Dragon Seed (1944)

146 or 148 mins | Drama | August 1944

Producer:

Pandro S. Berman

Cinematographer:

Sidney Wagner

Editor:

Harold F. Kress

Production Designers:

Cedric Gibbons, Lyle Wheeler

Production Company:

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.
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HISTORY

Lionel Barrymore's offscreen narration opens the film, and is heard intermittently throughout the picture. Contemporary news items and M-G-M publicity material contained at the AMPAS Library add the following information about the production: Mervyn LeRoy was first slated to direct the picture, and John W. Considine, Jr. was to produce. By Sep 1942, C. Gardner Sullivan had completed a treatment of the film, and in Oct 1942, George Bruce was hired to work on the screenplay. Dr. C. J. Craig, who had served as a physician in China, was to be Bruce's consultant on the picture. The contributions of these writers to the final film has not been confirmed. In Nov 1942, Considine was replaced by Sidney Franklin, who in turn, was replaced by Pandro S. Berman in Mar 1943.
       Many actors were tested and considered for leading roles in the film. Judy Garland was announced in early May 1942 as LeRoy's first choice to play "Jade." Louise Rainer, Hedy Lamarr and Greer Garson were also considered for the role of Jade. Lamarr and Garson were dropped as candidates after they failed "Oriental" makeup tests. Other actors who were rejected because of makeup concerns were Edward Arnold, Walter Pidgeon, Donald Crisp, Fay Bainter, Edward G. Robinson, Van Heflin, Frank Morgan and Donna Reed. In Jul 1942, HR announced that Gene Kelly had been cast, but conflicts with his Cover Girl schedule apparently cost him the part. Charles Laughton was announced in the role of "Wu Lien" in Aug 1943, but was forced to drop out of the production because of scheduling conflicts with The Canterville ... More Less

