Oil for the Lamps of China (1935)

95 or 97 mins | Drama | 8 June 1935

Director:

Mervyn LeRoy

Writer:

Laird Doyle

Cinematographer:

Tony Gaudio

Editor:

William Clemens

Production Designer:

Robert Haas

Production Company:

First National Productions Corp.
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HISTORY

FD lists a preview running time of 110 minutes and DV notes a preview running time of 120 minutes. Shorter release times listed by other sources indicate that some cuts were made before the film's general release. Contemporary sources note that in contrast to the best-selling novel on which it was based, the film does not indict the oil business for the impersonal tyranny with which it treats its employees. An early MPH article includes Olive Jones in the cast, but her participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a news item in HR , Franchot Tone was originally assigned the Pat O'Brien role. A news item in DV notes that Henry O'Neill replaced Robert Barrat when he was assigned to The Farrell Case which was later entitled G-Men . A news item in FD states that scenes for the film were shot in the Mojave Desert. A news item indicates that Robert Florey was sent to China to obtain background shots for this film and others with a Chinese setting which the studio planned to produce. According to modern sources, Florey spent three weeks in China shooting backgrounds for a number of projects of which only Oil for the Lamps of China was actually produced. The production chief advised Florey and his cameramen, Fred Jackman and George Krainukov, to work secretly. In this way, they were able to smuggle 20,000 ft. of film out of China without submitting it for censorship or paying official fees. Modern sources note that ... More Less

FD lists a preview running time of 110 minutes and DV notes a preview running time of 120 minutes. Shorter release times listed by other sources indicate that some cuts were made before the film's general release. Contemporary sources note that in contrast to the best-selling novel on which it was based, the film does not indict the oil business for the impersonal tyranny with which it treats its employees. An early MPH article includes Olive Jones in the cast, but her participation in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a news item in HR , Franchot Tone was originally assigned the Pat O'Brien role. A news item in DV notes that Henry O'Neill replaced Robert Barrat when he was assigned to The Farrell Case which was later entitled G-Men . A news item in FD states that scenes for the film were shot in the Mojave Desert. A news item indicates that Robert Florey was sent to China to obtain background shots for this film and others with a Chinese setting which the studio planned to produce. According to modern sources, Florey spent three weeks in China shooting backgrounds for a number of projects of which only Oil for the Lamps of China was actually produced. The production chief advised Florey and his cameramen, Fred Jackman and George Krainukov, to work secretly. In this way, they were able to smuggle 20,000 ft. of film out of China without submitting it for censorship or paying official fees. Modern sources note that Florey was paid nothing for his work, which was judged too realistic to be used. According to HR , Warner Bros. was looking for a script writer with a Chinese background. According to DV , the treatment was looked over by Yi-seng S. Kiang, the motion picture representative of the Chinese government in Los Angeles. The main objections of the Chinese government were said to be "civil war sequences, the bound feet of women, the wearing of queues, concubinage, opium smoking, superstitious beliefs and the use of the words 'Chinaman' and 'Chink'." Background shots were also carefully scrutinized. Hobart's novel was the basis of the 1941 Warner Bros. film Law of the Tropics directed by Ray Enright and starring Jeffrey Lynn and Constance Bennett. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
3 Aug 34
p. 5.
Daily Variety
28 Jan 35
p. 3
Daily Variety
1 Mar 35
p. 6.
Daily Variety
18 Mar 35
p. 4.
Daily Variety
27 Apr 35
p. 3.
Film Daily
31 Jan 35
p. 10.
Film Daily
7 Mar 35
p. 10.
Film Daily
30 Apr 35
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 35
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Apr 35
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Jun 35
p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily
11 May 35
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald
30 Mar 35
p. 50.
Motion Picture Herald
18 May 35
p. 46.
New York Times
6 Jun 35
p. 25.
Variety
12 Jun 35
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Cosmopolitan Production
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Cam op
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITOR
COSTUMES
Gowns
MUSIC
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Oil for the Lamps of China by Alice Tisdale Hobart (New York, 1933).
DETAILS
Release Date:
8 June 1935
Production Date:
28 January--18 March 1935
Copyright Claimant:
First National Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
4 June 1935
Copyright Number:
LP5581
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
95 or 97
Country:
United States
PCA No:
767
SYNOPSIS

