Sunday, June 05, 2016

Tonight's Movie: China Sky (1945) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

CHINA SKY (1945), a WWII film based on a novel by Pearl S. Buck, was just released on DVD by the Warner Archive.

CHINA SKY, released in the waning days of WWII, combines romantic melodrama with building support for our Chinese allies. In the latter regard it would make an interesting double bill paired with the Alan Ladd-Loretta Young film CHINA (1943).

Dr. Gray Thompson (Randolph Scott) returns from the U.S. to the village hospital he founded in war-torn China. He's been on a mission to gather fresh supplies for the hospital, and while in the States he also acquired a wife, Louise (Ellen Drew).

Louise comes as something of a shock to Dr. Thompson's partner, Dr. Sara Durand (Ruth Warrick), who has been secretly in love with Dr. Thompson. She gamely carries on, however, and attempts to be friendly with Louise.

Louise, while seeming nice enough at the outset, quickly cracks under the strain of daily Japanese bombings, as well as her jealousy of her husband's close working relationship with Dr. Durand.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kim (Philip Ahn), a hospital employee who's always professed to be Korean, finds his loyalties changing to his father's country, Japan. It doesn't help matters that the valiant Chinese warrior Chen-Ta (Anthony Quinn) tries to steal the affections of Dr. Kim's fiancee, nurse Siu-Mei (Carol Thurston).

CHINA SKY wasn't anything particularly special, but I found it enjoyable and it held my interest. It's a solid film; my main criticism is that at times the dialogue for the Chinese characters tends to be overly cutesy-pie, with Chinese sayings.

I have enjoyed all three leads in many films, and they are good to watch here as well. Scott can pretty much do no wrong in my book, though his character here is just a bit dense. I suppose his cluelessness with the women in his life could be chalked up to his preoccupation with serving patients in a war zone.

Ruth Warrick has an appealing screen presence, and it's always a bit of a surprise to me she wasn't a bigger film star, although of course she was in the top ranks of daytime soap stars for decades on ALL MY CHILDREN. She's previously been reviewed here in a few films including GUEST IN THE HOUSE (1944) and SECOND CHANCE (1950).

Drew could be a charming leading lady (CHRISTMAS IN JULY) but she also did a good job playing troubled women (JOHNNY O'CLOCK). She gets a bit wild-eyed here at times but I suppose anyone suddenly transplanted from a pleasant life in the U.S. to waiting out Japanese bombing attacks in a cave is entitled to a little hysteria.

The cave, incidentally, was in Bronson Canyon, where INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) would film over a decade later.

Some viewers may find it a tad uncomfortable watching Quinn and Thurston play Chinese characters, but that was often the convention of the day. Particularly when it comes to classic-era films, unless the performance is disrespectful -- Mickey Rooney in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (1961) comes to mind -- I tend to shrug and say, "That's why they call it acting!" And indeed, Quinn provides the film with some of its more entertaining moments.

CHINA SKY was directed by Ray Enright from a screenplay by Brenda Weisberg and Joseph Hoffman. It was filmed in black and white by Nicholas Musuraca. The running time is 78 minutes.

The Warner Archive DVD is a good-looking print. The disc includes the trailer.

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.


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