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China
 

Released by Paramount Pictures - 1943

Directed by: John Farrow
Written by: Frank Butler & Archibald Forbes
Produced by: Richard Blumenthal

Starring:
Loretta Young .... Carolyn Grant
Alan Ladd .... Mr. Jones
William Bendix .... Johnny Sparrow
Philip Ahn .... Lin Cho
Iris Wong .... Kwan Su
Victor Sen Yung .... Lin Wei

 

When George Lucas and Steven Spielberg wanted to give their production crew an idea as to what Raiders of the Lost Ark was supposed to feel like, look like, sound like, and act like, they held two screenings during pre-production. During one screening they showed Secret of the Incas and during the other, they screened a film starring Alan Ladd simply titled China.

The film follows an American profiteer (Ladd) living in China by the name of "Mr. Jones" who sells gasoline to the Japanese invaders, or anyone else who can afford it. He and his partner, Johnny Sparrow (played by William Bendix), have a meeting in Japanese-held Shanghai with some Japanese bigwigs that want Mr. Jones' oil. Determined to make the meeting, Jones and Sparrow hop in their truck and head for Shanghai by way of treacherous mountain roads smattered with Japanese and Chinese forces at each others' throats.


See the fedora & jacket.

During a mishap one evening, Jones and Sparrow meet Carolyn Grant (played by Loretta Young), a schoolteacher who is trying to get twenty Chinese girls to safety up in the mountains before the Japanese army arrives. She "commandeers" Jones' truck without his blessing and the journey continues. At first, Jones is unwilling to cooperate, but after being witness to an unthinkable atrocity by the army he once sold his wares to, Jones finds a cause worth fighting for agrees to help Carolyn and the Chinese girls find safety…At all costs.

This film is interesting from today's point of view. It is certainly a sign of its times, when the United States needed a patriotic rousing in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, which is exactly what films like China provided. Viewed in this context, the film is excellently constructed and expertly acted by the three main players. However, the surrounding characters tend to act "over-the-top" at times, which, if not successfully ignored, may impact the experience.

Alan Ladd and William Bendix are at the top of their form in this film, with Bendix emoting like a freight train during some emotional moments with a small Chinese baby. Ladd dominates the film throughout and defines the entire tone of the picture in two heart-stopping sequences that will burn themselves into any viewer's memory.

As for Indiana Jones, Paramount Pictures has surely capitalized on the fedora, jacket, and khakis combination. Mr. Jones sports this outfit just as Harry Steele from Secret of the Incas and Indiana Jones would in future Paramount productions. This is the most obvious influence from the film on the Indiana Jones series. Right away, even the casual Indiana Jones fan will note this classic costuming as well as the fact that Ladd's character happens to be named "Jones".


The lead cast.

What other influences did China bring to Indiana Jones' plate? For one, the passion of the cinematography is overwhelming. The opening shots of Sparrow trying to get through the bombed out Chinese village are incredible feats of filmmaking and parallel the kind of detail that Spielberg injected into sequences like the Tanis dig site and the Ravenwood bar. However, the passion of the visuals in China also has an economy that echoes in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Both films, while having these gorgeous visuals, never display anything extraneous or trivial. Each shot conveys an important detail that contributes to the story, keeping the pace ever moving, never lagging.

The truck that Ladd and Bendix drive looks very similar to the truck that carries the Ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The dusty roads that the truck navigates also seem to reverberate with the aesthetic of the dirt trails that Indy careens through in the climactic chase for the lost Ark. Another strikingly similar visual from the film is a shot in which Ladd grabs a Japanese submachine gun and starts blasting away with it. This brief moment looks almost identical to the shots of Indy pounding lead into the Nazi soldiers in his Dad's cell from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The final chuckle of recognition for an Indiana Jones fan would most likely be a short conversation that Jones has with Carolyn about the two types of women, while driving the truck. Jones refers to "lipstick" women and "those that crack the whip". For any Indy fan, this scene will illicit a grin just for the fact that Mr. Jones is talking about cracking whips while wearing his hat and jacket while driving a large, canvas back, military truck. (MF)

 

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