WORKING WITH FILM DIRECTORS IS INTENSE, AMUSING, CREATIVE, BEAUTIFUL, AND REWARDING

By Christopher Langley, Inyo County Film Commissioner

This year the 2016 Lone Pine Film Festival celebrates directors. I thought as the event begins today, it would be fun to think back to the many talented directors I have encountered working with movies in the area these last nine years.

I have always loved film. Back in college I was a very active participant in the Dartmouth Film Society. So it was no surprise to me, once I retired I became involved in the film industry where I lived. At first I was a volunteer, until the Inyo Film Commission broke away from Mono County. So my first encounters with directors were as a curious “lookie-lou.”

I visited the set of “Tremors” several times, first out on Whitney Portal Road (where they were filming “cold for hot”) and then in the area near Dolomite where they built the aqueduct set. I didn’t get to talk to Ron Underwood at the time but watched him work. That was when I first really understood the role of the director. I also watched them shoot Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward discovering the dead worm that had chased them. They shot the scene in at least fifteen ways, over and over again. The “glamour” of being a movie star I learned includes many trials: hurry up and wait; we needed it yesterday; let’s do it one more time.

It was when Ron and others from the production did a panel I moderated at the film festival that I fully understood the challenges. The panel was after his big film “The Adventures of Pluto Nash” had bombed, and as unpleasant as it was, I asked him “What happened?” His explanation was enlightening. He said the job of the director is to have a vision for a film, and then get cast and crew to have the same shared vision. He had not been able to do that. Star Eddie Murphy and others were each making their own movie and thus “Adventures” never really came together. He was remarkably candid, and also took full responsibility for the film's failure. He is a man of strong ethical character.

Again, I was on the set of the movie “Maverick,” not working but watching. First of all it was a very open set so I could frequently watch Richard Donner direct and Mel Gibson act. For instance, that day an actor was falling between animatronic snakes. He was right on cue but the reptiles were never coordinated or “hitting” their marks. Mel had to fall flat on his face in the earth at least fifteen times and went through several shirt changes.

But it was my luck to also be standing between the two men at breaks in the action listening to Donner instructing Gibson on many of the finer points in directing. I realized how generous professionals can be with their knowledge and time with people who want to learn new skills. Gibson’s first directorial assignment was ”The Man Without a Face,” which was a small film where he played a fire-scarred man.  His second outing was “Braveheart,” which won Best Picture and got him an Oscar for directing. It would seem Richard Donner is a pretty good teacher.

The first film I worked on as film commissioner was a low budget short film that told the story ofa white friend who went with his Japanese pals to Manzanar, basically as a protest. The film is “Stand Up For Justice” by writer/director John Esaki. The film was being produced through a grant and John Esaki was directing. For me it was learning by watching.  They had some small yet effective sets, simple costumes but professional actors and crew. The film was to be placed in every California high school library. I

It was several years later when director John Esaki brought it to screen at Manzanar that I saw it.  John was there and we chatted briefly about the challenges of making it. I was very impressed with the quality of the film, taking a small budget and parleying it into a fully realized film. I began to sense the power and skill a director must have to take limited resources and make it look fully believable while telling the story visually.

Dominic Cianciolo, Director of “Bounty” a western short film, was easy to work with out in the Alabama Hills, dealing with changing light and shadow and matching the clouds, or absence of them, in the sky. Somehow I falsely thought that westerns were easier than other genres, but as I watched them work, location shooting presents unique challenges.

Then I began to work with larger pictures and a different set of problems. First the director and his immediate team were directing hundreds of people, over months of shooting. When a schedule change intercedes, filming can easily slip into chaos. I had heard a lot about director Michael Bay: juvenile, emotive, castigating his crew or actors in front of others. One time he was quoted as saying: “So what if I made movies for teenage boys, they make a billion dollars.” In the case of “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen,” star Shia LeBeouf injured himself and the section to be filmed in the Alabama Hills was suddenly moved up a month. Although scouting had been done and locations chosen, the team rushed to be ready. Then the crew, I and, two BLM employees waited and waited for him.

