Thursday, 12 September 2013

Java Head (1934)
John Loder & Anna May Wong
John Loder & Anna May Wong
Interracial romance; illegitimate children; infidelity; attempted murder; suicide; drug dealing; repeated attacks on religion; and opium addiction - yes, opium addiction!!!
It can only mean one thing:
Yes, it's the return of 1930's British cinema - or more specifically a Basil Dean production.

I always used to think British cinema of the 1930s was dull, staid and melodramatic. I was wrong: Oh yes it's melodramatic, but staid and dull? Never.
The film stars celebrated Chinese-American actress Anna May Wong as a Chinese woman who comes to Bristol in the 1840s with her sea-captain husband, played by John Loder.
Anna May Wong

John Loder
In an era when racial mixing was a controversial subject, their relationship makes a bold statement. Indeed, it was the only film of Anna May Wong's career in which she was allowed to kiss her leading man. As a result, the film was one of her personal favourites:
Loder & Wong
As if the shock of a respectable man arriving home with an oriental wife wasn't enough, the film decides it needs some more controversial themes. First we have Loder falling back in love with his old girlfriend ...
Elizabeth Allan & John Loder 
... whose uncle had forbidden from being with Loder due to the shame of her having been born out of wedlock. Her uncle is rather a religious man who is verbally attacked for his devotion by Loder's father (played by Edmund Gwenn).
But if blasphemy, interracial and extramarital kisses weren't enough, we have a sailor (played by Roy Emerton - a World War One veteran whose former careers included: fireman, miner, stevedore, railroad worker and cowboy) who is shown chasing women in foreign ports, conveniently ignoring the woman who is waiting for him at home.
Roy Emerton
However, he's not the only one who has been having a bit of fun whilst he's at sea. After more than a year away he arrives home to find his wife waiting at the quayside with triplets who seem too young to have been conceived before he left home more than a year before:
Most interesting, the plot turns as it is revealed that the uncle of Loder's girlfriend Netty has a dark secret. Just as in The Impassive Footman, George Curzon's character is a troubled man.
George Curzon
At first we just think he is a creepy character who is obsessed with Wong because of his self-professed love of China and the Chinese after his time spent working in the East (although he does refer to the Chinese as "the yellowies"). Indeed, he prefers China to England, which he describes wonderfully as a "stodgy land of horsehair and underdone mutton." You might wonder why, if he loves China so much, he has returned to England. We eventually discover he lost his job after 'going native'. Yes, you've guessed it, he's an opium addict:
George Curzon

George Curzon
George Curzon & Anna May Wong

And not to forget, just for good measure, the audience is tempted with a bit of nudity. it may only be Anna May Wong's naked back and shoulders, but that was 'fast' enough for the censor!

And just for your reference, here's the heavily scarred Roy Emerton:
And more to the point, it's only the sixth screen appearance of Sir Ralph Richardson, playing the opium dealing head of a shipping company:
Ralph Richardson

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