Dragon Seed (1944)


“How could we conquer a country without its traitors?” – Captain Sato

Number of Times Seen – 1 (11 Jun 2019)

Brief Synopsis – Following the Japanese invasion of mainland China at the beginning of World wear II, the inhabitants of a small village quarrel over whether they should give up to the enemy or try to fight back.

My Take on it – This is yet another film that I had never heard about before coming across it in my quest to watch all films that managed to garner Oscar nominations in the acting categories.

The story is meant to be an epic tale of how the villagers in a China decided to revolt against their Japanese invaders during World War II.

The premise is quite an interesting one, yet the fact that the entire cast is made up of non-Asians (see trivia section below) really hurts things since it makes it quite laughable to watch.

Katherine Hepburn, Walter Huston, Henry Travers and J. Carrol Naish are all great actors, but adding Chinese facial hair or slanting eyes doesn’t work well enough to make them seem believable.

I assume that they wanted these performances to seem groundbreaking yet instead things feel much more racist than they probably were meant to be.

The film has a great message about forms of resistance even when it conflicts with the way the culture has been preserved for generations and works here despite the other missteps in the presentation.

Unfortunately, it fails to come across as being as epic as was originally intended.

Aline MacMahon was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance here even if it isn’t the best one in the story.

Bottom Line – Interesting premise that comes across as laughable due to the way that things are presented. The use of non-Asian actors is a big mistake here since instead of the performances being seen as groundbreaking, they feel more racist than they should. The basic message dealing with how to respond to threats by a foreign nation comes across quite well even given the many mistakes made when making this film as a potential epic.  MacMahon stands out among the rest of the cast and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance here.

MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – Filmed in 1943 on the MGM lot in Culver City, CA, the film features an unusual assortment of non-Asian actors with odd accents playing Chinese and Japanese: Russian-born and Stanislavski-trained Akim Tamiroff as Wu Lien; Turhan Bey, Viennese born son of a Turkish father and Czechoslovakian mother as the middle son, Lao Er Tan; New England patrician Katharine Hepburn as his wife; American Aline MacMahon–no longer one of the wisecracking Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933)–as the wife of Ling Tang; English-born Henry Travers (best remembered as Clarence the Angel from It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)) as the Third Cousin;” Irish-American J. Carrol Naish as the Japanese Kitchen Overseer; and finally Jewish Robert Lewis, co-founder of the Actors Studio and Meryl Streep’s teacher at the Yale Drama School, as Japanese Capt. Sato. (From IMDB)

Rating – BAFTA Worthy (5/10)

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2 thoughts on “Dragon Seed (1944)

  1. Pingback: Did They Get it Right? – Best Supporting Actress – Oscars 1944 | MovieRob

  2. Pingback: Temporal Top Ten – 1944 | MovieRob

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