Finally Bay roared into camp right on the southern end of Movie Road, screeched to a halt and ordered a tuna fish sandwich. Location personnel said, “Michael, let us show you where you’’ll be filming. “ He answered, “Let me show you where I want to film” and roared off, never having been there before but familiar with the areas from scouting photos I hoped. We all jumped into cars and sped after him. When the dust settled, he had changed several of the sites, but having BLM people there, permitting was ok’d. Since everything was set up for other sites, the crew was confused and soon Bay was yelling at them for the confusion he had actually instituted.

Later he pushed aside the Director of Photography (DP) and took control of the camera and the shot. I was nearby and watched him work.  Perhaps he thought I had the power to shut him down, but he remained cordial to me and after a brief explanation, actually pinned on a “Don’t Crush the Brush” button. Later complications ensued when the two tigers on set were to be set free, but be on “electronic leashes.” The production needed a local big game hunter. That story and more next time.

SINGER ANNA MARIE BECOMES ‘SALOME” ON STAGE AND ORIENTALISM MEETS THE WILD WEST IN 1945 LONE PINE

 

Yvonne DeCarlo’s “…debut performance in this Universal programmer…sets up DeCarlo as little more than an exotic vamp with the ability to dance in gauzy costumes. Distracting the audience in the hopes they won’t realize there’s no plat to be had,” writes Kristen in the on-line column “Journey in Classic Films.” She continues, “’Salome, Where She danced” is the film equivalent of throwing bologna on the ceiling and betting on which piece sticks.”

“Postwar nihilism conquered by the Eternal Feminine, an irresistible quasi-operetta that transforms an old Chinese sage with a Scottish brogue into a spokesman for the medium’s amalgamated possibilities, “ Fernando F. Croce.  He also writes, “The leering count (Albert Dekker) with monocle and rapier, the Russian aesthete (Walter Slezak) giving away Rembrandts, Madame Europe (Marjorie Rambeau) and her hoochie-coochie review, ‘all instruments of divine providence’ in a Technicolor hallucination of erudite silliness.” The critics did not like and still don’t like the film “Salome, Where She Danced.” Yet still it made money.

Yvonne DeCarlo plays a newly recruited spy whop falls in love with the person she is spying on. Rod Cameron, the Clark Gable wanna be (Jim Steed) decides to promote her act into “Salome” the legendary dancer with seven veils that takes the American West by storm. It is just after General Lee’s surrender and there is a lot of unhappiness among the soldiers from the South who want to keep on fighting for as one says, “I’ve been fighting since I was 16. I don’t know what else to do.”

These war-damaged soldiers suffering from PTSD explain why the man Salome finally falls in love with is a brigand and stagecoach robber whose name is Cleve Blunt played by David Bruce. Bruce is an expressionless Ashley Wilkes character (“Gone With the Wind’), which makes Cameron a Rhett Butler type. Imitation is the truest form of flattery, they say.

This role was DeCarlo’s first starring role and it made her a star of B pictures, until she ran into Lily Munster of the T.V. show “The Munsters” which sadly is how I see her in the picture as an old woman.  Now mind you she is truly beautiful although classic ballet may not be her forte. Producer Walter Wanger did a coast-to-coast search and said she was chosen from 20,000 persons who tried out. DeCarlo’s story is she had pictures in revealing costumes taken and got two childhood friends from Vancouver, Reginald Reid and Kenneth Ross McKenzie, who had became pilots, to arrange their friends to lobby on her behalf.”

The film was a “project racing up the ladder of success before tripping and hitting every rung on the way down,” according to critic Kristen. The director was originally going to be John Ford and producer Walter Wanger’s vision was creating an “ Arabian Nights story in western setting.”  Kristen again comments, “It’s safe to say Wanger never read “Arabian Nights” because outside of DeCarlo acting sultry, revealing her bare midriff and wearing harem pants, there’s little of that compendium’s storytelling.

The technical crew should be complemented including cinematographers W. Howard Greene and Hal Mohr who capture her on film as utterly breathtaking and beautiful. Vera West’s costumes, with a mix of styles including Arabian Chinese and western are beautiful and through the magic of movies, Miss DeCarlo looks marvelous even after riding in a rough stagecoach for days and days.

