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"China Seas" is a real essential.


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This. This. THIS. This is a film to show people to convert them to classic movies. Funny, sexy, exciting, every bit as resonant today as 1935- really saying something for a post-Code pic-chuh.

 

China Seas, 1935. MGM all the way. Bang bang bang, nonstop action, mile-a-minute dialogue. Basically a shameless retread of Red Dust, I actually like it a lot better than Red Dust. It's also got a dash of Shanghai Express, which is fine. Maybe it's the fact that I'm drawn to "souls at sea"" pictures and ensemble films about disparate groups thrown together by fate, their bizarre stories intertwining...

 

and what an ensemble this film boasts:

 

Harlow, who by now could act, working her sex-clown routine with total confidence- fierceness to the Nth. Acing scene after scene, playing off Gable and Wallace Beery and Hattie MacDaniel (who has a rare good role, although not as substantial as it could be) just wonderfully. She should have gotten a Best Actress nomination for this. Just magnificent.

 

Gable as Gable. Roz Russell stuck playing one of the dour, humorless Brits MGM frequently cast her as in the thirties (see also Night Must Fall and The Citadel ). Donald Meek and Lewis Stone and Robert Benchley (I didn't know he was in any thirties films) and plenty of others, all making the most out of their bits.

 

The stories are tight; every character compelling, great dialogue- wonderfully pieced together. I don't often agree with Maltin or find his assessments of films too astute, but he is completely correct when he calls China Seas "impossible to dislike."

 

Forget trotting out On the Waterfront for the umpteen hundredth time- China Seas is the film to show the straights to win them over to the "Black and White" side and show people how exciting and entertaining a classic movie can be.

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What a fun write-up to read.

But Lorna, you got me all fired up to watch this movie you rave about, so I check the database and find out it's over ! It already aired, today at noon. I am too late ! 

Why O why did you not post your heads up about how wonderful this film is earlier? I could have and would have made a point of watching it. (Maybe even trying to record it although this is difficult for me these days.)

 

I went all agog for China Seas, only to discover it's come and gone. I missed the boat. (sorry.)

And when, pray tell, do you suppose TCM will air it again?

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China Seas is one of director Tay Garnett's excellent series of shipboard films in exotic locations. His others are One Way Passage (1932), Trade Winds, and Seven Sinners. I think he did a few others as well.

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I have to pull out my copy and watch this one, too bad it isn't pre-code.

 

PS I see they gave Wallace Beery the name Jamesy MacArdle in the movie, lol.

 

PSS The best thing the real classic movies, or most, have going for them is they are under 90 minutes. Unlike the CGI madness of today.

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 ... I went all agog for China Seas, only to discover it's come and gone. I missed the boat. (sorry.)

And when, pray tell, do you suppose TCM will air it again?

I don't know about TCM's plans to show CHINA SEAS again, but if you really can't wait, it's readily available on DVD.  It's part of a Clark Gable box that Warner Home Video released several years ago, which is still available, and it's in the TCM Greatest Classic Films collection devoted to Jean Harlow.  Amazon also has it listed as a stand-alone disc from several purveyors for very modest prices (as low as $4.99 new).

 

I know that not everyone spends on movies as profligately as I do, so maybe you'd rather wait until TCM shows it again.  I hope it'll be soon, because it's a very good movie with a great cast -- one of my very favorites for each of the well known cast members.

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I bought a Jean Harlow DVD collection that includes China Seas, but I've never watched it (I'm not much of a Harlow fan, but I bought the DVD set for Libeled Lady and Wife vs. Secretary).  After such an enthusiastic review, however, I'll have to give it a try.

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Why O why did you not post your heads up about how wonderful this film is earlier? I could have and would have made a point of watching it. (Maybe even trying to record it although this is difficult for me these days.)

 

This happened to me when someone started a thread about "Face of Fire" yesterday, after the fact, and I became interested. Forgive me for being off-topic, but I wonder if it would be worth it to start a thread along the lines of "This Week on TCM" for recommendations of films coming on soon. Just a place to give a heads up about a film you like and want others to be aware of. Do you think there should be one? Or should discussions just be started before the film airs?

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... I wonder if it would be worth it to start a thread along the lines of "This Week on TCM" for recommendations of films coming on soon. Just a place to give a heads up about a film you like and want others to be aware of. Do you think there should be one? Or should discussions just be started before the film airs?

 

Good idea, Kay.

Hey, maybe you could start it !  ^_^

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I bought a Jean Harlow DVD collection that includes China Seas, but I've never watched it (I'm not much of a Harlow fan, but I bought the DVD set for Libeled Lady and Wife vs. Secretary).  After such an enthusiastic review, however, I'll have to give it a try.

We must have the same collection.  I bought it just for "Libeled Lady." I've never really understood what the big deal was about Harlow-- only that she died so young and so tragically; but for what I've seen of her, she is good and funny, but she doesn't stand out. 

 

I'll end up watching the remainder of the films eventually.  I am in the same situation with the Katharine Hepburn collection I got.  While I do enjoy Katharine Hepburn, so I don't feel quite the same about it as I do Harlow; but I bought it just for "Stage Door."  I already owned "The Philadelphia Story" (now I have 2!) which is really the only other movie I'd get.

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I'm reading "The Genius of the Studio System" right now and I just finished reading about the pre-production process of this film.  Apparently Irving Thalberg acquired the rights to this property in 1930 and worked with three different writers to come up with three different storyline ideas.  After selecting one, he worked for the next 4-4.5 years with dozens of writers, a few directors and a few supervisors trying to bring the storyline to fruition.  Finally toward the end of 1934, they started filming it. 

 

Thank goodness that the film was a hit.  I'd hate to spend that much time and money on something, only to have it flop.

