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Films between 1919 & 1939
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Between 1919 and 1939 

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa, Fannie Ward, and Jack Dean

In this film made in the early 1900's, this movie is basically a "yellow peril" type of plot. A white American woman (Ward) borrows money from a Japanese merchant (Hayakawa), and when she can't pay it back, he makes her one of his possessions. The most disturbing scene shows a white mob calling for the merchant to be lynched. A strange thing thing happened on the way to vilifying the Japanese character,

HOWEVER - it made a star out of the villian - Sessue Hayakawa. While not representative of his subsequent starring roles (which are hard to find on video), this melodrama enabled the Japanese-born Hayakawa to become Hollywood's first Asian American movie star. This story brings the attention to the current feelings of sexual attraction between a white woman and an Asian man, a forbidden fruit at the time - EVEN NOW. Hayakawa is probably best remembered for his role as the prison-camp commander in the excellent war film " The Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), for which he received an Academy Award nomination. Click HERE to purchase a copy of this historical film. He has done other films like I Have Killed that he made in France when his career began to wane in the US.

Sessue Hayakawa & Tsuru Aoki

Directed by William Worthington
Script by Richard Schayer
Based on a novel by Mary McNeil Fenollosa
Cinematography by Frank D. Williams
Art Direction by Milton Menasco
Production Company:
Haworth Pictures Corporation
Distributed by: Robertson-Cole Distributing Corporation
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa, Toyo Fujita, Edward Peil Sr., Tsuru Aoki

"Synopsis: Tatsu (Sessue Hayakawa), a strangely disturbed artist who lives as a hermit in the mountains of Japan, is convinced that his fiancée, a beautiful princess, has been captured and turned into a dragon. His obsession with his loss leads to artistic inspiration.

When a surveyor (Toyo Fujita) comes across Tatsu, the young man's genius is discovered. The surveyor informs the famed artist Kano Indara about his discovery and Kano, desperate to find amole heir to teach his art, immediately agrees to meet Tatsu. Kano has great trouble persuading Tatsu to come down from the mountains. But when Tatsu first sees Kano's beautiful daughter Ume-Ko, he sees his long-lost princess and agrees to stay at their home.

However, Tatsu's violent, uncivilized ways terrify Kano, and loud arguments ensue. Tatsu's love forUme-ko keeps him there, and his passion and charm finally win her over. But, like the beautiful dragon princess embodied in his art, their love leads to tragedy.

Notes from the Pacific Film Archive
Until the 1980s, The Dragon Painter was a lost masterpiece of American film history, one of the finest films made by and starring Sessue Hayakawa, a matinee idol in the early days of Hollywood.

Set in Japan but filmed amid the spectacular beauty of Yosemite Valley in 1919, The Dragon Painter was intended to provide a very different picture of Japan and Japanese culture than was shown in other films of the period. A romantic allegory about love, desire and artistic inspiration, The Dragon Painter was one of the first films to present a Japanese aesthetic to an American audience.

The performances by Hayakawa and Tsuru Aoki, his frequent co-star and wife, are a revelation. A contemporary reviewer in 1919 wrote, "The acting of Hayakawa reaches perfection. The character he portrays is fascinating — a fawn-like creature with such a great amount of vitality that he needs the whole outdoors to move about in.?

Directed by William Worthington
Cast: Sessue Hayakawa

One of Hayakawa's own productions, this silent movie presents the actor in a more sympathetic role. However, the story is still set against a typical backdrop: the intrigues of the Chinese Mafia. Click HERE to purchase a copy of this historical film. To purchase and/or rent other films of Sessue Hayakawa (i.e. Forfeiture and Macao), click HERE.

Directed by Chester M. Franklin
Anna May Wong, to purchase the film CLICK HERE Cast: Anna May Wong, Kenneth Harlan, Beatrice Bentley

Though it was a little daring at the time, don't get too excited. This is an earlier version of "Madame Butterfly" transplanted from Japan to China (at least the creators could tell the difference between the two cultures - many couldn't at the time). However, this movie features Anna May Wong (1907-1961) in one of her first starring roles. Anna May Wong For more information on Anna May Wong and on the film "Toll of the Sea" - please click HERE

More significantly, however, "The Toll of the Sea" holds a place in motion-picture history as the first feature film shot in the old two-color Technicolor process (which would be supplanted in 1933 by the more realistic three-color process). (Nostalgia Family Video)

Directed by Raoul Walsh
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Snitz Edwards, Charles Belcher, Julanne Johnston, Anna May Wong, Winter-Blossom, Etta Lee, Brandon Hurst, Tote Du Crow, Sojin, K. Nambu, Sadakichi Hartmann, Noble Johnson, Mathilde Comont, Charles Stevens, Sam Baker, Jess Weldon, Scotty Mattraw and Charles Sylvester.

