Saturday, July 16, 2011
China Seas (1935)
Gable is the captain of a merchant ship plying its trade in the South China Sea in the 1930s. He’s ex-Royal Navy officer Alan Gaskell and he has a reputation as a bit of a martinet. OK, Gable as an Englishman is a bit of a stretch but this is Hollywood so it doesn’t really matter. Gable wisely makes no attempt at an English accent.
The captain’s position is complicated by the presence of another passenger, Sybil Barclay (Rosalind Russell). Many years earlier Sybil had been the great love of Gaskell’s life but she married another man. Now her husband is dead and she is keen to rekindle her old romance with Gaskell. In fact she intends to finally marry him and he’s pretty sold on the idea as well.
The plot is by no means as unlikely as it sounds.The South China Sea really was infested by pirates in the 1930s, and in fact piracy was still rife in this region in more recent times.
Director Tay Garnett makes this combination of comedy, romance, drama, action and adventure work extremely well. The exotic atmosphere of intrigue and danger in the Mysterious East is captured superbly. It might be a Hollywood version of the East but it’s undeniably glamorous and exciting.
I saw this one on TCM (and their print is truly excellent) but it’s available on DVD. It’s really a must-see movie if you’re a Harlow fan. Or a Gable fan. Actually it’s a must-see movie for anyone who likes Hollywood movies of the 30s. A hugely enjoyable movie that delivers the goods in every area.