Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Where East Is East (1929) - ★½

Director: Tod Browning
Writers: Tod Browning, Harry Sinclair Drago, Waldemar Young (Screenplay)
Stars: Lon Chaney, Lupe Velez, Estelle Taylor, Lloyd

Look, I cut old movies a lot of slack when they cast Hollywood actresses as foreign women. For example, I absolutely adored Luise Rainer as a Chinese woman in The Good Earth (1937). However, Where East is East is just careless when it comes to casting the Indo-Chinese women. I can forgive their wide eyes, pale skin and strong jaws, however, I cannot for the life of me get past how big their noses are (particularly Estelle Taylor). Anyone who has been to the East knows that the women there have very small noses. Here, the actresses may as well be gypsies. It completely ruins the Eastern atmosphere. The performances aren't bad, but it's impossible to take them seriously as Asian women... Now that I've got that off my chest, let's talk about the darn movie!

The story doesn’t have much to it. A tiger hunter named Tiger  (Lon Chaney) has a half-cast daughter named Toyo (Lupe Velez). She is in love with a young American boy named Bobby (Lloyd Hughes). But a heathen Asian woman (Estelle Taylor) threatens to ruin it all when she takes a liking to Bobby… and she’s Toyo’s mother! DUH DUH DUH! What a twist!

Lon Chaney gives a fine performance, but it’s not one of his best. He died the very next year, which I suppose makes this movie pretty special. I believe it is his third last film. Here he plays a disfigured man, which he pretty much plays all the time. I love silent films because of the way the characters emote with their faces, but you don’t get much of that here. When they do close up on the faces, you see just how Western they all look, which once again ruins the submersion of the story.

One thing that is great would have to be the cinematography. For 1929, they sure managed to get a bunch of beautiful locations into this movie. From huge temples of Buddha to the bustling streets in Laos, the camera really did create an amazing Eastern atmosphere. The shots of the tigers were impressive, however, I can’t help but wonder how they got the tigers to cower or get angry. It’s no secret that old Hollywood didn’t treat their animals very well (especially horses). It just depressed me to think of the mistreatment that MAY have occurred in this film.

Estelle Taylor in all her Asian glory.
To be frank, this movie is boring. That has a lot to do with the fact that the story isn’t much of a story at all. And I swear that the gorilla in a cage was a man in a gorilla suit! I had a good laugh about that one. Give this a miss, it’s nothing special (unless you’re a fan of Lon Chaney and Lupe Velez). Yep, it’s pretty unsatisfying, which has a lot to do with the casting being almost a complete failure. I wouldn’t watch this again… just thinking about it makes me sleepy.

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