China (1943) Review

Director: John Farrow

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 79 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Released during World War II, China serves as an interesting and entertaining piece of American propaganda designed to educate the U.S. populace on the struggles faced by the Chinese people during the Japanese invasion of their homeland. Cynical, tough oil salesman David Jones (Alan Ladd) wants nothing to do with the conflict, despite living in China. He’s content to go about selling his product to the highest bidder, which is frequently the raping, burning, murdering Japanese. With his partner, Johnny Sparrow (William Bendix), he finds himself driving a truck full of displaced Chinese and a teacher of American descent, Carolyn Grant (Loretta Young), across the countryside in an effort to outrun the war.

China works best as a war-based action-adventure picture. The film begins with an ambitious long take that immediately throws the audience into the story and action is relatively frequent after that. Gunfire and explosions are the name of the game here, although the finale isn’t quite as exciting as the sequence where our heroes acquire the explosives used for said ending. Ladd is a convincing action star, and Bendix is excellent as the sidekick.

On the down side, there’s a lot of romance to yawn at. The movie tends to get bogged down in it, with Bendix reminiscing about his old hayrides back in the U.S. and whatnot, when the picture could be focused on the Japanese getting their just desserts. There’s even the threat of a romantic triangle breaking out at one point, but this potential disaster doesn’t fully materialize. Another flaw with the flick is that the Japanese threat doesn’t really feel quite immediate enough at times during the first act. However, it becomes very real after that.

Romance aside, this is probably one of the more effective and cool World War II flag-wavers made during the war. The fascinating, if fictional, plot is enough to absorb the viewer, and the action gets a thumbs-up. The film’s Wilsonian idealism shines through all the carnage and romance to stir the audience into making the world a better place when the war concludes. War and action-adventure movie aficionados will find enough here to make it worth watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) Review

Director: John Milius

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Romance, War

Runtime: 119 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Very, very, very, very loosely based on a true story, The Wind and the Lion tells the tale of an American woman, Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen), and her two children, William (Simon Harrison) and Jennifer (Polly Gottesman), being kidnapped by a group of desert Berber rebels led by Mulay el-Raisuli (Sean Connery) in 1904 Morocco. The real incident saw a man named Ion Perdicaris being captured and released with no bloodshed. What kind of film would that make? Writer/director John Milius thought he could tell the story better (read: more death and destruction), and the result is The Wind and the Lion.

Armed with the best musical score by Jerry Goldsmith that I’m familiar with and an all-star cast, this is an old-fashioned, swashbuckling action-adventure epic with a witty script. The interesting characters couldn’t have been drawn better. The action scenes are grade-A+, but there appears to be use of oft-deadly trip wires to accomplish the horse-falls. The film’s stunt sequence supervisor, Terry Leonard, claims that no horses were harmed during the making of the movie, according to IMDb’s Trivia page for the movie, but the horse-falls look pretty suspect to me.

The tone is playful, despite plentiful carnage, as the motion picture romanticizes the irrational behavior of olden times. It’s full of jingoistic clap-trap that somehow works in the context of the film. The Wind and the Lion‘s politics seem to be intentionally schizophrenic, celebrating displays of militarism, while simultaneously showing innocent bystanders being aggressively shoved around by said militants. This contradictory nature only adds to the flick’s already-very-funny comedy level.

When people aren’t dying, the film portrays the backroom dealings surrounding the hostage crisis. However, it’s not boring at all, with the geopolitics of the situation being depicted in a humorous, tongue-in-cheek manner. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith), though, is probably written to be more saber-rattling than he actually was as commander-in-chief. There is some Stockholm Syndrome- style romance in The Wind and the Lion, but don’t let this turn you off. Action junkies will find more than enough for them here.

Full of daring-do and machismo, this masterpiece from John Milius is a fascinating, if almost entirely fictional, look at the United States’ early years as a Great Power. It works best, though, as a first-rate action-adventure picture, full of sweeping desert vistas, larger-than-life characters, ridiculous heroism, and marvelous action sequences.

My rating is 10 outta 10.