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'
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
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
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)