CHINA GATE—oh, brother: hey, I like Samuel Fuller as much as the next drafted dogface but while this manure-fertilized 1957 salvo of anti-Commie hysteria may be well-intended it still rates a 9.5 on the Malarkey Meter. If I’d seen it at age six (as with his earlier agitprop adventure Hell and High Water) it might be cut some nostalgia slack, but the intervening 60+ years of detecting b.s. have ensured a harder sell. Kind of like the Tonkin Resolution.
Fuller wrote (ripely), produced (cheaply) and directed (slam bang style) this ‘desperate mission’ nonsense that asks us to accept Angie Dickinson as a half-Euro-somewhere/half Chinese good-time girl (this was when Vietnam was still called Indo-China, late of French Indo-China) who guides a squad of French Foreign Legion mercenaries (queue up an international mix of philosophy-spouting heroes) to ‘China Gate’ where they will blow up a Russky-supplied ammo dump and save Indo-China from…
its people falling to the Red monolith.
Her smuggler/prostitute/survivor/mama character nicknamed “Lucky Legs”, Angie strides through studio palms and bad matte backdrops, seducing every officer and guard she meets, regardless of which side they’re on. The patrol includes her bitter, bigoted, American ex-husband ‘Sgt. Brock'(Gene Barry); good-natured Commie-hater ‘Goldie’ (Nat King Cole); some Frenchmen, a German, a Greek and even a few locals. Accidents and firefights whittle the group down, because that’s what happens in every movie like this ever made.
If the action scenes were up to Fuller’s usual vigor (Merrill’s Marauders, Fixed Bayonets!, The Big Red One) the endless pap spouted between skirmishes would be less annoying: they’re noisy, and that’s about all. The jabber, meanwhile, is endless; it’s hard to say who gets the worst speechmaking and who does the least with it. Barry (Gene Unbearable) scowls, Angie strains (at least the movie got her noticed and her acting improved), and then there’s Lee Van Cleef, who plays ‘Maj. Cham’, the part-Chinese occasional lover of loose Legs: he also happens to be the Moscow-bound commander of the ammo dump.
Victor Young’s score (his last, he died before the film was released) was finished by Max Steiner: they both share credit. Trying to impart some emotional elegance to the pulp, it’s a plus; the movie’s best feature is the plaintive title tune Young wrote (lyrics by Harold Adamson) that’s tenderly sung, twice, by Cole. Fuller fanatics feel compelled to defend this ridiculous escapade but the fact is he could not only deliver hard-hitting solids (those above, and several others) but was capable of some outrageous turkey’s as well. Not the first Vietnam War movie (beat to the draw by Rogue’s Regiment and A Yank In Indo-China), Fuller’s sensationalist take was one of just a handful that stuck a toe in the map until the war/s concluded. He does deserve credit for dealing with racism as an issue, in this movie and others.
96 minutes, with Paul Dubov, George Givot, Gerald Milton, Marcel Dalio, Maurice Marsac, Paul Busch, James Hong.