Monday, June 15, 2009

Just because it's old doesn't mean it's a classic

There are a lot of old, not very good movies out there. However, a lot of them deserve one viewing, at least to say why they've earned the obscurity they so richly deserve. A good example of this is Barricade, which will be airing at 7:30 AM ET tomorrow on the Fox Movie Channel.

Alice Faye, Fox's singing star of the late 1930s until the rise of Betty Grable, stars as a nightclub singer who's ended up in Shanghai, putting on a phony Russian accent because she's got a past she's trying to hide. On a train in China, she meets Warner Baxter, playing drunk reporter stereotype #167. Boy Meets Girl is one of the oldest movie plots, and dammit, you know these two are going to fall in love for no good reason. (Perhaps they knew Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison was going to be made 18 years later and realized that every time you put a man and a woman in a tight space, they have to have sexual tension.)

Anyhow, this is the China of the 1930s, a turbulent era filled with all sorts of tensions. The Japanese had invaded and were in the process of occupying the entire country, while the Nationalists and the Communists, who would end up at each other's throats after the war, were both trying to fight the Japanese. None of this is really referenced here, except for mentions that there are "bandits" about. Those "bandits" duly stop the train, leaving Faye, Baxter, and the rest of the Americans trapped in an out of the way American consulate, waiting for any cavalry to arrive and save them.

Boy is this stuff predictable. Alice Faye doesn't get much singing to do, while Baxter looks as though the musical he produced in 42nd Street really did do his ticker in. And, needless to say, the movie is full of the stereotypes that were common back in the 1930s. In short, Barricade is one of those movies that deserves maybe one viewing. If you want a better movie about China made in those turbulent years, try to get an old VHS copy of Marlene Dietrich's Shanghai Express. Neither movie is available on DVD, but at least Shanghai Express deserves a DVD release.

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