Adventures of Marco Polo, The (1938): Gary Cooper Biopic

 In Archie Mayo’s  The Adventures of Marco Polo, a nicely mounted but far from accurate biopic of the noted explorer, Gary Cooper is well cast as the handsome Marco Polo, depicted as first and foremost a ladies man. 

 

As scripted by Robert Sherwood, the saga takes a light satirical approach, instead of an epic one, to its subject and his adventures.

 

The son of the leading merchant, he’s dispatched alongside with his bookkeeper Binguccio to the luxurious court of Kubblai Khan in Pekin to discover oriental treasures and complete trade agreements, which presumably will bring wealth to the Polo clan.  After an arduous journey, Marco Polo meets townsman Chen Tsu and learns much of the Chinese ways, especially the making of firecrackers.

 

At the court, Marco Polo falls in love with Princess Kukachin (Sigrid Gurie, miscast), who’s betrothed to the Persian King.  In the process, he arouses the hatred of the Babylonian Ahmed (Basil Rathbone), the scheming foreign-born minister of state, while amusing the Emperor.  Later, he is sent as a spy to the rebel camp of Kaidu and saves the warrior’s life.  As a reward, he demands the support of the rebel army in saving the throne of Kublai Khan from the treacherous Ahmed, while gaining the beautiful princess for himself.

 

Cooper acquits himself with an honorable performance, but it’s Rathbone, doing his specialty as the screen’s greatest villain, who steals every scene he is in. You can spot the very young Lana Turner, who will become a major star in the 1940s, as Binnie Barnes’ maid.

 

Cast:

Gary Cooper (Marco Polo)

Sigrid Gurie (Princess Kukachin)

Basil Rathbone (Ahmed)

Ernest Truex (binguccio)

Alan Hale (Kaidu)

George Barbier (Kublai Khan)

Binnie Barnes (Nazama)

Lana Turner (Nazama’s maid)

Stanley Fields (Bayan)

Harold Huber (Toctai)

H.B. Warner (Chen Tsu)

Eugene Hoo (Chen Tsu’s Son)

Helen Quan (Chen Tsu’s Daughter)

Soo Yong (Chen Tsu’s Wife)

Mrs. Ng (Chen Tsu’s Mother)

Lotus Liu (Visahka)

Ferdinand Gottschalk (Persian Ambassador)

Henry Kolker (Nicolo Polo)

Hale Hamilton (Maffeo Polo)

Robert Greig (Chamberlain)

Reginald Barlow (Giuseppe)

Ward Bond (Mongol Guard)

James Leong (Tartar Warrior)

Dick Alexander (Ahmed’s Aide)

Jason Robards (Messenger)

Gloria Youngblood, Diana Moncardo, Dora Young, Mia Schioka (Court Girls)

 

Credits:

 

A Samuel Goldwyn Production.

Released thru United Artists.

Director: Archie Mayo.

Producer: Samuel Goldwyn.

Scenarist: Robert E. Sherwood.

Photographer: Rudolph Mate.

Musical Score: Hugo Friedhofer.

Musical Director: Alfred Newman.

Art Director: Richard Day.

Set Decorator: Julia Heron.

Editor: Fred Allen.

Sound Recorder: Thomas T. Moulton.

Special Effects: James Basevi.

Associate Producer: George Haight.

Assistant Director: Walter Mayo.

Based on a story by N. A. Pogson.