The Adventures of Marco Polo


1h 40m 1938
The Adventures of Marco Polo

Brief Synopsis

Classic biography of the Italian explorer and his journeys to China.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adventure
Historical
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Apr 15, 1938
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 7 Apr 1938
Production Company
Samuel Goldwyn, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White (tinted and toned)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,362ft (11 reels)

Synopsis

Thirteenth century Venetian Marco Polo is sent by his merchant father Nicolo to China on a trade mission, accompanied by his accountant Binguccio. After an arduous journey, Marco and Binguccio arrive in China and are befriended by Chen Tsu, a scientist, who introduces Marco to the wonders of "Spaghett," chop sticks, and explosive powder. Chen Tsu warns Marco to be wary of Ahmed, the emperor Kublai Khan's chief advisor. In the emperor's court, Marco claims only to be there for travel, but meanwhile collects samples to take home. He and the emperor's daughter, Princess Kukachin, begin to fall in love, even though she has been engaged since infancy to the king of Persia. Ahmed dislikes Marco and plots his death, just as he plots to take over the empire. He has been collecting extra taxes from the people, especially the Mongols, who are ready to fight. While the Kublai Khan goes to war with Japan, he sends Marco as his emissary to Kaidu, leader of the Mongols. Kaidu's men capture Marco and plan to kill him until Kaidu's possessive wife Nazama is attracted to him and Kaidu sees Marco as a means to ease her possessiveness. While Kublai Khan is away, Ahmed takes over the palace and plans to marry Kukachin. When the emperor returns, Ahmed threatens to kill her if her father does not submit to Ahmed's plan to rule the kingdom with Kukachin as his bride. Marco has meanwhile gotten word of Ahmed's treachery and, after preventing an assassination attempt against Kaidu, asks for his help in saving Kublai Khan. Marco reaches the palace in time to prevent Kukachin's marriage and, with the help of Kaidu's army, and Chen Tsu's explosive powder, kills Ahmed and saves the throne. After Kublai Khan settles his differences with Kaidu, he asks Marco to accompany Kukachin on her voyage to Persia. When she asks Marco if the journey will take a long time, they kiss after he tells her that it is a very long journey.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adventure
Historical
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Apr 15, 1938
Premiere Information
New York premiere: 7 Apr 1938
Production Company
Samuel Goldwyn, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White (tinted and toned)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,362ft (11 reels)

Articles

The Adventures of Marco Polo


The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938) was one of the most elaborate and costly productions of independent producer Samuel Goldwyn; it also became one of his biggest money-losers upon release when it failed at the box-office. The film was criticized for many reasons but chief among them was the casting of Gary Cooper in the lead role - many felt the part called for a brash, swashbuckling hero rather than the low-key cowboy persona that Cooper exemplified. It is interesting to note, then, the man who first brought the idea to Goldwyn: Douglas Fairbanks. The swashbuckling silent era action star had written an outline for a script in the mid-1930s, intending to produce the film and perhaps cast his son in the lead. He went to Goldwyn for assistance, and Goldwyn soon took control of the project, tossing out the preliminary work by Fairbanks and buying a story treatment by N. A. Pogson. Goldwyn brought in the esteemed playwright Robert E. Sherwood to write the screenplay.

The real Marco Polo was a Venetian who lived from about 1254 to 1324, and while he probably wasn't the first Western man to travel to China, he was the first to have his travels recounted in print. Polo dictated his adventures to Rusticiano of Pisa while imprisoned with him in Genoa. The resulting book, Tracci di Marco Polo, was published around 1300 and no doubt contains its fair share of embellishments. Sherwood was free to make his own embellishments as well, so he turned out a free-wheeling, tongue-in-cheek screenplay. In it, Marco Polo (Gary Cooper) is sent by his merchant father Nicolo (Henry Kolker) on a trade mission to China. He is accompanied by Nicolo's burly accountant Binguccio (Ernest Truex), who proves to be more of a burden than a help. The travelers brave shipwrecks and sandstorms during the long trek; by the time they pass though the gate in the Great Wall, Polo is carrying Binguccio on his back. Polo makes friends with Chen Tsu (H. B. Warner), an inventor and thinker who introduces the westerner to a pasta they call "Spaghett," and to a mysterious exploding powder; Polo dutifully puts samples of these new wonders in a pouch to bring back to his father. Marco Polo is called before the court of emperor Kublai Khan (George Barbier), where he meets and begins a relationship with the emperor's daughter, Princess Kukachin (Sigrid Gurie). Polo introduces her to a Western wonder: kissing. Khan's advisor Ahmed (Basil Rathbone) has his own designs on the Princess, as well as extracurricular political ambitions: he plots behind Khan's back to stir up the Mongols and take over the Empire, and hopes to eliminate Polo in the process. (Ahmed has a handy pit full of man-eating tigers for just that purpose).