If there is only the typical bow to the seductive women of Orientalism in a few scenes, equal so there is little of the Alabama Hills as well.  They were here according to the Inyo Independent, but in the film except for some long shots in the rocks and showing the mountains, most of the Lone Pine footage is back projected. On November 14, 1944 the II reported, “A company of 38 Universal Studio employees were in Lone Pine last weekend, shooting scenes on a technicolor (sic) film reportedly entitled ‘Salome, Where She Danced.’” The writer continued, “The company arrived on Friday and returned to Hollywood Monday. The group stayed at the Dow Hotel, and were dined by Johnny Morris of the Mt. Whitney Café.

Without belaboring the point, what a movie like this demonstrates is the power of Oriental stereotypes in Hollywood and perhaps even in the West after the Civil War. I found the film fun although it has never been official release in a good print. It can be found on youtube and would make fun to sit down and watch on a hot summer night and just chill.

By the way, Salome is a town between Quartzite and Wickenburg in Arizona. A railroad-stopping place it is about the same size as Lone Pine. Dick Wick Hall, and Arizonian humorist, claims Salome co-founder Charles H. Pratt’s wife “had taken off her shoes in the Sonoran Desert and danced to keep the soles of her feet from burning on the hot sand. Her reward was to have a town named after her. Hall drew stick figures of Salome’s dance, and like many a newspaper proprietor boosting his town, hyped it as the place where Salome danced.”

 

 

 

 

TWO TARZANS, DESERTS AND THE TALLEST MOUNTAIN, STILL STEREOTYPICAL ARABS AND DUMBED-DOWN AFRICANS PLAGUE OUR JUNGLE HERO

By Christopher Langley, Eastern California Film Historian

I suppose it comes as no surprise that in “Tarzan’s Desert Mystery” (1943) and “Tarzan’s Savage Fury” (1952), both full of Arab and African characters, all were played by white American actors. If movies are cultural artifacts of their time, these two Tarzan movies, the first in the middle of WW2 and the second embedded in the time of the cold war varied their villains, but the sets were decorated by people playing roles of a stereotypical nature.

Edgar Rice Burrough’s novels of this near-naked white man, a British nobleman dropped into a foreign and somewhat hostile environment, went through many iterations during the some 89 Tarzan movies that have been made since the first in silent days. But the original novels are rife with Orientalist distortions.

Burroughs has Tarzan’s general rule of killing only for food or in self-defense not apply to natives. Tarzan “constantly belittles the blacks, both the Africans and one African American, Jane Porter’s companion and nursemaid Esmeralda.” Actually, Tarzan’s skin color in the original novel is “brown” and even “indigenous.” Burroughs adds, almost as an afterthought: “tanned to a dusky brown.” Associations of Tarzan with Native Americans occur in several of the movies as well. Boy actually recites “Hiawatha” in one. Vernon writes “And lo! There’s Jane now. Tarzan’s attraction to Jane is based primarily on her ‘snowy’ whiteness, as she’s the first white woman he’s ever seen, and is beautiful for her whiteness.”

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The early books particularly give a pervasively negative and stereotypical portrayal of native Africans, both Arab and Black. Arabs are “surly looking” and call Christians “dogs.” Blacks are “lithe, ebon warriors, gesticulating and jabbering.” Other groups are stereotyped as well. A Swede has “a yellow moustache, an unwholesome complexion, and filthy nails.” Russians generally are cheaters.

To the two Tarzan movies under consideration, in the first “Desert Mystery,” the villains are Nazi agents, and Jane has sent Tarzan and Boy on the mission across the Sahara to get medicinal herbs to fight malaria. In the second film, Tarzan runs into communist agents looking for diamonds to help the cold war goal of communist conquest of the world. The very popular ape man character was played by perennial athletic Tarzan Olympic swimmer Johnny Weismuller.  The second by Lex Barker who wanted to balance the character with a perception of a more gentlemanly British nobleman, an important element in the books that was almost never referenced in the movies until recently.

