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Race & Hollywood: Asian Images in Film (Tuesdays & Thursdays in June)
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China Doll

China Doll

A romance between an American flyer and his housekeeper produces a living China Doll (1958) in this World War II tearjerker. Victor Mature takes on the role of the American father who is separated from his wife and child by war. Shanghai born Li Li Hua plays his wife in her first and only credited American screen role.

China Doll also marked the directorial return of Frank Borzage following a ten year Hollywood absence. Borzage made no films between 1948's Moonrise and China Doll, apparently a victim of blacklisting. Best known for his unabashed romanticism, Borzage's filmography includes movies like A Farewell to Arms (1932), a Dick Powell-Ruby Keeler musical Shipmates Forever (1935) and the wartime love story, Till We Meet Again (1944). He won two early Best Director Oscars for Seventh Heaven (1927) and Bad Girl (1931). And regardless of later communist allegations, Borzage's The Mortal Storm (1940) was one of the few anti-German movies made before the U.S. entered the war. In fact, the film's anti-fascist slant so angered Hitler it resulted in all MGM films being banned in Germany.

Borzage did appear as an actor in the 1957 film Jeanne Eagels playing, interestingly enough, the part of an assistant director. He made just one more film for Hollywood after China Doll, directing Howard Keel in the religious epic The Big Fisherman (1959).

One other face to note in China Doll is two-time Olympic decathlon winner Bob Mathias. Mathias, who turned actor to play the title role in his own biography The Bob Mathias Story (1954), takes on his first non-sports related role in China Doll. The part re-teamed him with his Bob Mathias Story coach Ward Bond, who appears here as a priest.

Director: Frank Borzage
Producer: Frank Borzage, Victor Mature (uncredited), John Wayne (uncredited)
Screenplay: Kitty Buhler, story by Thomas F. Kelly and James Benson Nablo
Cinematography: William H. Clothier
Editor: Jack Murray
Art Direction: Howard Richmond
Music: Henry Vars, 'By' Dunham (song)
Cast: Victor Mature (Cliff Brandon), Li Li Hua (Shu-Jen), Ward Bond (Father Cairns), Bob Mathias (Phil Gates), Johnny Desmond (Steve Hill).

by Stephanie Thames



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