lee, Orientals, p. 175.

Chapter 6: The ‘Real’ China 1 Ruth Vasey, The World According to Hollywood, 1918–1939, Exeter:  University of Exeter Press, 1997, pp. 154–5. 2 John Eugene Harley, World-Wide Influences of the Cinema, Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press, 1940, pp. 110–12. 3 Harley, World-Wide Influence, p. 113. 4 Josef von Sternberg, Fun in a Chinese Laundry, San Francisco: Mercury House, 1965, pp. 263–4. 5 John Baxter, Von Sternberg, Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2010, p. 152. 6 C. A. Lejeune, Chestnuts in her Lap, London: Phoenix House, 1947, p. 76. 7 Gene Tierney, Self-Portrait, New York: Wyden Books, 1979, p. 94. 8 Lee Server, Robert Mitchum: ‘Baby I Don’t Care’, London: Faber & Faber, 2002, pp. 263–7, 269–70. 9 Baxter, Von Sternberg, pp. 244–7. 10 John Baxter, Hollywood in the Thirties, London: Zwemmer, 1968, p. 98. 11 Vasey, World According to Hollywood, pp. 175–9.

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Notes to pages 116–132 12 Derek Elley (ed.), Variety Movie Guide, London: Hamlyn, 1991, p. 450. 13 Roland Flamini, Thalberg:  The Last Tycoon and the World of MGM, London: Andre Deutsch, 1994, p. 254. 14 Charles Higham, Merchant of Dreams:  Louis B.  Mayer, MGM and Secret Hollywood, London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1993, p. 222. 15 The Eddie Mannix MGM Ledger, by courtesy of Dr H. Mark Glancy. 16 World Film News, 2 (May 1937), p. 22 17 Quoted in T. Christopher Jespersen, American Images of China 1931–1949, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996, p. 26. 18 For an account of Paul Muni’s involvement see Jerome Lawrence, Actor:  The Life and Times of Paul Muni, New York:  Putnam’s 1975, pp. 221–7; for Sidney Franklin’s memories of the filming see Kevin Brownlow, ‘Sidney Franklin and “The Good Earth” (MGM, 1937)’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 9 (1989), pp. 79–89. 19 Vasey, World According to Hollywood, p. 198. 20 Louis Pizzitola, Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion and Propaganda in the Movies, New York: Columbia University Press, 2002, pp. 33–43. 21 The William Schaefer Warner Bros. Ledger, by courtesy of Dr H. Mark Glancy.

Chapter 7: Miscegenation Melodramas 1 Gina Marchetti, Romance and the ‘Yellow Peril’:  Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction, Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1993, p. 1. 2 Robert G. Lee, Orientals, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999, p. 162. 3 Kevin Brownlow, Behind the Mask of Innocence, London: Jonathan Cape, 1990, p. 347. 4 Robert S. Birchard, Cecil B.  DeMille’s Hollywood, Lexington, KY:  University Press of Kentucky, 2004, p. 68. 5 Dewitt Bodeen, ‘Sessue Hayakawa: First International Japanese Film Star’, Films in Review, 27 (April 1976), p. 196. 6 On The Cheat, see Marchetti, Romance and ‘The Yellow Peril’, pp. 10–32; Sumiko Higashi, Cecil B.  DeMille and American Culture:  The Silent Era, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1994, pp. 100–12; Lee, Orientals, pp. 120–6; Daisuke Miyao, Sessue Hayakawa:  Silent Cinema and Transnational Stardom, Durham, NC, and London: Duke of University Press, 2007, pp. 21–49. 7 Stef Frank (ed.), To Dazzle the Eye and Stir the Heart: The Red Lantern, Nazimova and the Boxer Rebellion, Brussels: Cinematek, 2012, p. 134. 8 Susan Courtney, Hollywood Fantasies of Miscegenation: Spectacular Narratives of Gender and Race, 1903–1967, Princeton and Oxford:  Princeton University Press, 2005, p. 119.

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Notes to pages 134–158 9 Krystyn R. Moon, Yellowface, New Brunswick, NJ:  Rutgers University Press, 2005, pp. 26–9. 10 Edward G. Robinson, All My Yesterdays, New  York:  Hawthorn Books, 1973, p. 105. 11 Frank Capra, The Name Above the Title, New York: Macmillan, 1971, pp. 140–1. 12 Capra, Name Above the Title, pp. 141–2. 13 James C. Robertson, The British Board of Film Censors:  Film Censorship in Britain, 1896–1950, London: Croom Helm, 1985, p. 66. 14 Joseph McBride, Frank Capra:  The Catastrophe of Success, London:  Faber & Faber, 1992, p. 281. 15 Derek Elley (ed.), Variety Movie Guide, London: Hamlyn, 1991, p. 59. 16 Capra, Name Above the Title, p. 142. 17 Marchetti, Romance and ‘The Yellow Peril’, p. 57. On attempts to censor General Yen in order to make it acceptable for Chinese release, see Eric Snoodin, Regarding Frank Capra, Durham, NC, and London:  Duke University Press, 2004, pp. 51–75. 18 W. Macqueen-Pope, The Footlights Flickered, London:  Herbert Jenkins, 1959, p. 226. 19 Matheson Lang, Mr Wu Looks Back, London: Stanley Paul, 1940, p. 112. 20 Lang, Mr Wu Looks Back, p. 114. 21 Lang, Mr Wu Looks Back, p. 196. 22 Macqueen-Pope, Footlights Flickered, p. 226. 23 Monthly Film Bulletin, 22 (November 1955). 24 Frederick Lamster, Souls Made Great through Love and Adversity:  The Film Work of Frank Borzage: Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1981, pp. 184–8. 25 Peter Bogdanovich, John Ford, Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1978, p. 107. 26 Tag Gallagher, John Ford: The Man and His Films, Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 1986, p. 236. 27 Joseph McBride, Searching for John Ford, London: Faber & Faber, 2003, p. 674. 28 Gallagher, John Ford, p. 436.

