China Gate (1957): Fuller’s Drama of Indo-China War Starring Gene Barry and Angie Dickinson

Director-writer Samuel Fuller, who had been the first filmmaker to depict onscreen the Korean War (“The Steel Helmet”), again scooped Hollywood with this drama of the French Indo-China War. “China Gate” was made one year before Joseph Mankiewicz’s “The Quiet American,” based on Graham Greene’s novel.

The war provides the background for an action drama about a patrol of French Legionnaires assigned to blow up a secret Communist ammunition dump. The soldiers are led through enemy territory by a Eurasian posing as a Red sympathizer. A Legionnaire had been married to her in the past but left when their baby was born with Chinese features. Their romance is rekindled during the mission.

During the waning days of the French influence in Vietnam, a French Legionnaire contingent must locate and destroy a Communist munitions dump. Vet Sgt. Brock (Gene Barry), the duty-bound American leading the patrol. Guiding the demolition mission is a Eurasian (Angie Dickinson) who was once wed to Brock and by whom she had a child. Her price for the assignment is to have their child brought up in America. Reaching their target, she sacrifices her life to detonate the explosives, but Brock survives the expedition.

“China Gate” is a deceptively simple black-and-white CinemaScope production that was Hollywood’s first motion picture to really deal with Vietnam’s political problems. At the time, it was passed off as a simple action programmer from the iconoclastic filmmaker Fuller.

At the time, the film received extra publicity due to the participation of Nat King Cole. Angie Dickinson became a star two years later, after appearing in Howard Hawks’ “Rio Bravo,” opposite John Wayne.


Running time: 97 minutes.