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The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

Barbara Stanwyck , Nils Asther , Frank Capra  |  NR |  DVD

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Editorial Reviews

An American missionary in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War falls for a Chinese general.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Looks excellent May 6, 2014
Format:DVD
The DVD Talk website gave this Sony Choice Collection DVD top marks for picture quality. Having seen hundreds of DVDs, I must agree: it looks exceptional by standard-definition standards!

Although the image has a grainy, soft-focus appearance -- presumably inherent in Joseph Walker's original cinematography, or perhaps the consequence of decades of print deterioration and duping -- there is none of the edge-enhancement, moiring or smearing which blight most DVDs. Equally impressive is that not a single scratch or spot can be seen throughout this 87-minute, 81-year-old film. (Neither can any bonus material be seen on the DVD, alas.)

The picture quality is easily on a par with, say, the Criterion Collection box set of Josef von Sternberg's silent masterpieces -- and Frank Capra's use of composition and contrast gives Sternberg a run for his money too!

Certainly one could complain that the plot, however lushly shot, is slight at best, silly at worst. But this is also true of very many rightly-acclaimed movies, from 'The Docks of New York' to 'Chungking Express' (to name just two).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exotic, lush, and slyly subversive July 17, 2014
Format:DVD
THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN was the first film screened at Radio City Music Hall. Opening with great fanfare on January 3, 1933 the film was, unfortunately, pulled after only two weeks and disappeared from cinemas. The main complaint against it was that many viewers could not abide the idea of interracial romance and the subsequent fear of miscegenation (remember, this was 1933). The people involved with the production claim to have been surprised by the reaction of the public but one has to wonder. The head of Columbia studios had given Frank Capra the go-ahead to direct an "arty s**t" movie to impress the film cognoscenti so he could not have been too surprised, even though he authorized spending vast sums of money to its production.

Years later, inevitably, the movie was attacked for its 'orientalism' and the casting of Nils Asther as General Yen, the Chinese warlord who basically kidnapped the missionary Megan Davis (played by Barbara Stanwyck). All of this was too bad as THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN is more than a curiosity of its time. Briefly, Stanwyck arrives in 1920's Shanghai in the midst of a civil war to marry her fiancée of three years who has preceded her there. One of the first people she meets after landing is the eponymous general in mufti whose car has just run over her ricksha man. She berates the general but is urged by another American missionary to get along as she is, after all, getting married as soon as she arrives at the home of another long-time missionary (the scene of Capra's first piece of slyness, about which more later), but not before General Yen gives her an appraising look. Skipping through a series of misadventures, Stanwyck ends up on Yen's train back to the province he controls.
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