Chapter 8: Allies and Enemies 1 Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black, Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies, London: I.B.Tauris, 1988. 2 Peter Conn, Pearl S.  Buck:  A  Cultural Biography, Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 254. 3 Koppes and Black, Hollywood Goes to War, pp. 240–1. 4 The Eddie Mannix MGM Ledger, by courtesy of Dr H. Mark Glancy.

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Notes to pages 159–195 5 Alan Davies, A. J.  Cronin:  The Man Who Created Dr Finlay, Richmond, Surrey : Alma Books, 2011, p. 159. 6 Koppes and Black, Hollywood Goes to War, p. 243. 7 Davies, A. J. Cronin, p. 169. 8 Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wanger, Hollywood Independent, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994, p. 442. 9 Koppes and Black, Hollywood Goes to War, pp. 249–50. 10 Bernard F. Dick, The Star-Spangled Screen: The American World War II Film, Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1996, p. 230. 11 Thomas Doherty, Projections of War: Hollywood, American Culture and World War II, New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, pp. 135–6. 12 Doherty, Projections of War, p. 134. 13 Koppes and Black, Hollywood Goes to War, p. 263. 14 Koppes and Black, Hollywood Goes to War, pp. 74–5. 15 Robert Fyne, The Hollywood Propaganda of World War II, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1997, p. 63. 16 Edward Dmytryk, It’s a Hell of a Life But Not a Bad Living, New York: Times Books, 1978, p. 56. 17 Richard Jewel with Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story, London:  Octopus, 1982, p. 186. 18 Anthony Slide, Frank Lloyd:  Master of Screen Melodrama, Albany, GA:  Bear Manor, 2009, p. 142. 19 Lester Cole, Hollywood Red, Palo Alto: Ramparts Press, 1981, pp. 218–21. 20 Clyde Jeavons, A Pictorial History of War Films, London: Hamlyn, 1974, p. 171. 21 Charles S. Young, ‘Missing Action: POW Films, Brainwashing and the Korean War, 1954–1968’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 18 (1998), pp. 49–74; Susan L. Carruthers, ‘ “The Manchurian Candidate” (1962) and the Cold War Brainwashing Scare’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 18 (1998), pp. 75–94. 22 Monthly Film Bulletin, 36 (February 1969), p. 30. 23 Steve Chibnall, J. Lee Thompson, Manchester:  Manchester University Press, 2000, p. 318. 24 Slide, Frank Lloyd, pp.  146–7. There is an excellent biography of Philip Ahn in Hye Seung Chung, Hollywood Asian, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006. 25 Allen Eyles, John Wayne and the Movies, London: Tantivy Press, 1976, p. 147. 26 Randy Roberts and James S. Olson, John Wayne, American, New  York:  Free Press, 1995, p. 417. 27 Dmytryk, Hell of a Life, p. 193. 28 Dmytryk, Hell of a Life, p. 196. 29 Wes D. Gehring, Leo McCarey: From Marx to McCarthy, Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005, pp. 226–7.

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Notes to pages 196–227 30 Mel Martin, The Magnificent Showman:  The Epic Films of Samuel Bronston, Albany, GA: Bear Manor Media, 2007, p. 127.

Chapter 9: The Oriental Detectives: Charlie Chan, James Lee Wong and Mr Moto 1 Yunte Huang, Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honourable Detective and his Rendezvous with American History, New York: W. W. Norton, 2010, p. xviii. 2 Charlie Chan: The Warner Oland Collection, Booklet Notes, 20th Century-Fox Home Entertainment. 3 See e.g. William K. Everson, The Detective in Film, Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1972, p. 73; Ken Hanke, Charlie Chan at the Movies, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1989, p. xiii; Michael R. Pitts, Famous Movie Detectives, Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1979, p. 41. 4 Arne Lund, Nordic Exposures:  Scandinavian Identities in Classical Hollywood Cinema, Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2010, pp. 117–44. 5 Earl Derr Biggers, ‘The House Without a Key’, in Celebrated Cases of Charlie Chan, Poole: New Orchard Editions, 1985, p. 68. 6 Yunte Huang, Charlie Chan, p. 203. 7 Thomas Doherty, Hollywood and Hitler 1933–1939, New  York:  Columbia University Press, 2013, p. 30. 8 Gerard Fairlie, Without Prejudice, London:  Hodder & Stoughton, 1952, pp. 180–2. 9 For an account of Boris Karloff ’s participation in the Mr Wong films, see Stephen Jacobs, Boris Karloff: More than a Monster, Sheffield: Tomahawk Press, 2011, pp. 223–4, 244–6, 254, 259. 10 Millicent Bell, Marquand:  An American Life, Boston:  Little Brown, 1979, pp. 204–11. 11 On Peter Lorre’s involvement in the Mr Moto series, see Stephen D. Youngkin, The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre, Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2005, pp. 146–61. 12 Everson, Detective in Film, p. 80. 13 The hostile reaction is analysed and responded to by Yunte Huang in Charlie Chan, pp. 278–88. 14 Karla Rae Fuller, Hollywood Goes Oriental, Detroit:  Wayne State University Press, 2010, pp. 71–120. 15 Hanke, Charlie Chan at the Movies, p. xv.