The participation of the gorgeous Anna May Wong, whose background is outlined in this webpage, makes this film worthy to watch. One wonders why this pretty actress, who had worked in over 55 films over her lifetime, didn't achieve a greater level of recognition and success. It is sadder that this pattern still continues today for Asian American actors. However, it is good to know that they thought enough of her to include her in this great film that achieve great critical acclaim and response from audiences throughout the U.S. Douglas Fairbanks, along with his talented cast and crew, did a great job with the production of The Thief of Bagdad. This swashbuckling tale has all the glorious ingredients to carry the viewer off to a magical time and place. It was one of the most famous of all the tales of "The Arabian Nights." Fairbanks was determined to bring it to life by serving up lavish costumes, impossibly beautiful sets and exotic plot devices - featuring a dragon, a flying horse, a crystal ball, an enchanted golden apple, evil sultans, Mongol slaves, an enchanted army and a wonderful flying carpet. The Thief of Bagdad

The Thief of Bagdad (played by Douglas Fairbanks) is a freedom-loving artful dodger who survives quite well by stealing everything he needs. Contented with his lifestyle, he begins to question his "profession" when he romantically succumbs to the charms of The Princess (played by Julanne Johnston). This self-made prince of the streets pretends to be of royal blood to get her attention. He then vows to reform and sets out upon a quest to find and present her with the rarest objects on earth. During his quest, he encounters danger, adventure and enchantment from a most fantastic array of mythological creations to test his mettle. His greatest enemies are human - The Mongol Prince (played by Sojin) and his beautiful, yet deadly slave (played by Anna May Wong). This powerful prince also has his lustful eye on The Princess and her realm. To read the rest of the article regarding specific information on the film, please click HERE.


Directed by Alan Crosland
Writing credits: Darryl F. Zanuck (story), Anthony Coldeway (screenplay) (as Anthony Coldewey) & Jack Jarmuth (titles)
Production Companies: Warner Bros. (as Warner Bros. Pictures Inc.)
Distributors: Warner Bros. & The Vitaphone Corporation
Music Score Synchorized by Vitaphone Symphony Orchestra
Cast: Dolores Costello, Warner Oland, Charles Emmett Mack, Josef Swickard, Anders Randolf, Angelo Rossitto, Anna May Wong, Lawson Butt, Walter McGrail, Otto Matieson, Martha Mattox, Tom Santschi, Louise Carver, Rose Dione, Willie Fung, Tom McGuire, John Miljan, Sojin (uncredited) and James Wang (uncredited)

Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong made "Old San Francisco" the year before she briefly relocated to Europe, her career stymied by American racial prejudice.     Reportedly the film caused a riot in San Francisco's Chinatown in 1927 for its portrayal of opiate-trading, white-slaving Asians. This curiosity features Warner Oland (the future Charlie Chan) and the beautiful Anna May Wong as "A Flower of the Orient." (1927)
Directed by Alan Crosland, with a story by producer Darryl F. Zanuck and a screenplay written by Anthony Coldeway (Glorious Betty (1928)), this average silent includes some pretty good special effects, at its end, recreating the city's 1906 earthquake. The story is rather uninspired, and even racist to the Chinese residing there, referring to them as Mongols and portraying them stereotypically involved in criminal activities such as drugs and prostitution. It's about the struggle of the proud Vasquez family, one from the city's Spanish settlement, that finds itself barely hanging on to their land at the turn of the century. The greed and lust of others threatens their continued existence, leading to the "wrath of God" as the apparent cause of the climatic natural disaster.
PLOT: It's hard to believe that Darryl F. Zanuck, producer of such anti-prejudice films of the 1940s as Gentleman's Agreement and Pinky, wrote the incredibly racist screenplay of Old San Francisco. After a lengthy prologue detailing the establishment and settlement of San Francisco by the Spanish aristocracy, the story proper begins in 1906 at the hacienda of Don Hernandez Vasquez (Josef Swickard) and his lovely daughter Dolores (Dolores Costello). Having fallen upon hard times, Don Hernandez nonetheless refuses the entreaties of wealthy businessman Michael Brandon (Anders Randolf) to purchase his property. Originally hired by Brandon to persuade the Vasquez family to move out, young lawyer Terrence O'Shaughnessy (Charles E. Mack) changes his mind when he falls in love with Dolores. Meanwhile, Chris Buckwell (Warner Oland), in charge of all illegal activities in Chinatown, offers himself as the "champion" of the Vasquez clan, all the while plotting to grab their land for himself and claim Dolores as his bride. Able to indulge in his skullduggery without fear of retribution from his Chinese victims because of his Caucasian status, Buckwell makes the mistake of revealing to Dolores that he actually has Oriental blood. When Dolores threatens to expose Buckwell as a "half-breed," he kidnaps the girl and attempts to sell her into white slavery. Surrounded by lustful Chinese merchants, Dolores prays for salvation -- whereupon the San Francisco Earthquake destroys everything around her, including Buckwell's criminal empire! Miraculously, both Dolores and Terrence escape from the earthquake unscathed, and in the final scene they are shown arm in arm, overlooking the rebuilt and "redeemed" San Francisco. Though beautifully photographed and consummately produced, Old San Francisco is no classic, nor will it ever be mistaken as a monument for racial tolerance. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