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Why O why did you not post your heads up about how wonderful this film is earlier? I could have and would have made a point of watching it. (Maybe even trying to record it although this is difficult for me these days.) I went all agog for China Seas, only to discover it's come and gone. I missed the boat. (sorry.)

Sorry. I didn't know it was on the schedule. There was a surprise- but welcome- rainstorm where I live this morning and I found myself watching tv at a time when I am usually at work.

 

If I see it coming on again, and I'm still around, I'll send an alert.

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I'm reading "The Genius of the Studio System" right now and I just finished reading about the pre-production process of this film.  Apparently Irving Thalberg acquired the rights to this property in 1930 and worked with three different writers to come up with three different storyline ideas.  After selecting one, he worked for the next 4-4.5 years with dozens of writers, a few directors and a few supervisors trying to bring the storyline to fruition.  Finally toward the end of 1934, they started filming it. 

 

 

And yet the story seems so effortless (in the complimentary sense.)

 

It's funny China Seas was in development so long, since it seemed like something of a redux of Red Dust and also a tad derivative of of Shanghai Express. As I said, while it has traces of those films, it stands on its own merits just fine, but surely more than one critic has commented that the basic plot bore a strong similarity to Dust.

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This happened to me when someone started a thread about "Face of Fire" yesterday, after the fact, and I became interested. Forgive me for being off-topic, but I wonder if it would be worth it to start a thread along the lines of "This Week on TCM" for recommendations of films coming on soon. Just a place to give a heads up about a film you like and want others to be aware of. Do you think there should be one? Or should discussions just be started before the film airs?

There used to be a guy named Mark Beckauf (sp?) who did a wonderful weekly write up of coming attractions on TCM. He had a really contagious optimism.

 

Haven't seen him since the renovation.

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We must have the same collection.  I bought it just for "Libeled Lady." I've never really understood what the big deal was about Harlow-- only that she died so young and so tragically; but for what I've seen of her, she is good and funny, but she doesn't stand out. 

 

One big reason why I like Harlow so much is because when she started- she was terrible. Like, not even Sofia Coppola in Godfather III terrible: she was Sofia Coppola in Peggy Sue Got Married terrible...but instead of cracking under the pressure, or just plowing along and not improving- she got exponentially better as an actress.

 

Of course it helped that MGM put her in (mostly) the right kind of roles, but she developed such a natural, fearsome yet feminine, earthy and thoroughly unpretentious screen presence in films like China Seas, Libeled Lady (in which she's good, but sadly underused- and a bit grating by the end), Red Headed Woman, Bombshell, Red Dust and (most especially) Dinner at Eight, where (for me at least) she is the best in show (well, maybe second to Billie Burke, but she's pretty great), and that is something when you're working with the best that there was at the time.

 

She was also something of a pioneer at playing independent women, spouting reams of dialogue in a confident, mile-a-minute, tough as nails fashion that influenced others (I think there is a bit of Harlow in her China Seas costar's Rosalind Russell's most winning performance five years later in His Girl Friday.)

 

To me, Harlow always stands out and is always worth watching- even if her remarkable progress as an actress was sadly cut short. .

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dvd copies are at my local public libraries.

 

i don't really like beery, but i'm slowly warming up to his character.

 

I don't know about TCM's plans to show CHINA SEAS again, but if you really can't wait, it's readily available on DVD.

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One big reason why I like Harlow so much is because when she started- she was terrible. Like, not even Sofia Coppola in Godfather III terrible: she was Sofia Coppola in Peggy Sue Got Married terrible...but instead of cracking under the pressure, or just plowing along and not improving- she got exponentially better as an actress.

 

Of course it helped that MGM put her in (mostly) the right kind of roles, but she developed such a natural, fearsome yet feminine, earthy and thoroughly unpretentious screen presence in films like China Seas, Libeled Lady (in which she's good, but sadly underused- and a bit grating by the end), Red Headed Woman, Bombshell, Red Dust and (most especially) Dinner at Eight, where (for me at least) she is the best in show (well, maybe second to Billie Burke, but she's pretty great), and that is something when you're working with the best that there was at the time.

 

She was also something of a pioneer at playing independent women, spouting reams of dialogue in a confident, mile-a-minute, tough as nails fashion that influenced others (I think there is a bit of Harlow in her China Seas costar's Rosalind Russell's most winning performance five years later in His Girl Friday.)

 

To me, Harlow always stands out and is always worth watching- even if her remarkable progress as an actress was sadly cut short. .

You said it, "Toots" :)

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"NipkowDisc" stated yesterday that China Seas should be colorized.

It was. I have a VHS copy of the colorized version of China Seas which I

recorded from TNT several years ago (probably back in the mid 1990's).

TNT had also broadcast a colorized version of Red Dust which I also had

recorded on VHS.

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This film is great fun with a game cast.  It was a worthy followup by MGM to repeat the magic of RED DUST, especially when you consider the Code was in full force.  As for the suggestion that CHINA SEAS should be colorized, no comment other than to say the intent of the OP was to use this movie as a way of introducing resistant modern audiences to the glories of black and white films.

 

I believe the success of CS led to 20th Century Fox to have Shirley Temple get stranded in the far East the following year, in STOWAWAY, one of the moppets better vehicles imho.

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 As for the suggestion that CHINA SEAS should be colorized, no comment other than to say the intent of the OP was to use this movie as a way of introducing resistant modern audiences to the glories of black and white films.

 

Well, black and white, but also classic films. I would definitely put China Seas on a list of films I think are great "gateway" films; good titles to try out for that friend, family member, or person you're sleeping with who begrudgingly agrees to watch something "old" with you." They'll be entertained, but also surprised by how relevant many of the scenarios, stories, laughs, and issues are in sync with what goes on today

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