Cast & Crew
In the spring of 1937, in the valley of Ling, China, Ling Tan and his family busily plant seedlings in their rice paddies, unaware of the strife that is about to consume their country. Ling's wife is concerned because their youngest son, Lao San, her husband's favorite, is still a carefree bachelor, while Ling's middle son, Lao Er, worries that his wife Jade spends too much time away from home. One night, Lao Er drags Jade from a village meeting, at which the recent Japanese invasion of the north is being discussed, and chastises her for neglecting her wifely duties. Fearing that Jade, who was also courted by his cousin, is not truly in love with him, Lao Er questions her about her feelings, and she confesses her ambivalence toward him. After Lao Er agrees to share his deepest thoughts with her that night, however, Jade instantly warms to him. As they exchange confidences, Jade begs Lao Er to buy her a book, revealing that, unlike most peasant women, she knows how to read. Lao Er at first balks at the idea, saying that Jade is too independent and modern, but finally agrees to make the purchase. The next day, Lao Er asks his literate brother-in-law, Wu Lien, a city merchant specializing in Japanese goods, to recommend a title for Jade, and Wu Lien suggests the book All Men Are Brothers . Wu Lien is then confronted by a mob of angry students, who demand that he agree to stop selling Japanese merchandise. When Wu Lien refuses to comply, his shop is destroyed. That night, Lao Er presents Jade with All Men Are Brothers and swears his undying love, and she is at last persuaded to return his affection. Sometime later, after Jade reveals to Lao Er that she is pregnant, the farmers notice Japanese airplanes bombing the nearby city. Ling, an ardent pacifist, goes to inspect the city with Lao San and is shocked to see the destruction there. Back at home, Ling, Lao San and eldest son Lao Ta vow to remain on the farm despite the anticipated Japanese incursion, but Lao Er and Jade announce that they are joining a group of refugees dedicated to resistance. Soon after Jade and Lao Er leave with the refugees, the Japanese Army takes over the valley, and Lao Ta's wife Orchid is raped and killed by a group of soldiers, who also kill Wu Lien's elderly mother. Enraged by what he has seen, Lao San declares that he is leaving to fight the Japanese and is joined by Lao Ta. In the city, the traitorous Wu Lien, meanwhile, agrees to become the local leader of the new Japanese-controlled government. Jade and Lao Er then reach the mountain headquarters of the resistance movement, while many in occupied China, including Lao Ta's three children, die slowly from hunger and disease. In the midst of their grief, Ling and his wife, who have begun hiding food from the Japanese, are surprised by the return of Lao Er, Jade, and their infant son. Jade explains that they have come to foment resistance among the farmers and plan to use Ling's house as their base. After arming themselves with weapons stolen from the Japanese, the resistance fighters, including Lao San, launch a deadly surprise attack on some Japanese soldiers who are trying to force the village men into slavery. The attack is successful, but Ling is distressed to see how bloodthirsty Lao San has become. Later, Ling's third cousin and his domineering wife, who has long resented Jade for marrying Lao Er instead of her now-deceased son, visit Wu Lien at his Japanese-guarded mansion. When Wu Lien suggests that the couple act as spies for him, Third Cousin's wife blurts out that Jade and Lao Er are hiding out at Ling's house and are resistance leaders. After a shame-faced Third Cousin reveals his wife's betrayal to Ling, Lao Er and the other men debate how best to handle Wu Lien. During their discussion, Jade sneaks off to her brother-in-law's mansion and questions him about his loyalties. Feeling that Wu Lien will eventually expose his relatives, Jade slips into his kitchen, where a lavish banquet is being prepared, and pours poison into some duck sauce. Scores of Japanese officers die from the poison, and Wu Lien is shot and killed in revenge. Months later, at harvest time, Jade and Lao Er return from another trip to the mountains and tell Ling and the other elders that as their final act of resistance, they must burn their crops and farms. When Ling refuses to destroy his land, Lao San condemns him as a coward. Later, however, Jade delivers an impassioned speech to the elders and convinces Ling that he must sacrifice his present life to ensure his grandson's future. Ling and his wife then set fire to their crops and house and flee to the mountains with Lao Er and Jade. Upon arriving at the resistance camp, Ling and Lao San finally reconcile. Later, as Ling and his wife prepare to leave for free China, Lao Er and Jade, who have chosen to remain and fight, entrust their son, the "seed of the dragon," to his loving grandparents' care.
J. Carrol Naish
Jacqueline De Wit
Paul E. Burns
Hayward Soo Hoo
Tai Ling Wong
Wei Fan Tseui
Edna Mae Tom
James B. Leong
Lee Tung Foo
J. Alex Havier
Phil Van Zandt
Ma, A Water Buffalo
Pandro S. Berman
A. Arnold Gillespie
Wei F. Hsueh
Harold F. Kress
M. J. Mclaughlin
Robert W. Shirley
Lyle R. Wheeler
John A. Williams
Edwin B. Willis
Best Supporting Actress
Hepburn had been having trouble finding a suitable screen project to follow Woman of the Year and Keeper of the Flame (both 1942), the first two films teaming her with long time on and off screen partner Spencer Tracy. MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer nixed her proposal for a screen version of Eugene O'Neil's three-part epic Mourning Becomes Electra (later played by Rosalind Russell at RKO), and they couldn't get the rights to George Bernard Shaw's witty comedy The Millionairess (Hepburn would play it on stage, while the film version would star Sophia Loren). Nor could they settle on terms for a loan to Paramount to star in Frenchman's Creek (1944), a role that ultimately went to Joan Fontaine.
