China staring Alan Ladd and Loretta young is a 1943 Paramount film directed by John Farrow (also Renno and Round the world in 80 days.) Set, pre-Pearl Harbor, in China in the late 1930′s. At this China has been at war with itself – with several groups attempting to unify the country; at war with Japan for over tens years. China was also still subject to control via the treaty port system which German, France, Italy and Great Britain controlled various ports and city’s to protect their commercial interests from the instability of greater China.
The film China features an American opportunist named ‘Jones’ and his partner Johnny are in China to sell oil to anyone on either side; Jones is currently selling to the the invading Japanese.
The Character Jones, is immediately recognizable by this brown Fedora and leather jacket; an image used by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and others in Indiana Jones. Here the comparison with the archaeologist Jones ends. The Alan Ladd Jones is a business man; ruthless enough to put profit first in a hostile country.
Alan Ladd is cast as Jones the antagonist to the compassionate teacher and his partner. Johnny accidentally adopts an abandoned child during a Japanese air raid, and is forced to give him up. Jones is forced to help the teacher; who also hides her ‘charges’, a group school girls aboard his truck; eventually the antagonist Jones turns from ‘Bad-guy’ to ‘Good-guy’.
The inevitable clash with the Japanese occurs forcing Jones to make a choice, putting his live on the line.
The teacher played by Loretta Young, while traveling cross-country to Shanghai, meets with Jones during an air raid on dark rainy night. Sparks fly between these strong-willed characters where they oppose each other balling nose to nose, with neither budging an inch.
It’s interesting to point out that Alan Ladd is only 5ft 5″, and long legded Loretta is 5ft 6-7″ without shoes. Alan spent a lot of his career acting stood on the top of a box to kiss his leading ladies.
Throughout the well written film the dialog flows well and through excellent character acting the characters both come alive and develop to provided us with an engaging character driven story. The screen itself was based on the play “Fourth Brother” by Archibald Forbes.
Gritty and realistic, dark and deadly the film differs from adventures stories of the time and those which followed. It reminds realistic right to conclusion, there is no hint of false optimism. This is possibly the best film John Farrow made, his others being mainly formula Westerns, Farrow obivously had a talent for direction and used it well in China. Alan Ladd and John Farrow worked together again on the 1947 film – Calcutta.