Racism is perhaps a little more subtle in the movies, but the contrast between the white characters and the Arabic and black African roles is still there. The white Tarzan, Jane and Connie Bryce always come out superior. It is easy to excuse these cultural artifacts as being entertainment, from a different age, but as our American culture is still plagued by racial, cultural and social stereotypes of the “other ones,” it is important never to loose track of these distortions.

Even more so is it important because these movies certainly take seriously their appeal to a juvenile, young audience. Saying that these movies are seldom seen today provides an excuse not to worry about it, but the power of these images remain with us, almost unrecognized in everyday life but still very powerful.

It is wonderful however, given these caveats, to watch these two movies. The Olancha dunes stand in for the Sahara in “Desert Mystery” very effectively as an arid landscape. The tallest mountain in Africa is readily played by Mt. Whitney in “Savage Fury.” In fact, the story has been told and repeated in Lone Pine when the film played at the Mt. Whitney Theater in Lone Pine, it was intoned that they had to cross the highest mountain in Africa.  When the camera panned up to the familiar peak, the entire audience stood up and cheered.  That mountain has appeared in every cinematic continent and even on several alien planets. It is a well-traveled mountain, at least cinematically.

The plots of the two movies are good fun, and action packed. In “Tarzan’s Desert Mystery,” Tarzan rescues American magician Connie Bryce and then as they travel in search of the Waziri for the medicine, they battle both a giant spider and a giant man-(and woman) eating plant. In fact, the Nazi falls prey to the giant spider. So what has started as a more traditional Tarzan film becomes a science fiction-fantasy film which led the critics to remark it seemed more aimed at juvenile audiences this time.  Jane is no where to be seen, but fans point out that Tarzan never casts a lustful eye at Connie, although boy does seem to be fishing for a mother-stand-in for he wants her to come back and live with them.

In “Tarzan’s Savage Fury” Rokov (played by Charles Korvin) and British traitor Edwards (Patrick Knowles) have convinced Tarzan and Jane to guide them for government purposes to the Waziri tribe (our old tribal friends) who control a treasure of uncut diamonds. They encounter a cannibalistic tribe, but escape except for Jane who remains captive. Ultimately Rokov leaves Edwards in a pit of hungry lions, and intends for Tarzan to join him. Instead in goes Rokov and Tarzan and Joey are able to get back to save Jane just before she is eaten by crocodiles at the foot of a stone idol.

The plots are fun, if fantastical, and keeping the cultural and racial distortions in mind, the films are still entertaining. Many of our adventure films of today owe much the prolific Tarzan films, comics and cartoons. A perfect way to spend a rainy Saturday should one someday appear.

JOHN WAYNE’S NEWSREEL WORK NEAR IRAQ BORDER REFLECTS NAÏVE ATTITUDES IN RARE “I COVER THE WAR”

By Chris Langley, Eastern California Film Historian

“I Cover the War,” made in 1937 by John Wayne presents a minor example of what Professor Said was attempting to describe as “Orientalism.” Often the term is used to indicate that much of our country’s history, and that of England has been distorted by misunderstanding of Muslim religion and culture. Orientalism has also analyzed a romantic tendency among writers and artists from the west. Just think of the images created by the words “harem,” “seraglio,” “belly dancer,” “veil,” “concubine” and “sheik.” Romantic and exotic images come to mind. Now you can add stereotypical terrorism and extremists. This movie even has those.

Bob Adams, (John Wayne) and Elmer “Slug” Davis (Don Barclay) have been assigned by the Atlas Newsreel to the British protectorate Samaria near the Iraq border to photograph the legendary and elusive Arab leader Muffadhi (Charles Brokaw.) There is a sub-ploy involving Bob’s brother, gunrunners masquerading as newsreel men, and the romantic interest. Wayne’s character ultimately meets and films Muffadhi who is planning a sneak attack on the British forces. This is a case of an “insurgency” and “terrorist” attacks. Will Wayne get the message to the British troops in time? Is their any political justification for Muffadhi’s behavior? Who will finally prevail in Samaria, the British or the residents? This is Hollywood in the 1930’s not Baghdad or Damascus  in 2016.