Then MGM picked up the screen rights to Dragon Seed, Pearl Buck's popular 1942 tale of Chinese peasants fighting off Japanese invaders during World War II. The potentially expensive production appealed to Mayer because of the studio's success with Buck's The Good Earth in 1937. In addition, it gave them another way to support the war effort by paying tribute to one of the U.S.' allies. For Hepburn, although the thought of starring in her first big budget production was daunting (at $3 million, the film's budget was over three times the usual for her), the memory of Luise Rainer's success in the 1937 film was still fresh. In addition, the role of Jade, the peasant woman who leads her village's men in fighting off the invasion, was a rare (for Hollywood) liberated woman who came out on top. Jade is one of the few villagers who can read. She constantly forsakes housework to attend political meetings. When she bears a child, she gives it up so she can join the men in battle. As critic and historian Jeanine Basinger would point out in A Woman's View, "The movie has built into its dialogue and plot developments an actual argument for liberation and certainly a respect for an independent, free woman who knows her mind and acts on it."
But as forward thinking as the film's gender politics may have been, it still presented the sorry spectacle of a cast of western actors made up, not always convincingly, to appear Chinese or Japanese. Only the film's children and extras were played by actual Asians. In addition, the casting offered a veritable dialect soup as Hepburn's New England twang played against on-screen husband Turhan Bey's light Austrian, traitorous uncle Akim Tamiroff's Russian and many of the other actors' stage-trained diction.
Mirroring the casting, MGM threw accuracy to the winds in preparing the production. When Buck visited the set, she was appalled to find Hepburn wearing men's clothing, which the star considered more attractive than the traditional female fashions. Buck also questioned the sets for the village's terraced hills. When she pointed out that a) the hills were not terraced in the region where the story was set and b) terraces like those needed to run horizontal to the ground, not perpendicular, she was told that horizontal terraces were visually boring.
For all that, Hepburn put a great deal of effort into the production. Exteriors were shot in the San Fernando Valley, a 36-mile drive from her home. Because of the heavy makeup she wore in the film, this meant early days that lasted late into the evenings. This wasn't helped by the late nights she put in trying to help Spencer Tracy deal with insomnia while he was filming the equally strenuous war drama The Seventh Cross (1944). Dragon Seed was such a demanding production that director Jack Conway, a specialist in action films and rowdy comedies, collapsed halfway through production. His replacement, Harold S. Bucquet, had worked mostly on low-budget films, including many of MGM's Dr. Kildare features.
Dragon Seed received mixed reviews, though even the best compared it unfavorably to The Good Earth. The worst were quick to complain about the western cast, Hepburn's Bryn Mawr accent and the insultingly ethnic background music. Nonetheless, the film won two Oscar® nominations (for Aline MacMahon's supporting performance as Hepburn's mother-in-law and Sidney Wagner's black-and-white cinematography) and even turned a profit, though nothing to compare with the success of The Good Earth. It would be decades before feminist critics like Basinger re-discovered the film and recommended it to new generations of film fans.
Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Jack Conway, Harold S. Bucquet
Screenplay: Marguerite Roberts, Jane Murfin, based on the novel by Pearl S. Buck
Cinematography: Sidney Wagner
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Lyle R. Wheeler
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Jade), Walter Huston (Ling Tan), Aline MacMahon (Mrs. Ling Tan), Akim Tamiroff (Wu Lien), Turhan Bey (Lao Er), Hurd Hatfield (Lao San), Frances Rafferty (Orchid), Agnes Moorehead (3rd Cousin's Wife), Henry Travers (3rd Cousin), J. Carrol Naish (Japanese Kitchen Overseer), Benson Fong (Student), Philip Ahn (Leader of City People), Lionel Barrymore (Narrator).
BW-148m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller
Lionel Barrymore's offscreen narration opens the film, and is heard intermittently throughout the picture. Contemporary news items and M-G-M publicity material contained at the AMPAS Library add the following information about the production: Mervyn LeRoy was first slated to direct the picture, and John W. Considine, Jr. was to produce. By September 1942, C. Gardner Sullivan had completed a treatment of the film, and in October 1942, George Bruce was hired to work on the screenplay. Dr. C. J. Craig, who had served as a physician in China, was to be Bruce's consultant on the picture. The contributions of these writers to the final film has not been confirmed. In November 1942, Considine was replaced by Sidney Franklin, who in turn, was replaced by Pandro S. Berman in March 1943.