239

Index References to images are in italics. 7 Women (film, 1966) 147–9 20th Century-Fox 159, 160, 168, 169, 221, 226 and Charlie Chan 201, 206, 207, 208, 212, 213 55 Days at Peking (film, 1962) 191–5 Abbott, George 128 Across to Singapore (film, 1928) 59 Adventures of Fu Manchu, The (TV series) 49 Ahn, Philip 66, 115, 121, 124, 160, 168, 177 Ambler, Eric 191 Anderson, Michael 191 Andre, Gwili 111 Ape, The (film, 1940) 220 Asche, Oscar 70 Asian-Americans 66, 101–4, 226–7 Asther, Nils 137, 140 Aylward, Gladys 163 Ayres, Lew 134 Bainter, Fay 134 Bamboo Prison, The (film, 1955) 179–80 banditry 7, 106, 114–15 Bankhead, Tallulah 128, 129 Barbarian and the Geisha, The (film, 1958) 126 Barricade (film, 1939) 114–15 Barrymore, Lionel 157 Barthelmess, Richard 84 Battle Beneath the Earth (film, 1967) 182–3 Battle for China, The (film, 1944) 152–4 Battle of Dorking, The (Chesney) 13 Beaudine, William 217 Behind That Curtain (film, 1929) 197, 211 Behind the Rising Sun (film, 1943) 173–5 Belasco, David 96, 97 Bell, Monta 134 Bergman, Ingrid 163 Berke, William 170 Berlin Olympics 203–4 Betrayal from the East (film, 1945) 170–1 Bierce, Ambrose 3 Biggers, Earl Derr 196–7, 199 Binyon, Claude 189

Birth of a Nation, The (film, 1915) 85, 125 Bitter Tea of General Yen, The (film, 1933) 106, 136–40, 148 Black Bird, The (film, 1926) 82, 93 Black Camel, The (film, 1931) 198, 199 Blood Alley (film, 1955) 186–7 Blood of Fu Manchu (film, 1968) 54, 55, 56 Blood on the Sun (film, 1945) 175–7 Blystone, John G. 198 Boleslavski, Richard 115 Bombs Over Burma (film, 1943) 78 Boothby, Guy 14 Borzage, Frank 146 Boxer Rebellion 1, 2, 20, 36–7 Brabin, Charles 43, 90 Brahm, John (Hans) 87 Brandon, Henry 46–7, 48 Breen, Joseph 46, 121 Bretherton, Howard 216 Bride of Fu Manchu, The (Rohmer) 12, 19, 22–3, 36 Brides of Fu Manchu (film, 1966) 47, 53–4 Bridge to the Sun (film, 1961) 126 British Board of Film Censors (BBFC) 18, 19, 69, 74–5 British International Pictures (BIP) 59–60, 62 Broken Blossoms (films, 1919/36) 82, 84–8 Bronston, Samuel 191–2 Brower, Otto 168 Brown, Clarence 97, 98 Browning, Tod 40 Buck, Pearl S. 7, 73, 79, 116, 154, 161, 189 Bucquet, Harold S. 155 Burke, Thomas 72, 82–4, 88, 89, 90 Bushell, Anthony 100 Cady, Jerome 172, 204, 223 Cagney, James 175, 176 Cagney, William 175, 177 Calthrop, Donald 62 Capellani, Alberto 129 Capra, Frank 136, 137, 140, 152, 154 Carleton, Billie 6, 17–18

240

Index Carlson, Col Evans 162, 163 Carradine, John 49, 225 Carroll, Madeleine 111 Castle in the Desert (film, 1942) 212–13 Castle of Fu Manchu (film, 1968) 54, 55–6 Catholicism 157–9, 188 censorship 91, 105–6, 125 Chairman, The (film, 1969) 183–4 Chaney, Lon 59, 93, 142 Chang Apana 196, 199 Chang, ‘Brilliant’ 6 Chang, T. K. 46, 79, 112 Charlie Chan 196–217, 226–8 Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (film, 1981) 228 Charlie Chan at the Circus (film, 1936) 202, 206 Charlie Chan at the Olympics (film, 1937) 203–4, 206 Charlie Chan at the Opera (film, 1936) 202 Charlie Chan at the Racetrack (film, 1936) 202 Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (film, 1940) 210–11 Charlie Chan Carries On (film, 1931) 198 Charlie Chan in Black Magic (film, 1944) 214 Charlie Chan in City in Darkness (film, 1939) 209 Charlie Chan in Egypt (film, 1935) 200–1, 218–19 Charlie Chan in Honolulu (film, 1938) 207–8 Charlie Chan in London (film, 1934) 199–200 Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo (film, 1937) 204 Charlie Chan in Panama (film, 1940) 209–10 Charlie Chan in Paris (film, 1935) 200 Charlie Chan in Reno (film, 1939) 208 Charlie Chan in Rio (film, 1941) 212 Charlie Chan in Shanghai (film, 1935) 201, 205 Charlie Chan in the Secret Service (film, 1944) 213–14 Charlie Chan on Broadway (film, 1937) 204, 228 Charlie Chan on Treasure Island (film, 1939) 208–9 Charlie Chan’s Chance (film, 1932) 198 Charlie Chan’s Courage (film, 1934) 199 Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case (film, 1933) 198–9 Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (film, 1940) 210 Charlie Chan’s Secret (film, 1936) 201 Cheat, The (film, 1915) 65, 126–9 Chennault, Col Claire 152, 154 Chiang Kai-Shek 7–9, 10, 11, 151, 153 Chiang Kai-Shek, Madame 9, 79 Chin, Tsai 50–1 China 1–11, 46, 114, 150–4, 162–3 and censorship 105–6, 113, 123 and Charlie Chan 228

