China Seas 1935

China Seas (1935)

Alan Gaskell (Clark Gable) is a boat captain with a reputation for hard drinking, but that all changes during a voyage in which he finds himself on a boat with Sybil (Rosalind Russell), a former lover who is now a refined, high society woman. Well, at least he wants to change for her. But on board the same ship is China Doll (Jean Harlow), another one of Alan’s former lovers who still adores him. China is much less refined than Sybil and is more like the hard-drinking and fun-loving Alan.

When China sees Alan with Sybil, she becomes incredibly jealous. Things get even worse when China finds out Alan and Sybil plan to get married as soon as possible. She spends the night drinking with her friend Jamesy (Wallace Beery), and accidentally finds out Jamesy is working with some pirates to steal a large amount of gold that is being transported on the ship. Once Jamesy finds out that China knows what’s going on, he intimidates her into helping him. China tries to warn Alan, but he’s drunk and says hurtful things to her. Out of anger, she steals his key to the ship’s arsenal so the pirates will be able to hijack the ship.

China Seas is one of those movies that’s a bit formulaic, but I don’t mind that because I like the formula. It reminds me a lot of Red Dust in the sense that they’re both about a man (Gable) who has an unrefined woman (Harlow) in love with him, but he falls in love with a more upper class woman (Mary Astor in Red Dust and Rosalind Russell in China Seas), only China Seas takes place on a boat instead of a plantation. But unlike Red DustChina Seas was made while production codes were being enforced, so it lacks a lot of the incredible steam and innuendo that Red Dust had. But even with the production codes, Gable and Harlow are still a first-rate team and the movie itself is a nice mix of romance and adventure with very high production values. It might not be one of the absolute best movies either Harlow or Gable made, but it’s still really entertaining.

One comment

  1. Berry was one of the most difficult actors to work with. He made life tough for Crawford during Grand Hotel, his Champ co-star Jackie Cooper had no easy time with him, Berry was jealous of Gable’s looks and how he drew women, and he outright hated Harlow. In their nasty fights in Dinner At Eight Berry didn’t have to exhaust his acting chops in the least. I don’t think he gave Dressler any shit, but I’ve never read anyone saying they enjoyed co-starring with him.

    Along with The Barretts Of Wimpole Street and Mutiny On The Bounty, China Seas made for an immensely profitable trifecta of Irving Thalberg successes that proved, after his 1933 recuperative rest in Europe, he had lost none of his ability to gauge what would bring the public in.

    After Paul Bern’s suicide in 1932, Louis B. Mayer regarded Harlow with a certain skittishness, and that the actress’s career continued to thrive was much more due to Thalberg’s sustained championing. After Thalberg died in September 1936, Jean sometimes pondered retirement herself, but she too died less than a year after of kidney failure with her popularity still at its height.

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