Bowl of rice, bitter tea, is this all the good earth has to offer me?
Will I find peace of mind, does my true love wait, behind the China Gate?
lyrics: harold adamson song: victor young
Imagine a Hollywood studio film that takes a sophisticated nuanced look at race, politics, miscegenation, the Viet Minh, communism, French colonialism in Indo-China, Soviet and Chinese spheres of influence, and the origins of our involvement in Vietnam.
Not easy, right?
Imagine that film was made in 1957, after the battle of Dien Bien Phu and the partitioning of North and South Vietnam.
Who else but Sam Fuller could concoct such a potent stew of elements ripped from the headlines and tell a tale set in such a complex geopolitical world with his characteristic bluntness and refreshing style?
Somehow Fuller convinced 20th Century Fox boss Darryl Zanuck to back his interracial love story and war flick and even convinced one of the most popular singing stars in the world at that time Nat King Cole to star in the picture and sing the title song walking through the set of a burned out village to a little half-breed boy.
Despite some of the anachronistic cross-racial casting choices that were common back then including Angie Dickinson as the Eurasian "Lucky Legs" and Lee Van Cleef as the communist Major Cham, the film plays as oddly ahead of its time in subject matter and theme.
I first saw the film back in the '70's and then watched it again when looking at films set in Southeast Asia while we were preparing a new version of Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" years ago.
It deserves a dvd release and critical reappraisal; perhaps the Criterion Collection will pick it up some day?