The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938)
Samuel Goldwyn it seems to me always loved to see his name first over all productions he was in charge of and I guess you can’t hold that against him. Generally speaking he made some pretty well known classics with The Best Years of Our Lives front and center. Alas, this isn’t one of them and is considered one of his and Gary Coopers missteps.
The film looks to me like it should have been made as a 12 part serial which was a popular form of entertainment during the era this script was put into production. It has the backdrop along with a hero and villain to do just that over a 12 part adventure. We get Cooper and his manservant on a ship wreck, stranded in desert sandstorms and scaling snow covered peaks on his way to China. This all in the first 20 minutes! Could have easily turned that into the first 3 parts.
Upon Coop’s arrival in China we get his introduction to spaghetti and firecrackers from H.B. Warner as well as meeting the latest Samuel Goldwyn discovery Sigrid Gurie. Who you say? The next Garbo! Or so thought Sam. It’s hard sometimes to look back at these films and judge them. Despite the fact that we are in China and there are plenty of Asian bit parts for real Asian stand ins, there isn’t a real Chinese actor in the mix. Alan Hale turns up as a warlord, Binnie Barnes as a temptress and a very young Lana Turner as peasant girl. All with eye makeup to give them an Asian look. Cooper plays the Italian Marco Polo in a style that resembles his shy befuddled Deeds with a twist of the lover that Coop supposedly was off screen around tinsel town.
The only actor in the production that suits his role is Mr. Basil Rathbone as the evil Minister of State. It’s essentially a replay of his role in The Adventures of Robin Hood. A role that suits Basil just fine. Though Rathbone always made for a good villain he was of course about to embark on his career defining role as the detective from 221 B Baker Street.
The film is directed by Archie Mayo who just two years earlier gave us the Bogart breakthrough The Petrified Forest and would retire from directing duties in 1946. No where near as bad as it’s been said, just one of those enjoyable “bad” films with Cooper giving the ladies a lesson in kissing that one shouldn’t miss out on.