31 July 2007

Marco Polo

I recently watched a DVD of an old-Hollywood movie, The Adventures of Marco Polo. This Black-and-white from the Sam Goldwyn Company, in 1938, was earnest in the manner of a preacher, didactic to the point of corn, miscast, deeply silly ... yet still oddly entertaining.

It reminded me of a much better and more recent movie called Barton Fink. "The Adventures of Marco Polo" was a fairly typical product of the Hollywood studio system retrospectively portrayed in "Barton Fink."

It was a formula picture. You establish your hero as a ladies man on his home turf (which, in this case, is Venice). He then travels to some place exotic (Peking) and woos a beautiful local gal, while getting caught up in palace intrigue. It isn't a complicated formula, (several episodes of the original Star Trek followed that plot line) and probably this was no easier, or more difficult, to write than the sort of "wrestling pic" with which Fink was struggling through the movie that bears his name.

Gary Cooper is Marco Polo. Lana Turner is daughter of Kublai Khan. Or a member of his harem. Or something. It hardly matters. She later complained to a biographer that her "fancy black oriental wig" was glued around her face with spirit gum, that she felt extremely uncomfortable in her costumes, and that she had her eyebrows shaved off, at the insistence of Goldwyn himself. They gave her slanted eyebrows instead.

For all that, she looks about as Chinese in this movie as, well, Alan Hale. The Alan Hale who plays the leader of a rebellion against Khan in this movie, was the father of the guy who in the 1960s played The Skipper on Gilligan's island, and if you have a mental image of the son it will do as an image of his Dad in the '30s.

The reason Roosevelt lifted prohibition was, perhaps, his premonition that it would never do for anyone to have to watch this movie in perfect sobriety.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.