There are some things I can get over – movie wise, that is. While the racism of “Birth of a Nation” makes the skin crawl (not to mention a slight heaving of the stomach), it is an important film that should be seen at least once. “Pretty Woman” I can kind of enjoy, even though you know the average prostitute does not resemble Julia Roberts. But every once in a while I see a film that makes my jaw drop so low that thankfully it hits the floor or I’d be halfway to China.
Speaking of China, that brings me to 1930’s “Son of the Gods.” I’ve been making a slow trip through the sound career of Richard Barthelmess. Having viewed “Only Angels Have Wings” and “The Last Flight,” I must say I was pretty impressed. As a young man in the silents, he radiated purity and earnestness, giving unforgettable performances in “Broken Blossoms”, “Way Down East,” and “Tol’able David.”
His maturity coincided with sound, and he developed a rather world weary, slightly heavy look; handsome, but certainly not boyish any longer. So, when I saw “Son of the Gods” playing on TCM I thought, what do I have to lose? Apparently, my lunch.
Here the story:
Sam Lee is a college student. Okay, stop right there. Barthelmess was 35 and looked it.
Let’s continue. Sam is
obviously wealthy (he plays polo and lends his friends money). He is also
Chinese, but passes for white. While his male friends are okay with this, white
women, once they find out, are appalled and disgusted. I believe he is called
“a dirty yellow Chinaman.”
|College student? He looks more like the professor!|
Sam decides he can’t stand it anymore at college and goes home to his family. His father is a very traditional looking Chinese man who runs a successful business (doing what, I can’t say, but it seems he lends money to people). By the way, his father is played by an American actor, but is convincingly made up to look stereotypically Chinese. Sam says he wants to strike out on his own and see the world. His father would prefer he not, but lovingly assents to his son’s wishes.
|Dad (played by American actor E. Alyn Warren)|
|Allana is a demon with that riding crop|
Back home Sam goes full on Chinese. Here, Barthelmess looks like a parody of himself in “Broken Blossoms.” I’ll spare you the inanity, but it turn out that Sam was adopted and is – hooray! – actually white. Now, he and Allana can be together and all is white – I mean right – with the world.
|Sam's new garb.... something is not quite right....|
The funny thing is that the film starts out on a hopeful note. Sam’s college friends are angry at the girls who reject Sam because of his race and they give them a good verbal lashing. However, soon things turn, with even the wealthy Chinese being able to look down on the “coolies.” Not cool!
I guess I kept watching because I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but as far as “Son of the Gods” goes, once is more than enough.