Cast & Crew
Li Li Hua
In China, in 1943, after the Japanese have cut off supply lines and American pilots are ferrying food, medical supplies and refugees, Capt. Cliff Brandon lands at the American air base in Kunming after a flight from India. Cliff, who has been saddled with an inexperienced crew, has become demoralized and morose as a result of his war experiences and spends most of his free time drinking in Sadie's Place, a local bar where he is often propositioned by young women. One night, Cliff leaves the bar in a drunken state and encounters an old man in the street, who offers him the company of a young woman. Unable to communicate with the old man, Cliff wakes up the next morning to find that the girl, Shu-Jen, has followed him home and intends to stay. Father Cairns, a priest who operates St. Joseph's Mission, visits Cliff for coffee, and Cliff quickly explains the misunderstanding about the girl, then orders Ellington, a young Chinese boy who spends time at the airfield, to get rid of her. Later, after Cairns finds Shu-Jen outside Sadie's expecting to get a job as a "hostess," he takes her with him to the mission. When Cliff visits Cairns for a game of chess, the priest explains that Shu-Jen is one of eleven children, three of whom have died, and that Cliff, in his drunken state, agreed to hire her as a bonded servant for three months. Cairns adds that pride decrees that she act as his housekeeper and that the money will certainly help her family. Initially, Cliff refuses, but relents and takes Shu-Jen to Alice Nichols, an American Red Cross canteen worker, to find clean clothes for her. Meanwhile, Dan O'Neill, one of Cliff's crew, is romancing Mona Perkins, another Red Cross volunteer. At his home, Cliff instructs Ellington to tell Shu-Jen that she is to be only his housekeeper, then asks the boy to stay with him as house guest and chaperon. After Col. Wiley assigns Cliff to fly refugees to Calcutta, he returns with medical supplies for Cairns and a small brooch for Shu-Jen. However, Cliff has a malaria attack and, delirious, allows Shu-Jen to lie beside him for comfort. Cliff recovers, but goes to tell Cairns that "something happened" and that Shu-Jen should go home. Upon discovering that Shu-Jen is pregnant, Alice, a war widow who has become romantically involved with crew member Phil Gates, tells Cliff that he has neither honor, nor decency. When Cliff returns home, he finds that Shu-Jen has just left for her home. Cliff drives after her, finds her and tells her that, although it has taken him a while to realize it, he is in love with her. However, when Cliff enlists Ellington's help in formally proposing marriage, Shu-Jen declines, fearful that their marriage will create problems for him. With Cairns's help, Cliff finally convinces Shu-Jen, and they are married in a traditional Chinese ceremony. At the ceremony, Wiley tells Cliff and his crew that they have to leave the next day to fly out of a different base. Later, Cliff, now a changed man, receives word that Shu-Jen has had a baby girl and a few weeks later, when Alice and Mona are reassigned to the same base, they bring Shu-Jen, who has learned some English, the baby and Ellington with them. After a successful mission to drop supplies to troops on an offensive in Burma, Cliff and his crew learn that their airbase is being bombed by the Japanese. Although fired on by enemy planes, Cliff manages to land and plans to evacuate the base. Tragically, he learns that Shu-Jen has been killed in the attack and that the baby is missing. As Wylie has also been killed, Cliff is now in command and orders the plane to leave without him. Cliff then goes back to where Shu-Jen was killed and hears a baby crying. In a pile of rubble, Cliff finds his daughter alive, under the body of Ellington, who died protecting her. A Japanese plane returns to strafe the base and Cliff is hit. He places his identification tags in the baby's hands, then mans an anti-aircraft gun and shoots down several planes before being killed in a direct hit. In 1957, at Los Angeles International Airport, Alice and Phil, Dan and Mona, and others from Cliff's crew eagerly await the arrival of a flight. After many years of searching, Father Cairns has located Cliff and Shu-Jen's daughter in an orphanage in Hong Kong and has sent her to America to be looked after by her parents' friends. A teenager, displaying Cliff's dog tags, descends the steps from the plane, and they all embrace.
Li Li Hua
Lt. Col. Dale E. Bell Af Cal Ang
William H. Clothier
Earl Crain Sr.
Gordon B. Forbes
Thomas F. Kelly
Robert E. Morrison
James Benson Nablo
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
This film's working title was Time Is a Memory. A closing title card states: "Our sincere thanks to the Department of Defense and the United States Air Force for the cooperation in the making of this picture." Although some sources list the film's running time as eighty-eight minutes, the Variety review gives it as ninety-nine minutes, the length of the print viewed. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, most exteriors for the film were shot in Saugus, CA, in and around the Kunming Airfield.
Hollywood Reporter news items add Gretchen Thomas to the film, but her appearance in the film has not been confirmed. China Doll was the first of two co-productions between Batjac and Romina Productions. Their second production was Escort West (1959, see below).
Released in United States Summer August 1958
Released in United States Summer August 1958