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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

THE GENERAL DIED AT DAWN (1936)


Gary Cooper and Madeleine Carroll are the apogee of sexy glamor in this rapturously silly & exciting picaresque adventure about Americans caught in the middle of escalating military conflict between Chinese Warlords. Everything clicks on this one: Lewis Milestone ‘s overly-studied direction, Clifford Odet ‘s purple prose, Hans Dreier ‘s elegant design (China never looked as stylish as it did on the Paramount lot), Victor Milner ‘s impossibly sleek lensing, even the typically awkward mix of real Asians & Caucasians made up as ‘Orientals’ seems to give us permission to accept some of the old narrative tropes we might find difficult to swallow in a production with less artifice and more verisimilitude. (Who wants verisimilitude when you can have Akim Tamiroff as General Yang?) And if it doesn’t transcend the limitations built into the genre the way, say, SHANGHAI EXPRESS/’32 does, it’s still knock out entertainment. (It’s also near the top of my list for all-time great movie titles.)

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