John Cromwell began directing The Adventures of Marco Polo on June 15th, 1937. He left the project after just five days of shooting, due to "differences of opinion on story treatment," according to a press release. A. Scott Berg, in his biography Goldwyn, writes that "...Cromwell was playing Sherwood's tongue-in-cheek script completely straight. A shouting match in Goldwyn's office ensued, from which the director emerged announcing his resignation." Goldwyn next turned to William Wyler, but the director refused the assignment and advised the mogul that the problem was with the lead, and that the role required "a swashbuckler like Fairbanks or Errol Flynn." Goldwyn had no intention of replacing Cooper in the role; he had just settled a dispute with Paramount Pictures, who held Cooper's contract, and as a result he was allowed to borrow the star for one picture a year. Director John Ford had recently helmed The Hurricane (1937) for Goldwyn, so he was enlisted to shoot some action sequences for The Adventures of Marco Polo, including scenes of the travelers crossing the Himalayas. Finally, Archie Mayo was signed to direct the bulk of the film; Mayo had earlier directed The Petrified Forest (1936), adapting Sherwood's famous play of the same name.

The Adventures of Marco Polo was the film debut of a Goldwyn discovery named Sigrid Gurie; interestingly, she did not rise up through the ranks by starting out as a "Goldwyn Girl." For her first film she was given the lead role of Princess Kukachin. Gurie had an exotic look, and Goldwyn hyped her as "The Siren of the Fjords" and called her "the Norwegian Garbo" in press releases. The ballyhoo backfired when intrepid reporters discovered that Gurie actually hailed from the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Columnists had a field day with this story, providing more bad press for the movie just prior to release.

One of the featured beauties in The Adventures of Marco Polo was Lana Turner, appearing in her third credited role. She didn't think much of the makeup required for the part. As quoted in Jeffrey Meyers' Gary Cooper – American Hero, Turner recalled: "I was a Eurasian handmaiden who had caught the eye of a warrior chief, played by Alan Hale. I wore a fancy black Oriental wig, which had to be glued around my face with spirit gum. I didn't mind the wig so much... but the costumes made me feel too undressed. And, worse yet, they shaved off my eyebrows, at the insistence of Goldwyn himself, and replaced them with false slanting black ones."

In spite of some exciting action scenes during the finale and a memorably villainous turn by Rathbone, The Adventures of Marco Polo performed poorly at the box-office, becoming the biggest flop to date for both Cooper and for Goldwyn; it was estimated that the picture lost $700,000. The pair bounced back with their next film, The Cowboy and the Lady (1938), a romantic western co-starring Merle Oberon. Cooper was obviously more comfortable trading in his Chinese robes for a cowboy hat, and audiences proved more responsive as well.

Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Associate Producer: George Haight
Director: Archie Mayo
Screenplay: Robert E. Sherwood, story by N. A. Pogson
Cinematography: Rudolph Mate, Archie Stout
Film Editing: Fred Allen
Art Direction: Richard Day
Set Decoration: Julia Heron
Costume Design: Omar Kiam, Marjorie Best
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Special Effects: James Basevi
Cast: Gary Cooper (Marco Polo), Sigrid Gurie (Princess Kukachin), Basil Rathbone (Ahmed), Ernest Truex (Binguccio), Alan Hale (Kaidu), George Barbier (Kublai Khan), Binnie Barnes (Nazama), Lana Turner (Nazama's Maid), Stanley Fields (Bayan), H. B. Warner (Chen Tsu).
BW-100m.