and Communism 177, 181–91 and The Good Earth 116, 118–19 and literature 19–20, 31–2 and women 79 and Wong 73, 77–8 China (film, 1943) 160–1 China Doll (film, 1958) 146–7 China Girl (film, 1942) 152 China Sky (film, 1945) 161–2 China Story, The (Buck) 189 Chinatown Nights (film, 1929) 82, 95–6, 106 Chinatown Squad (film, 1935) 82, 91 Chinatowns 3, 6–7, 17, 91–2, 98–9; see also Limehouse; San Francisco Chinese Bungalow, The (play/film, 1929) 143–4 Chinese Cat, The (film, 1944) 214 Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) 3 Chinese Parrot, The (film, 1927) 197 Chinese Ring, The (film, 1947) 216 Chink and the Child, The (Burke) 84 Chu Chin Chow (film, 1934) 70–1 Circle of Chalk, The (play, 1929) 62–3 Cocaine (film, 1922) 18–19 Cold War 10, 11, 49, 191 Colton, John B. 107 Communism 7, 9, 10–11, 19, 123, 150 and China 177, 181–91 Conan Doyle, Arthur 4, 14–15 Condon, Richard 25, 180 Confessions of an Opium Eater (film, 1962) 98–100 Conway, Jack 155 Cooper, Gary 110, 111 Corrigan, Lloyd 36, 39, 64 Crimson Kimono, The (film, 1959) 126 Cronin, A. J. 158, 160 Cry for Happy (film, 1961) 126 Cummings, Irving 197 Cutts, Graham 18 Dangerous Drugs Act (1920) 6 Dangerous Money (film, 1946) 216 Dangerous to Know (film, 1938) 74–6 Dark Alibi (film, 1946) 213, 215–16 Daughter of Fu Manchu, The (radio) 34 Daughter of Fu Manchu, The (Rohmer) 19, 21–2 Daughter of Shanghai (film, 1937) 73–4 Daughter of the Dragon (film, 1931) 39–40, 64, 66 De Quincey, Thomas 99 Dead Men Tell (film, 1941) 211–12 Dean, Basil 62–3 DeMille, Cecil B. 65, 126, 127 Dempster, Carol 89

241

Index Devil Doctor, The (Rohmer) 19, 20 Dieterle, William 184 Dietrich, Marlene 66, 111 Dmytryk, Edward 173, 174, 187, 188 Docks of New Orleans, The (film, 1948) 216–17 Doomed to Die (film, 1940) 219 Dope (Rohmer) 17–18 Dr Nikola (Boothby) 14 Dr No (film, 1962) 49, 51 Dragon Seed (film, 1944) 154–7 Dream Street (film, 1921) 88–90 drugs 3, 4, 5–6, 16, 17–18 and film 18–19, 91–2 Drums of Fu Manchu (film, 1940) 46–9 Drums of Fu Manchu (Rohmer) 17, 19, 25–7 Dupont, E. A. 60, 61 East is West (film, 1919) 106, 134–6 Eichberg, Richard 59, 61, 62 Ellery Queen’s Penthouse Mystery (film, 1941) 77 Ellis, Robert 200, 202, 203, 204, 209 Elstree Calling (film, 1930) 62 Emperor Fu Manchu (Rohmer) 19, 29–31 Enright, Ray 161, 162 Face of Fu Manchu, The (film, 1965) 50–3 Fairbanks, Douglas 59 Fairlie, Gerard 201, 205 Farrow, John 113, 160 Fatal Hour, The (film, 1940) 219 Feathered Serpent, The (film, 1948) 217 Ferrer, Mel 109 Fiendish Plot of Fu Manchu, The (film, 1980) 56, 228 Fighting Destiny (film, 1919) 92 Fitzmaurice, George 128 Flame of Love, The (film, 1930) 61–2 Fleming, Victor 118 Flood, James 134 Florey, Robert 73–4, 76, 121, 151 Flower Drum Song (film, 1961) 80, 101–4 Flower of Doom, The (film, 1917) 92 Flying Tigers (film, 1942) 150, 151 Flynn, Errol 165 Fong, Benson 66, 104, 160, 168, 177, 213 Forbidden City, The (film, 1918) 132 Ford, John 147, 149 Forde, Eugene 199, 204, 210 Forde, Walter 70 Foster, Norman 199, 208, 209, 221–2, 224, 225 Fox Film Corporation 197, 199; see also 20th Century-Fox Franco, Jess 54–5, 56 Frankenheimer, John 180