This silent film feature is a movie that is not only politically incorrect today but also covers what was quite a sensative subject back in 1927 when the film was made. The film was called "Old San Francisco." What made it so numbing all these 78 years later is the way it portrayed Chinese Americans in San Francisco's Chinatown. It's sad but a fact that putting down Asians was quite a common thing inside of movies. In fact, some Asians became so weary of constantly being portrayed in films as being lawless, vice-ridden dope traffickers - they started a riot when a movie company showed up in New York's Chinatown to do some location filming on another project. But as time went on, Hollywood basically started to leave the Asians alone and moved on to other subjects. Movies of the so-called "Yellow Peril" seemed to be a thing of the past. So that's why it was surprising that in 1927, Warner Brothers once again brought up the old stereotypes in our film. "Old San Francisco" stars Warner Oland as an evil czar of Chinatown's underworld, the man out to steal land from an aristocatic Spanish family. It's worth noting that Warner Oland wasn't Asian, but born in Sweden. He had his greatest success playing Asians such as Charlie Chan and a whole series of films in the 1930s. (TCM's Robert Osbourne words upon introducing the film)




Directed by E.A. Dupont
Studio: British International Pictures
Distributor: Wardour Films, Limited
Story by Arnold Bennett
Cinematography by Werner Brandes

Edited by J.N. McConaughty
Music by Eugene Contie
Cast: Jameson Thomas, Charles Laughton, Cyril Ritchard, Anna May Wong, King Ho Chang, Hannah Jones, Ellen Pollock, Harry Terry, Charles Paton, Gilda Gray, Debroy Somers and His Orchestra

PICCADILLY (1929) England. Director: E. A. Dupont. Original Screenplay: Arnold Bennett. With: Gilda Gray, Anna May Wong, Jameson Thomas, Cyril Ritchard and Charles Laughton. 108 minutes. B&W and tinted. Art Direction: Alfred Junge. Restored 2003: British Film Insitute. Distributed by Milestone Films.

This 1929 silent masterpiece stars the sultry Anna May Wong — arguably the first Asian film actress to gain worldwide fame — in her greatest role and final silent film.

This is a melodrama set in a cabaret in the icadilly area of London where Mabel (Gilda Gray) and Victor (Cyril Richard) are the featured dancers. One night a patron gets a dirty dish and starts a ruckus. The owner of the cabaret, Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas), goes into the scullery to find the reason for the dirty dish. He sees a young Chinese scullery maid, Shosho (Anna May Wong), entertaining her fellow kitchen workers with a dance. That same evening he fires Victor who has been annoying Mabel. Soon business suffers as a result of Mabel dancing alone.
Valentine decides to give Shosho a chance to dance in an attempt to boost business. When her act is a big hit, Mabel become jealous. She is further annoyed when Valentine becomes interested in Shosho. Further complications arise when Shosho's boyfriend becomes

After many years of supporting roles in Hollywood, Wong left for Europe in search of good roles. And did she find one! Her electric, sexually-charged performance in PICCADILLY is a revelation. Wong is mesmerizing as Shosho, the Chinese scullery maid at a London nightclub who overnight becomes the toast of London — and the object of sexual desire of all around her. The camera adores Wong, and against Alfred Junge’s astonishing set design, she glows on the big screen. As the New York Film Festival writes, “the film is a thrilling cinematographic jewel and a landmark in the emancipation of nonwhite actresses.”

REVIEWS: Photoplay, October, 1929: "Wonder of wonders - a truly fine British picture! Gilda Gray is starred, but Anna May Wong brings home the bacon."