This was the fourth picture Wayne would make for Universal and filming began on April 10th in Red Rock Canyon.  After a day, and 15 camera set-ups, the production company went on to Lone Pine and then the studio for interiors. The company worked for eleven days, six days a week and the director, Arthur Lubin, was noted for achieving more than 50 camera set-ups a day. It was one of the very first assignments for Director of Photography Stanley Cortez who went on to lens more than 80 films in his career. Cortez had been born Stanislaus Krantz in New York City, changing both his name and his nationality before embarking on his Hollywood career. He was also the brother of actor Ricardo Cortez.

Don Barclay had a long career of fifty years. He appeared in over 100 feature films, but began as a Keystone Kop. He was in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, My Darling Clementine, and The Long Gray Line, with his final performance in Mary Poppins. Major Sam Harris served as a consultant and actually had a part in the film. John Ford always liked working with Major Harris and whenever possible, he found a role for the patrician Australian actor.

Some of the action scenes are well-staged and help move the plot along. The rebels tent camp was located in the southern part of Lone Ranger Canyon, and was impressive by B movie standards. The three guards left to make sure Wayne and Barclay do not escape become fascinated with the camera. Their portrayal is beyond naïve, picturing these backward yokels so bewitched by modern film technology. Soon they are full-blown clowns and Wayne finally convinces them to run away in the opposite direction so he can film them. Reducing local inhabitants to clown characters is one way to demean them and make them unimportant, even appear stupid. Of course, the prisoners escape seamlessly without either trouble or violence, but just by outsmarting these Middle Eastern types.

Another scene has a babe in a skimpy faux Oriental outfit ride by, giving the male characters a chance to ogle her. She looks like she has come directly from a chorus line. Of course, no woman would dress in such revealing ways in the streets of any Islamic country. It would even be unusual to see a woman here in the United States dress in such a revealing way, but definitely standards are constantly “evolving” in the West. Hollywood loved and still admires when characters dress or comport themselves with such male fantasy styles unrelated to the culture of the character. It does sell tickets they assume.

I call these movies “Easterns” as opposed to westerns, because the Hollywood costumers. They are really not much more than making fun of locals who dress in strange ( read different) clothing. John Wayne by this time had already perfected his “John Wayne” style of acting. He is both competent at it and predictable.  There is also comedy relief, especially with a monkey who gets to roam the plane as they fly from Damascus to Samaria. Of course, the main characters smoke on the small plane, and they don’t seemed to need to ever buckle-in.

Some reviews at the time picked up elements of the movie, a unique one for Wayne that is still difficult to locate today. But worth the effort. “[A]n ingeniously romantic fable, which never stoops to logic and is content to tell a good lie,” wrote “The New York Times” critic on August 2, 1937.” Film Daily” on April 29, 1937 stated, “Happy mixture of melodrama and comedy gives star new type of role.” Finally the “Motion Picture Herald” noted the use of the desert, desert warfare and the romance of it all:  “Once again production takes to the desert and romance against the melodrama of desert warfare and intrigue for screen material…. Universal is confident that the forthcoming feature will maintain the amusement and commercial appeal.”

IN “THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE” IT ENDS UP BEING ALL ABOUT THE HORSES

By Christopher Langley, Eastern California Film Historian

“The Charge of the Light Brigade,” directed by Michael Curtiz in 1936, is another romantic, Oriental adventure film, with all the normal prejudices, stereotypes, and exaggerations of the time about the Middle East that we have come to expect. What the story we remember today is about the charge. But it is not the narrative but the treatment of the horses that ultimately transformed attitudes about the use of animals in films.

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The film was made to cash in on the success of “The Lives of the Bengal Lancer” and was the film that secured one its stars “super star” status.  That would be Errol Flynn. Right from the end of the opening credits it declared that the filmmakers had not adhered to the facts of history. Of course, this was not unusual in Hollywood.

“This film has its basis in history. The historical basis, however, has been fictionalized for the purposes of this picture and the names of many of the characters, many characters themselves, the story, incidents and institutions, are fictitious.” Among other dramatic motivations, this also let the movie spend much time in India with the fictional Surat Khan in India, to play off the “Lives of the Bengal Lancers” films exotic locales.  The charge itself actually took place during the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854, in the Crimean War.