Franklin, Chester 58 Franklin, Sidney 118, 132, 134 Freaks (film, 1932) 40, 43 Fu Manchu 228 and film 33–4, 36–49, 64 and literature 12, 14, 15, 16–17, 19–32 and radio 34–6 and Towers film series 49–56 Further Mysteries of Dr Fu Manchu (film, 1924) 33–4 Furthman, Jules 66, 107, 184 Gable, Clark 184, 187 Gallery of Madame Liu Tsong, The (TV series) 80 gambling 3, 4, 5–6, 17 Gann, Ernest K. 187 Garbo, Greta 115, 116 Garrick, John 71 General Died at Dawn, The (film, 1936) 106, 110–11, 113 Gina of the Chinatown (Burke) 88 Gish, Lillian 84 Go for Broke (film, 1951) 169 God is My Co-Pilot (film, 1945) 151–2 Golden Eye, The (film, 1948) 217 Good Earth, The (Buck) 7, 8, 79 Good Earth, The (film, 1937) 46, 73, 116–21, 155 Gordon, Gale 36 Gordon, Glenn 49 Gray, Gilda 60, 61 Great War in England in 1897, The (Le Queux) 13 Green, Nigel 52 Greene, Richard 55 Griffith, D. W. 72, 82, 84, 85, 87, 88–9 Grindé, Nick 76 Gung Ho (film, 1943) 162–3 Haas, Dolly 87 Hadden, George 199 Hagen, Julius 87 Haggard, Piers 56 Hall, Juanita 104 Han Suyin 145 Hardwicke, Sir Cedric 49 Harte, Bret 3 Hatchet Man, The (film, 1932) 96–7 Hatfield, Hurd 157 Hathaway, Henry 152 Havoc, June 124 Hawks, Howard 151 Hayakawa, Sessue 39, 40, 64–6, 128 Hayes, Helen 73, 97, 98

242

Index Hearst, William Randolph 121, 122, 177 Heggie, O. P. 37 Hell to Eternity (film, 1960) 169 Hepburn, Katharine 156 Hill, George 118 Hill, Robert 100 Holden, William 184, 189, 192 ‘Hollywood Ten’ 176, 188 Hong Kong 54, 126, 144–6, 187–8 House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) 176, 188 House Without a Key, The (Biggers) 196, 197, 198–9 Hubbard, Lucien 162 Hughes, Howard 109 Humberstone, Bruce 199, 202, 203, 207, 209 Huston, Walter 40, 109, 157 Hutchinson, Josephine 121 immigration 2–6 Impact (film, 1949) 79 Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The (film, 1958) 163–4, 189 Intrigue (film, 1947) 123–4 Invasion of 1910, The (Le Queux) 13 Island of Fu Manchu, The (Rohmer) 15, 17, 19, 27–8 Island of Lost Men (film, 1939) 76–7 Jade Mask, The (film, 1945) 214–15 James Lee Wong 196, 217–20, 227 Japan 7, 8, 9, 10, 126, 219–20 and China 73, 78, 114, 137–8, 156 and film 65, 128, 129 and war 151, 152–4, 161, 164–77 Japanese-Americans 168–9 Japanese War Bride (film, 1952) 126 Java Head (film, 1934) 68 Joy Luck Club, The (film, 1993) 104 Karloff, Boris 41, 44, 46, 113, 202 and James Lee Wong 196, 217–18, 220 Karlson, Phil 215 Kempton, Freda 6, 18 Keys of the Kingdom, The (film, 1944) 157–60 King, Henry 145 King, Louis 200 King of Chinatown (film, 1939) 76 Knackfuss, Hermann 12 Know Your Enemy – Japan (documentary, 1945) 166–8, 174 Komai, Tetsu 123 Kongo (film, 1932) 40 Korean War 1, 10, 177–81 Kortner, Fritz 70, 71

Koster, Henry 101 Kuwa, George 197 Kwan, Nancy 104 Lachman, Harry 202, 211 Lady from Chungking, The (film, 1942) 78 Lang, Matheson 140–2, 143, 144 Laughton, Charles 64 Le Queux, William 13 Lee, C. Y. 101 Lee, Christopher 49, 50, 53, 56, 100 Lee, Rowland V. 36 Leeds, Herbert 209, 225 Left Hand of God, The (film, 1955) 188 Leni, Paul 197 Leong, James B. 93 Leroy, Mervyn 121 Letter, The (TV film, 1956) 80 Levant, Oscar 202 Leven, Boris 109 Lewis, Joseph H. 78 Li Ting Lang (film, 1920) 131–2 Limehouse 4–5, 81–3, 86, 89 Limehouse Blues (film, 1934) 72, 82, 106 Limehouse Nights (Burke) 82 Little Tokyo, USA (film, 1942) 168–9 Liu, Roland 117 Lloyd, Frank 133, 176, 185 Loder, John 68 Logan, Helen 200, 202, 203, 204, 209 Long, Huey 25 Loo, Richard 66, 78, 121, 151, 157, 160 and war 168, 177, 180 Lorre, Peter 205, 221, 225, 226 Losch, Tilly 73 Lotus Blossom (film, 1921) 93 Love is a Many Splendored Thing (film, 1955) 145 Lowe, Edward T. 200, 201, 202 Loy, Myrna 41, 42, 51, 52 Luce, Henry R. 8 Lugosi, Bela 199 Lukas, Paul 144 Luke, Keye 66, 104, 109, 115, 116, 117, 123 and James Lee Wong 220, 227 and Lee Chan 200, 207, 216 and war 168, 180 Lyons, H. Agar 33, 34 Macao (film, 1952) 109–10 McCarey, Leo 188–9, 190 McCarthyism 11, 188, 189 MacDonald, Philip 199, 200, 224, 225 McFadden, Hamilton 198, 208 McGann, William 77

