China Sky (film)

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China Sky
Chisky.jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Ray Enright
Produced by Jack J. Gross
Screenplay by Joseph Hoffman
Brenda Weisberg
Based on China Sky (novel) 
by Pearl S. Buck
Starring Randolph Scott
Ruth Warrick
Ellen Drew
Anthony Quinn
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Editing by Marvin Coil
Gene Milford
Studio RKO Radio Pictures
Distributed by RKO Pictures
Release dates
  • May 16, 1945 (1945-05-16) (U.S.)
Running time 78 minutes
Country United States
Language English

China Sky (aka Pearl Buck's China Sky) is a 1945 RKO Pictures film based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck. [N 1] It was directed by Ray Enright and featured movie idol Randolph Scott, teamed with Ruth Warrick, Ellen Drew and Anthony Quinn. Although set in wartime China, Quinn and other lead actors portrayed Chinese characters, in keeping with other period films that employed Caucasian actors in oriental roles.[2]

China Sky was one of the last in a succession of wartime films depicting the Chinese confronting Japanese invaders that included: A Yank on the Burma Road (1942), China Girl (1942), Flying Tigers (1942), China (1943), Behind the Rising Sun (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Dragon Seed (1944), God Is My Co-Pilot (1945) and China's Little Devils, released May 27, 1945. [3][4][5] Similar to many of the other treatments, Chinese characters in China Sky were in secondary or subservient roles, with the versatile and highly malleable Quinn taking on another nationality, having already played countless other roles as an Indian, Mafia don, Hawaiian chief, Filipino freedom-fighter, French pirate, Spanish bullfighter and Arab sheik.[6][N 2]

Plot[edit]

Dr. Gray Thompson, (Randolph Scott) an American missionary doctor works alongside Dr. Sara Durand (Ruth Warrick) in a small hilltop Chinese village as Japanese forces descend on China. His jealous wife, Louise (Ellen Drew) feels he is wasting his life and her time and has only come back with him to China, to persuade him to give up a dangerous cause. In the midst of bombing attacks on the village, Dr. Thompson unselfishly helps the local residents and especially the insurgent leader Chen-Ta (Anthony Quinn) who loves Siu-Mei (Carol Thurston), betrothed to Dr. Kim (Philip Ahn).

Col. Yasuda (Richard Loo), a high-ranking Japanese prisoner, colludes with Dr. Kim, a sympathetic Chinese/Korean doctor and manages to send out a message from Louise that is a code to his paratroops that the village is secretly a rebel ammunition dump. During the brutal fighting, Yasuda is re-captured and a distraught Louise knowing she is the cause of the attack, runs into the line of fire and is killed. When Chen Ta secures the ammunition, he promises to return for Siu Mei after peace is restored. As the air raids begin again, the two doctors realizing they are in love, stoically face the onslaught together, hand in hand.

A seen in China Sky. c. 1945, the "40 Acres" RKO backlot set recreated the mountain village; at the rear is the "House of Mercy" American hospital.

Cast[edit]

As appearing in China Sky, (main roles and screen credits identified):[8]

Production[edit]

Although Pearl Buck's novel had been optioned for film production in 1941, one nagging plotline held up actual work as screenwriters dealt with an unsympathetic anti-American Chinese character.[9] Phillip Ahn's character was ultimately changed from the American schooled Chinese Dr. Chung to a half Korean and half Japanese character. His name, Kim Han Soo may have been inspired by real life Korean agent, Killsoo Han.[10] During its lengthy and troubled rewrite as a succession of screenwriters, directors and production staff were assigned to the project, the studio considered a number of stars for feature roles including Claudette Colbert, Luise Rainer, Margo, Maureen O'Hara, Kim Hunter and Paul Henreid.[9] The key role of the Japanese antagonist was played by Richard Loo whose Hollywood career in the war was accentuated by a large repertoire of sinister spies, enemy agents and military officers.[11][N 3]

The RKO Pictures backlot China set over the years was used as a locale in a number of films and television series. It was originally part of the Jerusalem city for Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings (1927) and was also redressed and featured as an Arab village in David O. Selznick's The Garden of Allah (1936). In 1945, the set was dressed for China Sky.[12]

Reception[edit]