The plot involves two brothers Major Geoffrey Vickers (Errol Flynn) and his brother, Captain Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles) in the fictional town of Chukoti in India. Perry has stolen the love of Geoffrey’s finance Elsa (Olivia de Haviland) and the competition and resulting jealousy makes a powerful subtext in the film. Surat Khan spares the two lovers, but he sides with the Russians when the British Empire cuts his allowance.

In the real charge confusion send the light cavalry into battle, which leads to a slaughter. In the film Geoffrey is motivated by his hatred of Surat Khan who has staged a massacre of British men, women, and children. Often Oriental male royals are shown as deceitful in these films. G. Vickers sacrifices his own life to kill Surat Khan at the end of the charge thus playing the gentleman to free his brother and ex-fiancé to love.

It is the charge itself that remains as the most memorable part of the film. It is the death and maiming of so many horses that created such an outcry again Director Curtiz and the film, including even star Flynn that requires examination even today. The Inyo Independent of April 4, 1936 stated the following: “Seven sequences will be filmed near Lone Pine, showing scenes in India and Arabia. One of the special sequences to be made here is a wild horse drive, representing the members of the Bengal Lancer (sic) company going into Arabia to get horses to use in the Crimean War. Many Arabs and Hindus are among members of the cast, and with their fierce make-up and large robes they form a picturesque sight ion Main Street and in the lobby of the Dow hotel, where the music room has been turned into a make-up room.”

Petrine Day Mitchum writing in her book “Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen” states, “Not all early filmmakers had the knowledge or desire to protect horses from the hazards of the original Running W, however. In fact, director Michael Curtiz was oblivious to the dangers in staging the action in an earlier Errol Flynn movie, The Charge of the Light Brigade. The second unit director B. Reeves “Breezy” Eason was largely responsible for the infamous charge sequence, for which adequate safety precautions simply were not taken.”

While there was one trained “falling” horse, 125 horses were rigged with old-style Running Ws, a mechanism designed by famed Stunt man Yakima Canutt. It was a device that had wires attached to the horses front legs, and a cinch and guide wires.  When the horse got to the end of the wire, the legs were pulled out from under him and he somersaulted in a spectacular fall. Canutt made and improved design, which he successfully demonstrated for the American Humane Society. He claimed to have made 300 horse falls without an injury.

Experienced stunt rider Jack Montgomery was sickened by the resulting carnage from the stage move charge, He estimate that twenty-five horses were either killed in action or destroyed after filming because of broken legs. “Scores more horses and riders received serious injuries. Errol Flynn was furious and went public with his outrage. It took a star of Flynn’s magnitude to focus producers’ attention on the treatment of performing animals, but it would still be several years before the public joined his cry and Running Ws were banned,” concludes Mitchum. Viewing the charge from the film, it is easy to see the mayhem and danger even though it makes for persuasive rout.

As Film Commissioner two experiences come to mind involving the Humane Society here. Both involved commercials, one two trained bears, and one involving four camels.  Things were done to protect the animals, but they wanted to make sure I didn’t photograph anything that might be misconstrued.  They were ever attentive when the animals were on set.  Certainly constant, responsible vigil is necessary even in today‘s more professional industry.

While the film was popular and the critical reaction within the context of historical inaccuracies was successful, the film was not rereleased as was common with Warner Brothers films. This was because of the outcry about the treatment of horses. Curtis used to call for the horses on set by saying, “Bring on the empty horses.” By this he meant the riderless horses. So famous was this remark that actor David Niven used it as the title of his Hollywood autobiography.

Next time we will look at a John Wayne rarity, “I Cover the War.” Chances are you haven’t seen this cowboy film in “different” clothes.