Many actors were tested and considered for leading roles in the film. Judy Garland was announced in early May 1942 as LeRoy's first choice to play "Jade." Louise Rainer, Hedy Lamarr and Greer Garson were also considered for the role of Jade. Lamarr and Garson were dropped as candidates after they failed "Oriental" makeup tests. Other actors who were rejected because of makeup concerns were Edward Arnold, Walter Pidgeon, Donald Crisp, Fay Bainter, Edward G. Robinson, Van Heflin, Frank Morgan and Donna Reed. In July 1942, Hollywood Reporter announced that Gene Kelly had been cast, but conflicts with his Cover Girl schedule apparently cost him the part. Charles Laughton was announced in the role of "Wu Lien" in August 1943, but was forced to drop out of the production because of scheduling conflicts with The Canterville Ghost . Laird Cregar and Sydney Greenstreet were both considered as replacements for Laughton before Akim Tamiroff was finally cast.
Actor Hurd Hatfield made his screen debut in the picture. Katharine Balfour, Dean Murphy, Don Curtis, Gene Lockhart, Wynne Gibson and Margaret Olova tested for roles. Lockhart did not appear in the final film, but the participation of the other actors has not been confirmed. In September 1943, M-G-M announced that Keye Luke had been cast in the film as a "student lecturer," but he did not appear in the completed film. According to an August 1943 New York Times article, because of the war, which prompted many Chinese Americans to join and support the military, extras for the film were culled from Mexican, Filipino and "other racial groups...that can easily be made up to appear oriental." An August 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item added that M-G-M was considering casting extras out of Northern California, because the Asian population there was sufficiently "unspoiled" to play "historic, agricultural types." The following actors were listed as cast members in Hollywood Reporter news items: Norman Ling, Roell Hsieh, Tommy Estrella, Don Escobar, George Lee, Ben Welden and Sheldon Leonard. Their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed, however.
Dragon Seed marked the reunion of Hepburn and producer Berman, who had worked together on a number of pictures in the 1930s when both were under contract with RKO. [Their previous project together was RKO's 1937 picture Stage Door.] Dragon Seed was budgeted at three million dollars, a very large sum for the time. In January 1944, Harold Bucquet took over the film's direction, and was awarded an onscreen co-directing credit after Jack Conway became ill. According to modern sources, Conway was suffering from tuberculosis, although news items at the time listed his illness as the flu. Robert Lewis, who appears in the picture as a Japanese officer, is also credited as the film's test director, acting coach and dialogue director. (Although one Hollywood Reporter news item claimed that Lewis was to direct added scenes, other items reported that Bucquet had directed them.)
Exteriors for the film were shot in Calabasas, north of Los Angeles, and in Los Angeles' Chinatown district. Four tons of rice paddies were planted at the hundred-acre Calabasas location, and twenty Chinese-style buildings, from "huts to large houses," were constructed. On October 21, 1943, the first night exterior scenes since the wartime ban on night shooting were shot on M-G-M's back lot after the Fourth Interceptor Command granted the studio special permission to film. In late November 1943, the entire production moved temporarily to the M-G-M studio, so that the Calabasas location could be redecorated for the winter scenes. Four camera units were used to shoot the famine sequence. Filming in Calabasas ended in late January 1944, and the site was converted for use in M-G-M's war epic Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo . At the Chinatown location, locals were recruited to film a mob scene. Ma, a water buffalo, also appeared in M-G-M's 1937 production of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.1677). During filming, Buck visited the set of Dragon Seed and gave her approval to the production. Although some critics consider Dragon Seed a sequel to The Good Earth, its characters and story line are unrelated to the earlier film. Many Asian actors who appeared in Dragon Seed also appeared in The Good Earth.
Prior to principal photography, makeup artist Jack Dawn created hand-sculptured plastic masks of the actors' faces, complete with Asian makeup, and during shooting, pieces of the masks were fitted onto the actors' faces. Many reviewers commented negatively on the inappropriateness of the actors' accents, particularly Katharine Hepburn's and Akim Tamiroff's. Although Hollywood Reporter and M-G-M publicity items state that Hepburn was to record an ancient Chinese lullaby titled "Men Chiang" for the film, no songs were performed in the film. Records from the M-G-M Music Collection indicate that Dr. Philip Lee was hired as a Chinese singing coach, and Eugene Dorian and Wong Artarne sang solos for a number called "Chee Lai," which was performed as part of the film's score. For his score, Herbert Stothart used the Eichien Collection of rare Chinese instruments housed at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, according to Hollywood Reporter. Hollywood Reporter also reported that footage from The Good Earth was used in both Dragon Seed and China, a documentary produced by the Army Pictorial Service.
According to Hollywood Reporter, Dragon Seed initially was to be shot in Technicolor, but ended up being the first film to be printed in Life-Tone, a laboratory process developed by M-G-M, which was designed to produce superior-quality platinum sepia. In May 1944, Dragon Seed was selected along with An American Romance and The White Cliffs of Dover to represent M-G-M during its 20th anniversary celebration. The National Board of Review ranked Dragon Seed as its seventh most popular film of the year. Aline MacMahon was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress, and Sidney Wagner was nominated in the Best Cinematography (black and white) category.
Released in United States Summer August 1944
Released in United States Summer August 1944