243

Index McKenna, Siobhan 80 MacMahon, Aline 156, 157 Man with the Twisted Lip, The (Conan Doyle) 4 Manchuria 7, 8, 153 Manchurian Candidate, The (film, 1962) 25, 180–1 Manning, Edgar 6 Mao Tse-Tung 9, 10, 11, 79, 217 Marion-Crawford, Howard 52, 55–6 Marquand, John P. 220–1, 222 Marshall, Gen George 154 Marton, Andrew 178, 192 Mask of Fu Manchu, The (film, 1932) 40–6, 47, 52 Mask of Fu Manchu, The (Rohmer) 19, 22 Mason, Richard 145 Massey, Raymond 151–2 Matthews, Lester 49 Mature, Victor 108 Maugham, Somerset 115 Mayer, Louis B. 40, 46, 116 Menzies, William Cameron 49 Metzner, Erno 70 MGM Studios 40, 43, 45, 46, 73, 115 and Dragon Seed 154–5 and The Good Earth 116, 118–19 Michener, James A. 11 Midnight Patrol, The (film, 1918) 92 Milestone, Lewis 110, 111, 172, 178 Miller, David 151 Mills, John 80 miscegenation 5, 16–17, 57 and film 125–7, 129–36, 146–7 Mitchum, Robert 109, 187 Monogram 213, 216, 217–18, 220, 227 Moore, Colleen 90 Moorehead, Agnes 157 Moreland, Mantan 213, 216 Morgan, Dennis 151 Morse, Terry 216 Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals 186 Moulin Rouge (film, 1928) 60 Mr Moto 205, 220–6, 227 Mr Moto in Danger Island (film, 1939) 225 Mr Moto is So Sorry (Marquand) 221 Mr Moto Takes a Chance (film, 1938) 223–4 Mr Moto Takes a Vacation (film, 1939) 225–6 Mr Moto’s Gamble (film, 1938) 205, 223 Mr Moto’s Last Warning (film, 1939) 224–5 Mr Wong, Detective (film, 1938) 218–19 Mr Wong in Chinatown (film, 1939) 219 Mr Wu 140–2 Mr Wu (film, 1927) 59, 78, 142–3 Mrs Miniver (film, 1942) 154

Muni, Paul 117–18 Munson, Ona 108 Murder by Death (film, 1976) 228 Murder in Trinidad (film, 1934) 225 Murder Over New York (film, 1940) 211 Murphy, Ralph 171 Mysterious Dr Fu Manchu, The (film, 1929) 36–7, 38 Mysterious Mr Moto (film, 1938) 224 Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, The (film, 1923) 33–4 Mystery of Dr Fu Manchu, The (Rohmer) 15, 19–20 Mystery of Edwin Drood, The (Dickens) 4 Mystery of Mr Wong, The (film, 1939) 219 Nanking massacre 8, 46, 153, 156 National Origins Act (1924) 3 Nazimova, Alla 129, 131 Negri, Pola 128 Neumann, Kurt 76 Nigh, William 78, 142, 218, 220 Night Plane from Chungking (film, 1942) 106, 171 Night to Remember, A (film, 1958) 55 No Hero (Marquand) 220, 221 Norton, Frederic 70 Novarro, Ramon 59, 97, 98 Objective Burma (film, 1945) 165–6 O’Brien, Pat 121 Odets, Clifford 110 Office of War Information (OWI) 150, 152, 154, 159, 161, 164–5, 169 Oil for the Lamps of China (film, 1935) 106, 121–3 Oland, Warner 37, 59, 66, 116, 134 and Charlie Chan 196, 197–8, 199, 200, 204–6, 226, 228 Old San Francisco (film, 1927) 59, 93–5 Olivier, Laurence 63 On the Spot (play) 63–4, 74–5, 76 opium 3, 4, 5–6, 17, 91–2 Pagan Love (film, 1920) 131 Painted Veil, The (film, 1934) 115–16 Paramount Studios 40, 67, 72, 106, 160 Park, E. L. 197 Paul, Fred 33, 34 Pavement Butterfly (film, 1928) 60 Pearson, Drew 170, 171 Peck, Gregory 157, 159–60, 183 Peking Express (film, 1951) 107, 184–5 Pemberton, Max 13 Penalty, The (film, 1920) 93