Released at the end of World War II, China Sky did represent an attempt to portray the Chinese theatre of operations, but despite the game efforts of its stars, was relegated to "B" fare by its low production values. Its star, Randolph Scott called it "disappointing."[13] Bosley Crowther, ubiquitous reviewer for The New York Times considered the film a tepid marital melodrama, "The Chinese characters are the typical, self-effacing types to be found on the screen and who probably would be looked upon as curios in Chungking. RKO undoubtedly meant well in producing this film as an expression of American friendship for China, but it seems to us that this is a case where 10,000 words would have been better than one picture."[14] In an early screening in 1944, Variety characterized the film as a less than "spectacular" production bogged down by a plotline that lacks action elements, as "stress is laid on interior sets and romantic conflict".[15]

References[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Pearl Sydenstricker Buck (June 26, 1892 – March 6, 1973) was also known by her Chinese name Sai Zhenzhju (Chinese: ; pinyin: Sài Zhēnzhū). Buck was an American writer who spent most of her time until 1934 in China. Her novel, The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the U.S. in 1931 and 1932, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (1938) "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces."[1]
  2. ^ Anthony Quinn as Juan Martínez / Francisco Morez in the The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) actually portrayed a Latin American, his true heritage.[7]
  3. ^ Richard Loo's wife, Betty, a well known Hollywood agent was contracted to act as a production assistant and consultant on Chinese culture.[9]

Citations[edit]

  1. ^ Meyers, Mike. "Pearl of the Orient." The New York Times, March 5, 2006.
  2. ^ Koppes and Black 1987, pp. 256–260.
  3. ^ Evans 2000, p. 41.
  4. ^ Dolan 1985, p. 51.
  5. ^ Hyams 1984. pp. 65, 67, 89, 93.
  6. ^ Koppes and Black 1987, pp. 236–238.
  7. ^ Actor Anthony Quinn Dies: Anthony Rudolph Quinn Oaxaca was born on April 21, 1915, in Chihuahua, Mexico, where his Irish Mexican father Francisco (Frank) Quinn had married a Mexican girl of Aztec Indian ancestry, Manuela, while fighting for revolutionary leader Pancho Villa." Reuters in Wired, June 3, 2001. Retrieved: June 19, 2009.
  8. ^ "Full cast and crew of 'China Sky' (1945)." The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved: June 5, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c "Notes: China Sky." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: June 6, 2012.
  10. ^ Chung 2006, p. 204.
  11. ^ Twomey and McClure 1969, p. 147.
  12. ^ Teague, Kipp. "40 Acres: The Lost Studio Backlot of Movie & Television Fame." RetroWeb Studio Backlots website. Retrieved: June 10, 2012.
  13. ^ Nott 2007, p. 116.
  14. ^ Crowther, Bosley. " 'China Sky,' Adapted From the novel by Pearl Buck ... has been made into a regulation screen drama at the Palace." The New York Times, May 25, 1945. Retrieved: June 5, 2012.
  15. ^ "China Sky." Variety, December 31, 1944. Retrieved: June 6, 2012.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Buck, Pearl S. China Sky. New York: The John Day Company, Inc., 1941.
  • Chung, Hye Seung. Hollywood Asian: Philip Ahn and the Politics of Cross-Ethnic Performance. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-59213-516-5.
  • Dolan, Edward F. Jr. Hollywood Goes to War. London: Bison Books, 1985. ISBN 0-86124-229-7.
  • Evans, Alun. Brassey's Guide to War Films. Dulles, Virginia: Potomac Books, 2000. ISBN 1-57488-263-5.
  • Hyams, Jay. War Movies. New York: W.H. Smith Publishers, Inc., 1984. ISBN 978-0-8317-9304-3.
  • Koppes, Clayton R. and Gregory D. Black. Hollywood Goes to War: How Politics, Profits and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies. New York, The Free Press, 1987. ISBN 0-02-903550-3.
  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2009. New York: New American Library, 2009 (originally published as TV Movies, then Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide), First edition 1969, published annually since 1988. ISBN 978-0-451-22468-2.
  • Nott, Robert. The Films of Randolph Scott. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2007. ISBN 978-0-78643-759-7.
  • Orriss, Bruce. When Hollywood Ruled the Skies: The Aviation Film Classics of World War II. Hawthorne, California: Aero Associates Inc., 1984. ISBN 0-9613088-0-X.
  • Parish, James Robert. The Great Combat Pictures: Twentieth-Century Warfare on the Screen. Metuchen, New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0-8108-2315-0.
  • Twomey, Alfred E. and Arthur F. McClure. The Versatiles: A Study of Supporting Character Actors and Actresses in the American Motion Picture, 1930-1955. New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, 1969. ASIN B000MZWDZ8.
  • Warrick, Ruth with Don Preston. The Confessions of Phoebe Tyler. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1980. ISBN 978-0-13167-403-5.

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