China Sky (1945): Ray Enright’s WWII Action Melodrama, Starring Randolph Scott

Ray Enright directed China Sky, based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck, and starring Randolph Scott, Ruth Warrick, Ellen Drew and Anthony Quinn.

China Sky was one of the features about the Chinese-Japanese conflict and invasion during WWII: A Yank on the Burma Road (1942), China Girl (1942), Flying Tigers (1942), China (1943), Behind the Rising Sun (1943), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), Dragon Seed (1944), God Is My Co-Pilot (1945) and China’s Little Devils.

As was then the norm, Caucasian actors played Chinese characters, which were stereotypically secondary or subservient.  Mexican-American Anthony Quinn again proved that he was Hollywood’s most versatile (and busiest) actor in portraying a diverse range of nationalities, including Indian, Mafia don, Hawaiian chief, Filipino freedom-fighter, French pirate, Spanish bullfighter and Arab sheik.

Randolph Scott plays Dr. Gray Thompson, an American missionary doctor, working with Dr. Sara Durand (Ruth Warrick) in a hospital he has built in a small Chinese village, while Japanese forces invade China.

When Gray returns from a trip, he surprised Sara by introducing his new socialite wife, Louise (Ellen Drew). Bored and out of place, Louise tries to persuade him to give up his dangerous cause.

In the midst of aerial bombing attacks on the village, Dr. Thompson helps the local residents, especially the insurgent leader Chen-Ta (Anthony Quinn), who loves nurse Siu-Mei (Carol Thurston), betrothed to Dr. Kim (Philip Ahn), a sympathetic doctor.

Colonel Yasuda (Richard Loo), a high-ranking Japanese prisoner, manipulates Dr. Kim into sending message, purportedly from Louise, to his side that the village is secretly harboring an ammunition dump.

When Japanese paratroops descend on the village, Gray organizes the defense and sends a messenger to Chen Ta. During the brutal fight, Yasuda fatally shoots Dr. Kim and grazes Gray, then a distraught Louise gets killed. The Japanese are defeated when Chen Ta and his men arrive on horseback. He promises to return for Siu Mei after the invaders have been driven out. As the air raids resume, the two doctors show courage in facing the challenges.

In the book, there was anti-American Chinese, so Phillip Ahn’s character was ultimately changed from the American schooled Chinese Dr. Chung to Korean-Japanese man, named Kim Han Soo.

Released at the end of WWII, China Sky received mixed to negative reviews due to its well meaning but unsuccessful effort to be both a war film, which lacked exciting action sequences, and a marital melodrama, which was tepid.

Pearl Buck, an American writer in China, was better known for The Good Earth, which won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize, and was made into an Oscar winning film in 1937.  She was warded the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature “for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces.”

Cast

Randolph Scott as Dr. Gray Thompson
Ruth Warrick as Dr. Sara Durand
Ellen Drew as Louise Thompson
Anthony Quinn as Chen-Ta
Carol Thurston as Siu-Mei
Richard Loo as Col. Yasuda
Ducky Louie as Little Goat

Credits:

RKO Pictures

Running time: 78 Minutes

Release date: May 24, 1945