Thursday, November 1, 2012

"The General Died at Dawn" with Gary Cooper, Madeline Carroll and Akim Tamiroff (1936)

See William Frawley as you’ve never seen him before in this film which takes place in the years between the two world wars. At the time of this story, by writers Charles G. Booth and Clifford Odets, China was undergoing tremendous change as it was struggling to overthrow the warlord system of government which had ruled the land for thousands of years. The choice was between a nationalist, Western styled government; or the radical changes evoked by the Communist Party. In it, he plays one of several mercenaries looking to profit from the turmoil which reigned in China at the time. Don’t look for a hint of Fred Metz in his portrayal of Brighton, a booze besotted man whose only concern is the buck he might make at the expense of others.  His greed will prove his undoing.

Gary Cooper plays a man known as O’Hara, an American mercenary who finds himself in care of the money to purchase arms for the local militia. Acting against his instructions to avoid traveling by train, O’Hara takes the rail to Shanghai, losing the money along the way, along with a piece of his heart. Judy Pierre, played by Madeline Carroll, is the temptress who causes him to lose the money to the ruthless warlord General Yang, played by Akim Tamiroff.  Judy’s father has conspired with the General to steal the money from O’Hara, and although Judy is in love with the American, she allows herself to be used in the conspiracy to rob him. She soon comes to regret her actions, as it becomes plain that the man she has fallen in love with now holds her in contempt.
Sparks fly as O’Hara attempts to recover the money, as well as his honor in this adventure. As an added attraction, there is much to be learned about Chinese history and the opposing factions vying for power in the decades between the First, and Second, World Wars. These were the years when she was struggling to reform herself from a backward country, isolated from the rest of the world, into a viable nation which would command respect abroad, as well as at home. The wars in China were as much about the foreigners being allowed to carve the country up for profit, as they were about national unity. They don’t make them like this anymore.

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