Stephen Chase is employed by a large oil company that preaches that it always takes care of its own. The company sends Stephen to Manchuria, where he ends his three-year apprenticeship by inventing a lamp that burns kerosene cheaply. After he suggests to the company that they give his lamps free to the Chinese to encourage them to buy oil, he receives permission to marry from his boss and leaves for Yokohama where he is to meet his fiancée. Just before her boat is scheduled to land, however, Stephen receives a telegram from his intended, calling off the wedding. Distraught, he has a drink in the hotel bar, where he strikes up a conversation with a woman on her own. Learning that the woman, Hester Adams, had been traveling through the Orient with her father until he died on board ship, Stephen asks her to have dinner with him. After explaining that it is important to maintain face in China, he tells Hester that everyone expects him to return with a wife and proposes that they form a partnership in which she will marry him and he will take care of her. After some thought, she agrees. Upon their arrival in China, Hester is determined to meet her wifely obligations, although both she and Stephen are unsure about their feelings toward each other. The boss, meanwhile, tells Stephen that the company is shipping the lamp that he invented, but that another employee will receive credit for the invention. More bad news is forthcoming when the boss commits suicide after being replaced by a younger man. For the first time, Stephen feels ... +


Stephen Chase is employed by a large oil company that preaches that it always takes care of its own. The company sends Stephen to Manchuria, where he ends his three-year apprenticeship by inventing a lamp that burns kerosene cheaply. After he suggests to the company that they give his lamps free to the Chinese to encourage them to buy oil, he receives permission to marry from his boss and leaves for Yokohama where he is to meet his fiancée. Just before her boat is scheduled to land, however, Stephen receives a telegram from his intended, calling off the wedding. Distraught, he has a drink in the hotel bar, where he strikes up a conversation with a woman on her own. Learning that the woman, Hester Adams, had been traveling through the Orient with her father until he died on board ship, Stephen asks her to have dinner with him. After explaining that it is important to maintain face in China, he tells Hester that everyone expects him to return with a wife and proposes that they form a partnership in which she will marry him and he will take care of her. After some thought, she agrees. Upon their arrival in China, Hester is determined to meet her wifely obligations, although both she and Stephen are unsure about their feelings toward each other. The boss, meanwhile, tells Stephen that the company is shipping the lamp that he invented, but that another employee will receive credit for the invention. More bad news is forthcoming when the boss commits suicide after being replaced by a younger man. For the first time, Stephen feels that the company is unjust and unfair. As Hester comforts him, she and Stephen realize that they have fallen in love. The new boss, McCargar, orders Stephen to a post near the Siberian border. He tries to refuse the transfer because Hester is expecting a baby, but McCargar is firm. Feeling that her place is with Stephen, Hester insists on accompanying him. While she is in labor, one of the oil wells catches fire, and Stephen leaves her alone with the doctor. When he returns, he finds the baby dead. Hester blames him for the child's death and falls into a deep depression. Stephen is ordered to report to Shanghai to explain why he took certain actions during the fire without clearing them first with the company. He is released after a scolding and returns to find Hester reconciled to her life. They are transferred again to Southern China, where they become friendly with Don and Alice, the other couple assigned to the city. Don and Alice's small son Bunsy soon takes the place of her own child in Hester's heart. Facing slow sales because of drought and cholera, Stephen and Don go into the field to make the sales themselves. While they are gone, Bunsy develops cholera and Hester nurses him back to health. The leader of the Chinese community does not like Don and tells Stephen that they will renew their contract only if Don is fired. Hester begs him not to fire his best friend, but Stephen protests that his work is his identity and he cannot throw it away. The company sends McCargar to join Stephen, and together they face a new threat from the Communist rebels. The rebels demand all the money in the company safe, and Stephen agrees to give them the cash if they will allow Hester to board the ship first. As soon as Hester is on board, Stephen and McCargar try to escape through a swamp with the money. McCargar is killed, and Stephen is injured but saves the money for the company. While he is recuperating in the hospital, Stephen is asked to be second-in-command in charge of the Orient, but when he recovers, he finds that Bill Kendall has been appointed in his place because the company felt that Stephen was not progressive enough. Determined to hang on to the company until he can receive his pension, Stephen continues to work at a clerk's job. Furious, Hester informs the company that Stephen holds the patent on the lamp he invented and that she will sue for royalities unless they restore him to a good position. Finally, the company responds, leaving Stephen with the belief that the company does in fact take care of its own. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.