It is a well-known fact that Harrison
Ford was not the first choice for Steven Spielberg
and George Lucas when casting began for Indiana
Jones. In fact, the two bearded filmmakers knew
exactly who they wanted. He was an up and coming
actor named Tom Selleck and he was about to make
a huge splash on television in the show, Magnum
It was because of this very show
that Selleck lost the role. He had tested for
the part and was willing to do it, but the producers
of Magnum P.I.
would not grant him any flexibility in his contract.
For the Indiana Jones films, the rest is history.
However, when Magnum
P.I. was such a huge hit, Hollywood took
notice of Selleck and wanted to get him on the
big screen. Warner Bros.
was one of the first studios to grant him a starring
role in a major film, and ironically enough the
film seems like a consolation prize for losing
the role of Indiana Jones.
This film is High
Road to China, and it very much feels like
Warner Bros. was
playing the "what-if" game in giving
the role to Selleck, and in a way, putting him
in shoes similar to Indiana Jones'. The film is
a tale of high adventure set in the 1920s in which
a rich, young and bratty socialite named Eve (played
by Bess Armstrong) realizes that with her father
having been missing for years, she may lose her
father's fortune to his conniving business partner.
This former partner is determined to have Eve's
father declared dead so he can take his assets
Eve knows she must find him, but
the last time she received any word of his whereabouts,
he was somewhere in Afghanistan. She hires a former
World War I flying ace, Patrick O'Malley (Selleck)
to fly her into Asia to find her father. Now a
drunkard and wholly apathetic to her quest, O'Malley
reluctantly agrees in exchange for a massive sum
of cash. The subsequent trek takes them into the
most dangerous parts of Asia in O'Malley's biplanes
in search of her father. They encounter militant
Afghan tribes, a tyrannical Chinese warlord, and
even a German flying ace in their quest, played
interestingly enough by none other than Wolf Kahler,
best known as Dietrich in Raiders
of the Lost Ark! All of these foes want
O'Malley and Eve stopped.
much like Indy.
The film really is a solid piece
of filmmaking, yet in recent years has been all
but forgotten by the public. Tom Selleck gives
a wonderfully rich performance as the dry and
cynical flying ace, and he truly carries the film.
The action scenes are impressive in scope, most
notably the fight with the Afghan tribe, which
looks very similar to scenes from Lawrence
For Indiana Jones fans, this film
is a treat on many fronts. The most entertaining
aspect of the film for Indy enthusiasts is the
chance to watch Tom Selleck, the intended Indiana
Jones, play a role in an adventure story set in
a similar era to Indy's own. After seeing this
film numerous times, this writer feels that Selleck
would not have detracted from the Indiana Jones
series had he been able to play the part. His
handling of both the dramatic sequences and action
scenes are realistic and entertaining.
There are many other aspects of
the film which are sure to please Indiana Jones
enthusiasts. The atmosphere is very reminiscent
of the Indy series, with O'Malley and Eve in leather
boots and jackets, traveling through crowded streets,
deserts, flying biplanes, and ducking into dark
tents in large encampments. O'Malley gets his
hands on a variety of Indy-era weapons from revolvers
to his massive, trusty Louis gun. The characters
duke it out with Afghan tribesmen and Chinese
soldiers alike. O'Malley also engages a German
pilot in a heated dogfight.
& Eve sneaking.
The opening title sequence will
also be of major interest to Indiana Jones and
adventure fans. The credits play over a series
of vintage illustrations of famous archaeological
sites such as the Sphinx and the Giza pyramids,
showing that this film (like Indiana Jones) involves
an adventure of global proportions.
Certainly, this film was inspired
and made with the success of Indiana Jones in
mind. It had only been two years since Raiders
of the Lost Ark broke the box office and
a whole slew of imitators from Richard Chamberlain's
King Solomon's Mines
the Stone tried to capture the magic of Indiana
Jones. However, the only one that comes close
in action and atmosphere is High
Road to China. This film is easily the
best of the Indy-imitators of the 1980s and worth
a watch. (MF)