Tuesday, January 26, 2010

79. The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

Running Time: 88 minutes
Directed By: Frank Capra
Written By: Edward E. Paramore Jr., Grace Zaring Stone
Main Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Toshia Mori, Walter Connolly

Sidenote: I managed to come across "Zero de Conduite" yesterday on the Internet Archive website and at only forty minutes, I was able to knock it out pretty quickly, yesterday afternoon. So...if you go back to the "Zero de Conduite" post, from earlier this month, you'll be able to read my thoughts on the movie. Quick warning, the review is quite short, as is the movie, and probably the shortest review I've ever done for the blog.


Going along on our journey, we come to our first Frank Capra film. A man that would go on to make such classics as: "It's A Wonderful Life", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and one that I'll be seeing for the first time probably next week, "It Happened One Night". However, one that I had never heard of, prior to purchasing the "1001" book is, "The Bitter Tea of General Yen" which has a very simple plot, but is very good and one of Capra's films that deserves the accolades that it doesn't receive.

Barbara Stanwyck plays Megan Davis, an american missionary working in China, who is about to be married to her high school sweetheart. Just as they are to be wed, her fiance is called away to rescue a group of orphans caught in a war zone, during China's Civil War. Upon arrival at the war zone, the couple become seperated and Megan is captured by the nefarious General Yen (Asther). While aboard a train, General Yen informs Megan that he rescued her from certain death and that he is taking her back to his summer palace. From here the movie sets it's sights on Yen's palace and Yen's infatuation with the beautiful Ms. Davis. General Yen goes out of his way to make sure that Megan is comfortable and over time becomes quite smitten with her, eventhough she's still commited to her fiance.

While captured, Megan tries making friends with Mah-Li, one of General Yen's assistant's. While the rest of the public believes Megan to be dead, General Yen knows that he can keep her at his palace for as long as he likes. Yen constantly invites Megan to dinner and after many declines of his invitations, she eventually warms to him and accepts. Megan even dreams of the General, as they become closer, during their talks of love, art and beauty. Eventually, it is revealed that Mah-Li is spying for the enemy and she is sentenced to death by Yen. That is, until Megan sacrifices herself, in the form of becoming a hostage, to save her friend. The ending is quite the sad affair, which I won't spoil for you here.

The acting talents of Nils Asther were my favorite thing about "The Bitter Tea of General Yen", as he delivers his dialogue very pure and has a nonchalant way about him. Stanwyck is good too, as the innocent Megan Davis and quite beautiful, as she applys makeup in preparation for her dinner with the General. The film is very sweet and although it has a simple little plot, it's something that you can certainly get lost in and a very enjoyable affair all around. Walter Connoly plays the General's financial advisor and his speech at the very end of the film is quite touching and something that I had to rewind and hear again. This is a really a great romance story, with the reason being that the romance really never takes shape and is only hinted at. A romance story where you really have to concentrate to spot the subtleties that bring General Yen and Megan Davis closer together as the film goes on.

RATING: 7.5/10 My first Frank Capra film is a hit with me, and Nils Asther is another new actor to keep my eye out for.

NEXT UP: Sons of the Desert...My first ever Laurel & Hardy movie. I recorded it off of Turner Classic Movies about three months ago and have been waiting to watch. Review should be up later this afternoon.

January 26, 2010 8:40am


  1. Asther completely won me over as the General.

    I hope you noticed the marvelous cinemtography by Joseph Walker. He was a genius who would collaborate with Capra on many of his finest films.

  2. Asther was amazing, as he was so soft spoken, yet was still able to have this dangerous, nefarious, powerful way about him.

  3. I agree with Caftan Woman about the cinematography, it was superb. Asther and Stanwyck were both excellent and Toshia Mori was beautiful.
    Your rating of 7.5/10 seems just right.


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