ROAR OF THE DRAGON (1933) is an exciting RKO adventure film produced by David O. Selznick.
It's available on DVD from the Warner Archive as part of an "RKO Double Feature" set with the enjoyable William Boyd film MEN OF AMERICA (1932). I reviewed MEN OF AMERICA a few days ago.
ROAR OF THE DRAGON features the classic plot of several very different people banding together against a common enemy. In this case it's a group of Americans, Europeans, and Chinese who are barricaded in a hotel in war-torn China, under siege from a fearsome warlord (C. Henry Gordon). The story calls to mind the previous year's SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932) as well as much later films such as RIO BRAVO (1959).
Richard Dix plays the tough and resourceful, if perpetually inebriated, riverboat captain who takes charge of the group. The hope is that if they can survive long enough in the hotel, despite dwindling supplies of food and water, repairs will be completed on his boat and everyone will somehow be able to flee to the boat and safety.
If you've ever wanted to see Edward Everett Horton as an action hero, this is your movie! Classic cinema fans haven't seen everything until they've seen Horton mowing down the bad guys with a machine gun. It's an excellent part which is far from his typical role.
His engineer-turned-hotel-clerk is sweet on "Bridgeport" (Arline Judge), an entertainer who'd like to get back home to Connecticut. She takes charge of a group of orphaned Chinese toddlers hiding in the hotel, milking a lone goat for milk to feed them.
Also on hand is Natascha (Gwili Andre), who had been forced to be the warlord's mistress when he imprisoned her father. Her loyalties are questioned by the captain, but he's attracted to her despite himself. Zasu Pitts plays a perpetually worried, yakking woman, and Dudley Digges, William Orlamond, Jimmy Wang, and Toshi Mori are also among those struggling for survival.
The movie is a fast-paced 69 minutes, with plenty of action and suspense, as well as a rather sweet and unexpected romance between Horton and Judge. This is most definitely a pre-Code, in terms of both violence and subject matter, not to mention a few double entendres.
It should perhaps be noted as well that the film reflects its era in terms of some attitudes the modern viewer will find eye-opening, including an anti-Semitic slur; however, the character who says the most outrageous things is very much diminished by it, along with his selfishness, and he is scorned by others.
At the time of filming Arline Judge, who has one of the best roles, was married to the film's director, Wesley Ruggles. Alas, it didn't work out, and Ruggles turned out of be the first of Judge's eight husbands, who included Bob Topping, later married to Lana Turner, and his brother Daniel!
The movie was filmed in black and white by Edward Cronjager.
This RKO double feature set is the Warner Archive at its best, making available a pair of relatively obscure but entertaining films in a very nice two-for-one package. The DVD is a good print with excellent sound. The two-film disc has no extras.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.