by John M. Miller

The Adventures Of Marco Polo

The Adventures of Marco Polo

The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938) was one of the most elaborate and costly productions of independent producer Samuel Goldwyn; it also became one of his biggest money-losers upon release when it failed at the box-office. The film was criticized for many reasons but chief among them was the casting of Gary Cooper in the lead role - many felt the part called for a brash, swashbuckling hero rather than the low-key cowboy persona that Cooper exemplified. It is interesting to note, then, the man who first brought the idea to Goldwyn: Douglas Fairbanks. The swashbuckling silent era action star had written an outline for a script in the mid-1930s, intending to produce the film and perhaps cast his son in the lead. He went to Goldwyn for assistance, and Goldwyn soon took control of the project, tossing out the preliminary work by Fairbanks and buying a story treatment by N. A. Pogson. Goldwyn brought in the esteemed playwright Robert E. Sherwood to write the screenplay. The real Marco Polo was a Venetian who lived from about 1254 to 1324, and while he probably wasn't the first Western man to travel to China, he was the first to have his travels recounted in print. Polo dictated his adventures to Rusticiano of Pisa while imprisoned with him in Genoa. The resulting book, Tracci di Marco Polo, was published around 1300 and no doubt contains its fair share of embellishments. Sherwood was free to make his own embellishments as well, so he turned out a free-wheeling, tongue-in-cheek screenplay. In it, Marco Polo (Gary Cooper) is sent by his merchant father Nicolo (Henry Kolker) on a trade mission to China. He is accompanied by Nicolo's burly accountant Binguccio (Ernest Truex), who proves to be more of a burden than a help. The travelers brave shipwrecks and sandstorms during the long trek; by the time they pass though the gate in the Great Wall, Polo is carrying Binguccio on his back. Polo makes friends with Chen Tsu (H. B. Warner), an inventor and thinker who introduces the westerner to a pasta they call "Spaghett," and to a mysterious exploding powder; Polo dutifully puts samples of these new wonders in a pouch to bring back to his father. Marco Polo is called before the court of emperor Kublai Khan (George Barbier), where he meets and begins a relationship with the emperor's daughter, Princess Kukachin (Sigrid Gurie). Polo introduces her to a Western wonder: kissing. Khan's advisor Ahmed (Basil Rathbone) has his own designs on the Princess, as well as extracurricular political ambitions: he plots behind Khan's back to stir up the Mongols and take over the Empire, and hopes to eliminate Polo in the process. (Ahmed has a handy pit full of man-eating tigers for just that purpose). John Cromwell began directing The Adventures of Marco Polo on June 15th, 1937. He left the project after just five days of shooting, due to "differences of opinion on story treatment," according to a press release. A. Scott Berg, in his biography Goldwyn, writes that "...Cromwell was playing Sherwood's tongue-in-cheek script completely straight. A shouting match in Goldwyn's office ensued, from which the director emerged announcing his resignation." Goldwyn next turned to William Wyler, but the director refused the assignment and advised the mogul that the problem was with the lead, and that the role required "a swashbuckler like Fairbanks or Errol Flynn." Goldwyn had no intention of replacing Cooper in the role; he had just settled a dispute with Paramount Pictures, who held Cooper's contract, and as a result he was allowed to borrow the star for one picture a year. Director John Ford had recently helmed The Hurricane (1937) for Goldwyn, so he was enlisted to shoot some action sequences for The Adventures of Marco Polo, including scenes of the travelers crossing the Himalayas. Finally, Archie Mayo was signed to direct the bulk of the film; Mayo had earlier directed The Petrified Forest (1936), adapting Sherwood's famous play of the same name. The Adventures of Marco Polo was the film debut of a Goldwyn discovery named Sigrid Gurie; interestingly, she did not rise up through the ranks by starting out as a "Goldwyn Girl." For her first film she was given the lead role of Princess Kukachin. Gurie had an exotic look, and Goldwyn hyped her as "The Siren of the Fjords" and called her "the Norwegian Garbo" in press releases. The ballyhoo backfired when intrepid reporters discovered that Gurie actually hailed from the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Columnists had a field day with this story, providing more bad press for the movie just prior to release. One of the featured beauties in The Adventures of Marco Polo was Lana Turner, appearing in her third credited role. She didn't think much of the makeup required for the part. As quoted in Jeffrey Meyers' Gary Cooper – American Hero, Turner recalled: "I was a Eurasian handmaiden who had caught the eye of a warrior chief, played by Alan Hale. I wore a fancy black Oriental wig, which had to be glued around my face with spirit gum. I didn't mind the wig so much... but the costumes made me feel too undressed. And, worse yet, they shaved off my eyebrows, at the insistence of Goldwyn himself, and replaced them with false slanting black ones." In spite of some exciting action scenes during the finale and a memorably villainous turn by Rathbone, The Adventures of Marco Polo performed poorly at the box-office, becoming the biggest flop to date for both Cooper and for Goldwyn; it was estimated that the picture lost $700,000. The pair bounced back with their next film, The Cowboy and the Lady (1938), a romantic western co-starring Merle Oberon. Cooper was obviously more comfortable trading in his Chinese robes for a cowboy hat, and audiences proved more responsive as well. Producer: Samuel Goldwyn Associate Producer: George Haight Director: Archie Mayo Screenplay: Robert E. Sherwood, story by N. A. Pogson Cinematography: Rudolph Mate, Archie Stout Film Editing: Fred Allen Art Direction: Richard Day Set Decoration: Julia Heron Costume Design: Omar Kiam, Marjorie Best Music: Hugo Friedhofer Special Effects: James Basevi Cast: Gary Cooper (Marco Polo), Sigrid Gurie (Princess Kukachin), Basil Rathbone (Ahmed), Ernest Truex (Binguccio), Alan Hale (Kaidu), George Barbier (Kublai Khan), Binnie Barnes (Nazama), Lana Turner (Nazama's Maid), Stanley Fields (Bayan), H. B. Warner (Chen Tsu). BW-100m. by John M. Miller