The Production Code (also known as the Hays Code) was a set of industry guidelines governing the production of American motion pictures. The Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDA, later to become the Motion Picture Association of America or MPAA) adopted the code in 1930, began effectively enforcing it in 1934, and abandoned it in 1967 in favor of the subsequent MPAA film rating system. The Production Code spelled out what was and was not considered morally acceptable in the production of motion pictures for a public audience.

Many in the Hollywood community would guard their freedoms vigorously, and yet, they often cast a nostalgic look back at a much more inhibited Hollywood, of films such as "Casablanca" and "Gone With the Wind" and call it the "Golden Age.

From their first beginnings, moving pictures stirred powerful emotions, including fear. Not just fear of sometimes frightening images, audiences actually leapt out of their seats watching "The Great Train Robbery," but fear of what these images might inspire, especially among the immigrants born into America from Europe. They might not be able to read, write, or speak English, but everyone could understand moving pictures.

A particularly strange interpretation of the miscegenation rule held that although relations between whites and blacks and the "white and yellow races" were forbidden, whites were permitted to marry Polynesians and other Pacific Islanders.

Whenever a new medium arrives, it both delights and frightens us with its power. The web, the computer, television all stirred such fears.
For additional information, click


Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, Eugene Pallette, Lawrence Grant, Louise Closser Hale, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Emile Chautard, Leonard Carey, Willie Fung, Forrester Harvey, Claude King, James B. Leong, Miki Morita, Minoru Nishida
Shanghai Express, to purchase the film CLICK HERE Anna May Wong, to purchase the film CLICK HERE  

It is one of the few Anna May Wong talking pictures available on video. This film, which Marlene Dietrich is the star, portrays Asia as little more than an exotic backdrop for a Hollywood and set in civil-war-torn China. Although she plays only a supporting character, her role is important. It is fascinating to see her talents utilized by a top-notch director like von Sternberg.

What's more, when Anna May stabs a yellow-faced Warner Oland as the Chinese villain, the moment may be seen as an allegory: an Asian American actress "puts the knife to" Hollywood's misrepresentation of her ancestral culture. Film was grandly photographed by Lee Garmes, who won an Oscar for his work. This movie was remade later as "Peking Express." (note: check out the picture listed above with Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong and tell me which one of these gorgeous ladies is the prettiest!?! They both had great beauty, a lot of acting talent, respected by the film community (Frank Capra wanted Anna in some of his films!), worked in many films (Anna worked in over 50+ films), yet their success were vastly different. Has the story changed much since the 1930's? Should they have changed? Why hasn't somebody produced a film on this gorgeous creature name ANNA MAY WONG! Any takers!?!

Sept. 14, 1936: Irving Thalberg, the head of production at MGM, died in his Santa Monica home at the age of 37. Thalberg, who had long suffered from health problems, died of pneumonia, The Times reported. His wife, actress Norma Shearer, "was prostrated with grief," the newspaper said. 

The uncredited producer of more than 90 films, including "A Day at the Races," "A Night at the Opera," "Grand Hotel," and "The Good Earth," Thalberg was known as the "Boy Wonder" for his meteoric rise in the industry. He died, The Times said, "at the absolute zenith of his career." "Films were Thalberg's life," read one of numerous tributes in The Times the day after his death. "He lived by them and for them. He crusaded for their welfare. He never would give an inch in his regard for the importance and world significance of the industry of which he was a part."

Producer David O. Selznick said that "Irving Thalberg was beyond any question the greatest individual force for fine pictures that we have ever known." Cecil B. DeMille called his death "the greatest conceivable loss to the motion-picture industry."
For more info, click


Directed by Sidney Franklin
Cast: Paul Muni, Luise Rainer, Walter Connolly, Tilly Losch, Charley Grapewin, Jessie Ralph, Soo Yong, Keye Luke, Roland Lui, Suzanna Kim, Ching Wah Lee, Harold Huber, Olaf Hytten, William Law, Mary Wong, Victor Adams, Chester Gan, Bessie Loo, Richard Loo, Charles Middleton

The Good Earth, to purchase the film CLICK HERE

Pearl S. Buck's novel of peasant farmers in China has been brilliantly brought to the screen to create one of the 1930s greatest films. This is one of the very FEW films where it is slightly TOLERABLE, to have non-Asians play the lead roles. Considering the time of the 1930's, it was hard for ANY Chinese and/or Asian to find work. As a result, in two magnificent performances by Paul Muni and Oscar winner Luise Rainer (who portray Wang and O-Lan, respectively), at the story's beginning are first introduced to each other on their wedding day. In a gripping series of events, they endure famine, revolution, the death of a child, betrayal, life as refugees and, in a classic sequence, a swarm of locusts.