244

Index Phantom of Chinatown, The (film, 1941) 220 Piccadilly (film, 1925) 60–1, 63 Pichel, Irving 169 Picture of Dorian Gray, The (Wilde) 4 Ping, Ada Lau 18 Pork Chop Hill (film, 1959) 178 Portrait in Black (film, 1960) 79 President Fu Manchu (Rohmer) 19, 24–5 Pressburger, Arnold 107 Price, Vincent 99 Prisoner of War (film, 1954) 178–9 Pro Patria (Pemberton) 13 Production Code Administration (PCA) 46, 132–3 Purple Heart, The (film, 1944) 172–3 Quine, Richard 145 racism 2–5, 65, 71–2, 226–8 and film 44–5, 47, 85, 87–8, 127, 130–1 and literature 14, 20, 31–2 Raft, George 72, 123, 124 Rainer, Luise 73, 116, 117, 118, 120, 121 Ray, Nicholas 109, 192 Re-enter Dr Fu Manchu (Rohmer) 19, 29 Red Dragon, The (film, 1945) 215 Red Lantern, The (film, 1919) 58, 129–31 Reed, Carol 68 Reinhardt, John 225 Reinhardt, Max 70 Republic Pictures 47, 48, 49 Return of Dr Fu Manchu, The (film, 1930) 37–9 Riddle of the Sands, The (Childers) 13 RKO Radio Pictures 109, 111, 161 Roar of the Dragon (film, 1932) 111–12 Robeson, Paul 72, 80 Robey, George 70, 71 Robinson, Edward G. 97, 134–5 Robson, Mark 163 Rodgers and Hammerstein 11, 80, 101–2 Rohmer, Sax 12, 13, 15–18, 19–25, 28, 31 and film 47 and radio 34–5, 36 and reissues 49 Roosevelt, Franklin D. 9, 25, 172 Rosen, Phil 213, 215, 220 Ruben, J. Walter 68 Ruggles, Wesley 111 Russell, Jane 109 Sabu 80 San Francisco 81, 91, 93–5, 96–8, 100–2 Satan Never Sleeps (film, 1962) 189–91, 192 Sayonara (film, 1957) 126 Scarlet Clue, The (film, 1945) 213, 215

Schoenberg, Arnold 118 Sears, Fred F. 181 Second World War 9–10, 77–8, 150–4, 164–7 Secret Agent of Japan (film, 1942) 169–70 Secret Sin, The (film, 1916) 92 Seiler, Lewis 179 Selander, Lesley 217 Sellers, Peter 56, 228 Selznick, David O. 8, 79 Sen Yung, Victor 66, 104, 168, 177, 208, 216 Seventh Noon, The (film, 1915) 92 sex 4, 5, 16–17, 85–6; see also miscegenation Shadow of Chinatown (film, 1936) 100–1 Shadow of Fu Manchu, The (radio) 35–6 Shadow of Fu Manchu, The (Rohmer) 19, 28–9 Shadows Over Chinatown (film, 1946) 216 Shanghai (film, 1935) 134 Shanghai Chest (film, 1948) 217 Shanghai Cobra, The (film, 1945) 215 Shanghai Express (film, 1932) 66–7, 106–7, 206 Shanghai Gesture, The (film, 1941) 107–9 Shanghai Story, The (film, 1954) 185–6 Sharp, Don 50, 53 Sherlock Holmes 4, 14, 52, 67 Shiel, M. P. 12–14 Shigeta, James 66, 104 Shock, The (film, 1923) 93 Si-Fan Mysteries, The (Rohmer) 19, 20 Sign of Four (Conan Doyle) 15 Sign of the Poppy, The (film, 1916) 92 Sky Dragon, The (film, 1949) 217 Soldier of Fortune (film, 1955) 187–8 Son-Daughter, The (film, 1932) 73, 97–8, 206 Son of the Gods (film, 1930) 133 Song (film, 1928) 60 Spirit of the Lamp, The (Burke) 88 Stafford, Hanley 36 Stanwyck, Barbara 136, 137 stereotypes 3–6, 57, 73, 79, 164–5, 167 Sternberg, Josef von 66, 106, 107, 109–10 Stevenson, Robert 109 Stone, Lewis 42–3 Stromberg, Hunt 40–1 Study in Scarlet, A (film, 1933) 67 Summers, Jeremy 54 Sun Yat-Sen 7, 106, 153 Tale of Two Worlds, A (film, 1921) 82, 133–4 Talmadge, Constance 134 Tamiroff, Akim 74, 76, 111, 157 Tanaka Memorial 153, 167, 175–6 Target Hong Kong (film, 1952) 181–2 Teahouse of the August Moon, The (film, 1956) 126 Terror of the Tongs, The (film, 1960) 100

245

Index Thalberg, Irving 40, 116, 117–18, 119 Thank You, Mr Moto (film, 1937) 222–3, 224 Thank You, Mr Moto (Marquand) 220–1 Thief of Bagdad, The (film, 1924) 59 Think Fast, Mr Moto (film, 1937) 221–2, 224 Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (film, 1944) 172 Thomas, Jameson 60 Thompson, J. Lee 183, 184 Tierney, Gene 108, 109 Tiger Bay (film) 69–70 Ting Hsiu-Tu, Gen 46, 119 Tinling, James 201, 223 Toler, Sidney 206–7, 208, 209, 211, 213, 216 Toll of the Sea, The (film, 1922) 58–9 Tom, Layne, Jr. 208 Tong Man, The (film, 1919) 93 tongs 3, 92–3, 95–7, 100 Towers, Harry Alan 49, 53, 54–5 Tracy, Spencer 172 Trail of Fu Manchu, The (Rohmer) 19, 21, 23 Trap, The (film, 1947) 216 Trauner, Alexandre 56 Truman, Harry S. 10–11 Tsu-Hsi, Empress 57 Tully, Montgomery 182 Twinkletoes (film, 1926) 90–1 Umeki, Miyoshi 104 United States of America 2–3, 7–8, 9, 10–11, 28 and China 31–2 and ‘Good Neighbour’ policy 212 and war 150–1, 154, 168 Ustinov, Peter 228 Valentino, Rudolph 65, 128 Velez, Lupe 134 Vengeance of Fu Manchu, The (film, 1967) 47, 54 Vidor, Charles 43