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Marco Polo was a Venetian who traveled to China in the late Thirteenth Century, possibly the first Western man to do so. His exact dates are unknown, however, he lived from about 1254 to 1324. The details of Polo's trip to China were recounted in the book Tracci di Marco Polo (c.1300, translated as Travels with Marco Polo), which Polo dictated to Rusticiano of Pisa, a man who was imprisoned with him in Genoa during a war between Venice and Genoa. Stories of Polo's exploits and discoveries, some of which are disputed by modern historians, are contained in his book and have been recounted in novels and films about the Venetian. According to contemporary news items, Douglas Fairbanks had written a script in early 1936 based on Polo's adventures that was to be produced by Samuel Goldwyn. News items in Hollywood Reporter indicate that Fairbanks and Goldwyn had wanted Gary Cooper to star in the production, but a $5,000,000 lawsuit initiated by Paramount Pictures against Goldwyn in mid-1936 for allegedly trying to lure their star away apparently delayed the Fairbanks-Goldwyn film indefinitely. In 1937, Goldwyn purchased an original story on Marco Polo from N. A. Pogson, and Fairbanks was apparently no longer involved in the project.
       The film was originally to be shot in Technicolor, but, according to an article in Motion Picture Herald in May 1937, this was impossible because most of the Technicolor equipment then in existence was already in use on other films. Instead, the film was made in a sepia tint, supervised by Jack Nicholaus, who was borrowed from M-G-M for the project. When the production began on June 15, 1937, John Cromwell was the director, however, a few days after filming commenced Cromwell left the project over what a Film Daily news item said were "differences of opinion on story treatment." Modern sources have noted that while Cromwell wanted to film the picture in the tongue-in-check manner suggested in Robert E. Sherwood's screenplay, Goldwyn wanted the picture to be a serious adventure film. Subsequent to Cromwell's departure, Archie Mayo was assigned to direct the picture, after being taken off pre-production work on The Goldwyn Follies (see below). Modern sources have indicated that William Wyler was approached to take over direction of the picture when Cromwell left but refused the assignment, and John Ford directed some of the film's action sequences, including one of a blizzard in the Himalayas. Portions of the film were shot on location at Malibu Lake where, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item on 31 Jul, two hundred yards of the Great Wall of China were reconstructed and the crew was put on a twenty-four-hour-a-day schedule. Binnie Barnes, who portrays Nazama in the film, replaced actress Verree Teasdale, who had to withdraw from the film during production because of illness. Modern sources also mention that Basil Rathbone, who portrayed Ahmed in the picture, replaced John Carradine shortly after filming began.
       Some reviews were positive about the film, although most wrote unfavorably about the picture. An unidentified but contemporary newspaper review contained in the file on the film in the AMPAS Library called it "Mr. Deeds Goes to China Town," spoofing Gary Cooper's popular 1936 film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and the Motion Picture Daily reviewer called it Kublai Khan Rides Again. The reviewer also noted the irony that when writer Sherwood, was a film critic for Life he called the highly successful 1921 film, The Sheik "an average Western with the cowboys wearing Kimonos." Several other reviewers compared the film to a Western in theme and story. Actress Sigrid Gurie made her American motion picture debut in the film. Several ads emphasized Gurie, and one mentioned that her wardrobe in the picture cost $150,000. Though Gurie was reared in Norway, and ads and reviews for the film refer to her as Norwegian, she was born in the United States. Modern sources have noted that Gurie's American birth soon became a joke in the press where she was variously called "Brooklyn-born" or "born in Flatbush." Modern sources also note that the film lost a great deal of money, the first time that Cooper had had a large flop since becoming an international star.
       According to an obituary for actor and stuntman Richard Farnsworth, he was cast as one of the 500 Monogolian horsemen in the film; however, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Additional cast members included in modern sources are, Reginald Barlow, James Leong, Dick Alexander, Jason Robards, Granville Bates, Theodore von Eltz, Gloria Youngblood, Diana Moncardo, Mia Schioka, Dora Young, Diane Toy, Henry Kerua, Greta Granstedt, Harry Cording, Dick Rich, Joe Woody and Leo Fielding. A number of films have been made featuring fictionalized accounts of Marco Polo's exploits. Among them are the 1962 Italian film called Marco Polo, directed by Hugo Fregonese and starring Rory Calhoun, a 1966 film entitled Marco the Magnificent, directed by Dennis De La Patalliere and Noel Howard, and starring Horst Buchholz and Anthony Quinn (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.3089 and 3090) and a 1972 television movie entitled Travels with Marco Polo, starring Desi Arnaz, Jr.