The mixing of Asian and Anglo cast members surprisingly detracts nothing from the film's power and credibility with audiences (primarily white, of course). This is due, in no small amount, to Muni and Rainer's portrayals. Franklin's direction is self-assured and his epic stagings of a mass exodus, political riot and the locust swarm are superbly juxtaposed by deeply effecting scenes of interpersonal relationships and familial conflict which would resonate in any language or culture.

Filming The Good Earth
In 1932 Irving Thalberg bought the motion picture rights to Pearl Buck's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Good Earth, hoping to "establish a clearer and more sympathetic relationship" between the United States and China. However, Thalberg could not bank on Chinese American actors (i.e. Anna May Wong, etc.) in the starring roles, so he cast Paul Muni as Wang and Louise Ranier as O'lan. Supporting roles featured Ching Wah Lee, Keye Luke and Caroline Chew. Filming took place in and around Los Angeles. When the movie premiered on January 1937, critics hailed it as the most authentic view of Chinese life ever filmed.

Though producer Irving Thalberg sent a crew to China to film scenes for The Good Earth, the film footages were reconstructed in Los Angeles and Northridge.

Wuthering Heights, to purchase the film CLICK HERE

Directed by William Wyler
Cast: Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier, David Niven, Flora Robson, Donald Crisp, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Hugh Williams, Leo G. Carroll, Miles Mander, Cecil Kellaway, Cecil Humphreys, Sarita Wooton, Rex Downing, Douglas Scott, Alice Ahlers, Frank Benson, Romaine Callender, Vernon Downing, Harold Entwistle, Helena Grant, Sam Harris, Susanne Leach, Tommy Martin, Schuyler Standish, William Stelling, Eric Wilton.

Hey, wait a minute. What's this movie doing on the list? It's an adaptation of the classic Victorian novel by Emily Brontë. It doesn't have anything to do with Asia. Or does it? In fact, the film's star, Merle Oberon (1911-1979) - aka "Queenie Thompson", is part-Indian. She was born in Bombay to an English father and a Sunhalese mother (born in Ceylon - now Sri Lanka). This lineage gave Oberon her "exotic" looks that British audiences, and later Hollywood audiences, found so fascinating.

On the Set

What made Oberon's (who was born Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson) story of particular interest are the great lengths to which she went to conceal her Asianness. She denied being Indian, cultivated her makeup and lighting to look as pale as possible and even concocted a phony life story that had her born in Australia. Another story to hide her Indian identity parentage, she would falsely represent to visitors that her mother was the maid. The biographer Charles Higham believes that Oberon's perpetuation of this ruse ultimately wore her down emotionally and led to her death at age 68. Oberon's portrayal of Cathy in this highly acclaimed adaptation is probably her best-known and best-loved performance. The film ranked number 73 on the American Film Institute's list of "The 100 Best American Movies," the only entry on that list in which an "Asian" performer gets top billing. (HBO Video)

Wuthering Heights

Estelle Merle O'Brien Thompson was born in India on February 19, 1911 to a racially mixed Anglo-Indian mother and white Australian father. She was educated in that country until the age of 17 when she arrived in London.

Merle began her career in British films with mostly forgettable roles on her part. She appeared in an uncredited role in ALF'S BUTTON in 1930. Unfortunately, Merle would have that trend for the next three years. Finally, in 1933, she landed a part with substance with her role as Ysobel d'Aunay in MEN OF TOMORROW. That was quickly followed by THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII that same year. Up to this point she had been in British films only. After her portrayal of Lady Marguerite Blakeney in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL in 1934, she came to Hollywood to try her hand at American film making. The US had already had some idea of Merle's talent because they had seen THE BROKEN MELODY which was released in the US as VAGABOND VIOLINIST.
Wuthering Heights

With her nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actress as Kitty Vane in 1935's THE DARK ANGEL, Merle became a star in both Britain and the US. She appeared in several well received films such as THESE THREE (1936), OVER THE MOON (1937), and THE DIVORCE OF LADY X (1938). In 1939, Merle turned in another masterful performance as Cathy Linton in WUTHERING HEIGHTS. The 1940's proved to be a very busy decade where she appeared in no less than 15 movies.

In 1948 she appeared in BERLIN EXPRESS and would not be seen of the screen again until her appearance as Elizabeth Rockwell in PARDON MY FRENCH (1951). Her final film was INTERVAL in 1973. Afterwards, Merle lived in quiet retirement until her death of a massive stroke on November 23, 1979 in Malibu, California. She was 68 and had kept her beauty to the end.


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