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TheRaider.net Research Indy's Influences Legacy High Road to China
 
High Road to China
 

Released by Warner Bros. - 1983

Directed by: Brian G. Hutton
Story by: Jon Cleary (novel)
Written by: S. Lee Pogostin & Sandra Weintraub Roland
Produced by: Raymond Chow, Frederick Muller & Fred Weintraub

Starring:
Tom Selleck .... O'Malley
Bess Armstrong .... Eve Tozer
Jack Weston .... Struts
Wilford Brimley .... Bradley Tozer
Robert Morley .... Bentik

 

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 P.I..


Flying Ace O'Malley.

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 and patents.

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.


Selleck looking very
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 of Arabia.

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.


O'Malley & 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 to Romancing 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)

 

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