 

“OIL FOR THE LAMPS OF CHINA” FOCUSES ON A MAN OBSESSED WITH OIL FACING FICTIONAL CHALLENGES OF A COUNTRY CALLED CHINA

By Christopher Langley, Eastern California Film Historian

“Orientalism” is an attitude, an ignorant evaluation, a culture bound value judgment and at best, a misunderstanding of eastern cultures by western cultures, particularly Europe and the United States. It is seen in art, film, economic and political policy and in the intention of one culture to dominate another. It undoubtedly has affected European and American foreign policy, often rendering it ineffective and even counter productive. Most recently, we have seen it reflected in many calling for barring all refugees from entering these countries from Syria and Iraq, judging, probably in fear, that all Asian and Middle Eastern Arabs are part of Isis and intend harm to the host countries.

Orientalism was first identified and popularized as an academic orientation, one ripe for study by Professor Edward Said in the 1970s with a book of the same name. Since then there have been both enthusiastic and thoughtful defenders and also denigrators. The discussion continues. The assumption here is that there is such a things as distortion of “Oriental” cultures in our art, writing, thought and public discourse as well as in popular thought. The radical and violent few in the extreme wing of the Islamic religion and their terrorist acts have not helped rational discussion or gaining a more accurate view of the East, and seeing clearing distortions that have resulted in portraying the people and culture.

We will examine a set of films made locally, numbering more than thirty-five since 1935, that have settings in Asia and the Middle East and then are likely to have reflected prevalent perspectives that we now list under “Orientalism.” This is not where the most serious and dangerous distortions have taken place. These movies were made first to entertain, then to educate. What makes them harmful is that these films seem innocent or trivial and yet over the years the attitudes they embody have been able to inculcate themselves because they were for entertainment first. By examining them in depth and building context with events and statements now, and expressions of Orientalism in other more “serious” art forms as well as public debate, we will see revealed just how nefarious some of these attitudes and orientations are in our free society today.

Many of the films I consider “Orientalist” involve the British Empire. Usually the Raj is being forced to defend its colonies in India, Central Asia, Arabia, North Africa and China. The British military sub-genre is seen in “Lives of the Bengal Lancer;” “Gunga Din;” “Desert Legion;” “King of the Khyber Rifles;” “Storm Over Bengal;” “I Cover the War” and even “Tarzan’s Desert Mystery,” to name just a few.

Then there are the films about raiding hordes of desert tribes: Bedouin, and many unnamed representatives in flowing robes. Some of these films include: “The Desert Hawk;” “Flame of Araby;” “ Outlaws of the Desert;” and “Outlaws of the Orient.” Movies sometime are set in the United States but have characters from the Orient. Two films made in Death Valley include the Chinese detective Charlie Chan, rife with stereotypical distortions, even to the point the actor who played the detective was not Chinese but Japanese; the four films set in China or Tibet: "Adventures of Marco Polo;” ”Oil for the Lamps of China;” “The Shadow;” and even parts of a modern film “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” This last film we will consider when we take up evil Arab stereotypes in our modern action films.

We begin today with the film “Oil for the Lamps of China (1935).” It may be somewhat ironic then that this film takes big business to task much more than Chinese culture and national conditions. In this case, the big business is oil extraction and developing a new market which happens to be China. An oil executive (Henry O’Neill) of the Atlantis Oil Company sends men to China promising that although the country is primitive, backwards and full of peasants, the company will take good care of its employees. Our hero Stephen Chase, played competently by Pat O’Brien gets a contract to Manchuria, but asks for leave from his immediate boss (Arthur Byron) to marry. His boss is dead set against it, saying that China is not place for women (like half the population are women already.)

Chase gets permission, but when he gets to Yokohama there is only a letter from his fiancé saying she’s not coming because she can’t imagine living in a place like China. While there he meets Hester, the daughter of a professor of Chinese studies. Unfortunately, her father has died and she finds herself alone. When Chase proposes marriage to avoid “loosing face” about his lost fiancé, she accepts. Because these two lived first in a novel and now in a film, this kind of western arranged marriage ends happily with them falling in love, at least for a while.

Hester become pregnant. Stephen is assigned an even more remote and rural area. He does not want her to come, but she insists.  The travel and living conditions are so harsh and difficult that Hester looses the child. The marriage is very stressed because Stephen has chosen his job (fighting a rampaging fire) over taking care of his wife and getting the doctor. We will continue the story of Stephen and Hester Chase and this movie’s oriental attitudes next time.