Sunday, August 24, 2008
The Bitter Tea of General Yen
The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) is a bizarre, exotic adventure set in Shanghai, which gave Frank Capra chance to dress his star, Barbara Stanwyck, up in amazing Mandarin Fashions and look seductive. It is often compared to Marlene Dietrich's The Lady from Shanghai. Though Babs plays a missionary in this one and Dietrich's Shanghai Lily couldn't be further from that profession. Megan Davis gets kidnapped on her wedding night by a Chinese warlord, General Yen (Nils Asther, a Dane in unconvincing make-up) after she and her husband try to rescue a trainload of orphans. At first Megan resists General Yen, but after a dream in which she imagines him by turns in Western clothes and sensitively sophisiticated and by others as as a monstrous charicature, she begins to soften to his charm. She interferes when he plans to have one of his concubines executed for disloyalty and he challenges her faith by telling her he will let the woman live, but take Megan's life instead if there is another betrayal. In true pre-code fashion the worst of humanity is confirmed and romantic love triumphs in spirit at the conclusion of the film. Stanwyck is a bit out of place in the settings and if feels wrong to have her sitting around looking glamorous all the time. Even further from home, is Frank Capra. With no humor and no uplifiting statement about humanity in crisis, I can't imagine what he was thinking.