Wah Ming Motion Picture Company 93 Wallace, Edgar 63–4, 74 Wallis, Hal 122 Wang Ching-Wei 9 War of the Tongs, The (film, 1917) 93 warlords 7, 106, 114 Warner, Jack 122 Warner Bros 77, 112, 113, 121, 221 Wayne, John 184, 186, 187 Webb, Clifton 189, 192 Wellman, William 95–6, 97, 187 West of Shanghai (film, 1937) 46, 112–14 When Were You Born (film, 1938) 77 ‘Why We Fight’ series 152, 166, 175 Wilbur, Crane 113 Wilcox, Herbert 18–19 Wiles, Gordon 201 Wiley, Hugh 217 Wilhelm II, Kaiser 12 Willard, John 41 Williams, Emlyn 87 Wilmer, Douglas 52, 54 Winters, Roland 216 Wong, Anna May 39–40, 57–9, 64, 66–8, 72–5, 76–80 and Europe 59–63, 68–9, 70, 71–2 World of Suzie Wong, The (film, 1960) 145–6 World of Suzie Wong, The (play) 50 Wurtzel, Sol 199, 221, 223 Wyler, William 80 Wylie, Philip 208 Yangtse Incident (film, 1957) 189, 191 Yellow Claw, The (Rohmer) 17–18 Yellow Danger, The (Shiel) 13–14 ‘Yellow Peril’ 12–13, 126 Zanuck, Darryl F. 172 Zugsmith, Albert 99

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Cinema and Society series General Editor: Jeffrey Richards

Acting for the Silent Screen: Film Actors and Aspiration between the Wars Chris O’Rourke The Age of the Dream Palace: Cinema and Society in 1930s Britain Jeffrey Richards Banned in the USA: British Films in the United States and their Censorship, 1933–1960 Anthony Slide Best of British: Cinema and Society from 1930 to the Present Anthony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards Beyond a Joke: Parody in English Film and Television Comedy Neil Archer Brigadoon, Braveheart and the Scots: Distortions of Scotland in Hollywood Cinema Colin McArthur Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War Tony Aldgate & Jeffrey Richards The British at War: Cinema, State and Propaganda, 1939–1945 James Chapman British Children’s Cinema: From the Thief of Bagdad to Wallace and Gromit Noel Brown British Cinema and the Cold War: The State, Propaganda and Consensus Tony Shaw British Film Design: A History Laurie N. Ede Children, Cinema and Censorship: From Dracula to the Dead End Kids Sarah J. Smith China and the Chinese in Popular Film: From Fu Manchu to Charlie Chan Jeffrey Richards Christmas at the Movies: Images of Christmas in American, British and European Cinema Edited by Mark Connelly The Classic French Cinema 1930–1960 Colin Crisp The Crowded Prairie: American National Identity in the Hollywood Western Michael Coyne The Death Penalty in American Cinema: Criminality and Retribution in Hollywood Film Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan Distorted Images: British National Identity and Film in the 1920s Kenton Bamford The Euro-Western: Reframing Gender, Race and the ‘Other’ in Film Lee Broughton An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory Annette Kuhn

Family Films in Global Cinema: The World Beyond Disney Edited by Noel Brown and Bruce Babington Femininity in the Frame: Women and 1950s British Popular Cinema Melanie Bell Film and Community in Britain and France: From La Règle du jeu to Room at the Top Margaret Butler Film Propaganda: Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany Richard Taylor The Finest Years: British Cinema of the 1940s Charles Drazin Frank Capra’s Eastern Horizons: American Identity and the Cinema of International Relations Elizabeth Rawitsch From Moscow to Madrid: European Cities, Postmodern Cinema Ewa Mazierska & Laura Rascaroli Hollywood and the Americanization of Britain: From the 1920s to the Present Mark Glancy The Hollywood Family Film: A History, from Shirley Temple to Harry Potter Noel Brown Hollywood Genres and Postwar America: Masculinity, Family and Nation in Popular Movies and Film Noir Mike Chopra-Gant Hollywood Riots: Violent Crowds and Progressive Politics in American Film Doug Dibbern Hollywood’s History Films David Eldridge Hollywood’s New Radicalism: War, Globalisation and the Movies from Reagan to George W. Bush Ben Dickenson Licence to Thrill: A Cultural History of the James Bond Films James Chapman The New Scottish Cinema Jonathan Murray Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Film James Chapman Powell and Pressburger: A Cinema of Magic Spaces Andrew Moor Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction and Popular Cinema James Chapman & Nicholas J. Cull Propaganda and the German Cinema, 1933–1945 David Welch Shooting the Civil War: Cinema, History and American National Identity Jenny Barrett Spaghetti Westerns: Cowboys and Europeans from Karl May to Sergio Leone Christopher Frayling Spectacular Narratives: Hollywood in the Age of the Blockbuster Geoff King Typical Men: The Representation of Masculinity in Popular British Cinema Andrew Spicer The Unknown 1930s: An Alternative History of the British Cinema, 1929–1939 Edited by Jeffrey Richards Withnail and Us: Cult Films and Film Cults in British Cinema Justin Smith