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THE BITTER TEA OF GENERAL YEN

FRANK CAPRA

This film screened 2nd December 2010.

Capra made no bones about this film: it was intended to win him an Oscar. The subject-matter was suitably daring: about the growing attraction between an American missionary in revolutionary Shanghai (Barbara Stanwyck) and the Chinese warlord General Yen (Nils Asther) who has rescued her from danger but who now keeps her captive in the hope of securing her love. All of Capra’s strengths are here – his mastery with crowd scenes, the narrative dynamism – but there is also an intoxicating mix of exoticism and eroticism, notably in a shimmering dream sequence that suggestively discloses the secret of the heroine’s subconscious sexual desires. Brilliantly acted and photographed, the film is without question one of Capra’s finest, but both critics and public seemed dismayed by its miscegenation theme and it not only lost money but failed to gain a single Oscar nomination. Capra damned the Academy voters. ‘Couldn’t they recognise a work of art when they saw one?’ he wailed. Obviously not, but they soon would.

88 minutes| U.S.A.| 1933| Black and White| 35mm

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