Lionel Barrymore's offscreen narration opens the film, and is heard intermittently throughout the picture. Contemporary news items and M-G-M publicity material contained at the AMPAS Library add the following information about the production: Mervyn LeRoy was first slated to direct the picture, and John W. Considine, Jr. was to produce. By Sep 1942, C. Gardner Sullivan had completed a treatment of the film, and in Oct 1942, George Bruce was hired to work on the screenplay. Dr. C. J. Craig, who had served as a physician in China, was to be Bruce's consultant on the picture. The contributions of these writers to the final film has not been confirmed. In Nov 1942, Considine was replaced by Sidney Franklin, who in turn, was replaced by Pandro S. Berman in Mar 1943.
       Many actors were tested and considered for leading roles in the film. Judy Garland was announced in early May 1942 as LeRoy's first choice to play "Jade." Louise Rainer, Hedy Lamarr and Greer Garson were also considered for the role of Jade. Lamarr and Garson were dropped as candidates after they failed "Oriental" makeup tests. Other actors who were rejected because of makeup concerns were Edward Arnold, Walter Pidgeon, Donald Crisp, Fay Bainter, Edward G. Robinson, Van Heflin, Frank Morgan and Donna Reed. In Jul 1942, HR announced that Gene Kelly had been cast, but conflicts with his Cover Girl schedule apparently cost him the part. Charles Laughton was announced in the role of "Wu Lien" in Aug 1943, but was forced to drop out of the production because of scheduling conflicts with The Canterville Ghost (see above entry). Laird Cregar and Sydney Greenstreet were both considered as replacements for Laughton before Akim Tamiroff was finally cast.
       Actor Hurd Hatfield made his screen debut in the picture. Katharine Balfour, Dean Murphy, Don Curtis, Gene Lockhart, Wynne Gibson and Margaret Olova tested for roles. Lockhart did not appear in the final film, but the participation of the other actors has not been confirmed. In Sep 1943, M-G-M announced that Keye Luke had been cast in the film as a "student lecturer," but he did not appear in the completed film. According to an Aug 1943 NYT article, because of the war, which prompted many Chinese Americans to join and support the military, extras for the film were culled from Mexican, Filipino and "other racial groups...that can easily be made up to appear oriental." An Aug 1943 HR news item added that M-G-M was considering casting extras out of Northern California, because the Asian population there was sufficiently "unspoiled" to play "historic, agricultural types." The following actors were listed as cast members in HR news items: Norman Ling, Roell Hsieh, Tommy Estrella, Don Escobar, George Lee, Ben Welden and Sheldon Leonard. Their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed, however.
       Dragon Seed marked the reunion of Hepburn and producer Berman, who had worked together on a number of pictures in the 1930s when both were under contract with RKO. [Their previous project together was RKO's 1937 picture Stage Door .] Dragon Seed was budgeted at three million dollars, a very large sum for the time. In Jan 1944, Harold Bucquet took over the film's direction, and was awarded an onscreen co-directing credit after Jack Conway became ill. According to modern sources, Conway was suffering from tuberculosis, although news items at the time listed his illness as the flu. Robert Lewis, who appears in the picture as a Japanese officer, is also credited as the film's test director, acting coach and dialogue director. (Although one HR news item claimed that Lewis was to direct added scenes, other items reported that Bucquet had directed them.)
       Exteriors for the film were shot in Calabasas, north of Los Angeles, and in Los Angeles' Chinatown district. Four tons of rice paddies were planted at the hundred-acre Calabasas location, and twenty Chinese-style buildings, from "huts to large houses," were constructed. On 21 Oct 1943, the first night exterior scenes since the wartime ban on night shooting were shot on M-G-M's back lot after the Fourth Interceptor Command granted the studio special permission to film. In late Nov 1943, the entire production moved temporarily to the M-G-M studio, so that the Calabasas location could be redecorated for the winter scenes. Four camera units were used to shoot the famine sequence. Filming in Calabasas ended in late Jan 1944, and the site was converted for use in M-G-M's war epic Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (See Entry). At the Chinatown location, locals were recruited to film a mob scene. Ma, a water buffalo, also appeared in M-G-M's 1937 production of Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.1677). During filming, Buck visited the set of Dragon Seed and gave her approval to the production. Although some critics consider Dragon Seed a sequel to The Good Earth , its characters and story line are unrelated to the earlier film. Many Asian actors who appeared in Dragon Seed also appeared in The Good Earth .
       Prior to principal photography, makeup artist Jack Dawn created hand-sculptured plastic masks of the actors' faces, complete with Asian makeup, and during shooting, pieces of the masks were fitted onto the actors' faces. Many reviewers commented negatively on the inappropriateness of the actors' accents, particularly Katharine Hepburn's and Akim Tamiroff's. Although HR and M-G-M publicity items state that Hepburn was to record an ancient Chinese lullaby titled "Men Chiang" for the film, no songs were performed in the film. Records from the M-G-M Music Collection indicate that Dr. Philip Lee was hired as a Chinese singing coach, and Eugene Dorian and Wong Artarne sang solos for a number called "Chee Lai," which was performed as part of the film's score. For his score, Herbert Stothart used the Eichien Collection of rare Chinese instruments housed at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, according to HR . HR also reported that footage from The Good Earth was used in both Dragon Seed and China , a documentary produced by the Army Pictorial Service.
       According to HR , Dragon Seed initially was to be shot in Technicolor, but ended up being the first film to be printed in Life-Tone, a laboratory process developed by M-G-M, which was designed to produce superior-quality platinum sepia. In May 1944, Dragon Seed was selected along with An American Romance and The White Cliffs of Dover to represent M-G-M during its 20th anniversary celebration. The National Board of Review ranked Dragon Seed as its seventh most popular film of the year. Aline MacMahon was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress, and Sidney Wagner was nominated in the Best Cinematography (black and white) category. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
22 Jul 1944.
---
Daily Variety
17 Jul 44
p. 3.
Film Daily
18 Jul 44
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Apr 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jul 42
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Sep 42
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Oct 42
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Oct 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Oct 42
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Nov 42
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Jun 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jul 43
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jul 43
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Aug 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Aug 43
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Aug 43
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Aug 43
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 43
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Sep 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Sep 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 43
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Oct 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 43
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Nov 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Nov 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Nov 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 43
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Dec 43
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Dec 43
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Dec 43
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Dec 43
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Dec 47
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jan 44
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jan 44
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jan 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Mar 44
p. 33.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Apr 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Apr 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Apr 44
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Apr 44
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 44
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 44
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jun 44
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jun 44
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
3 Jul 44
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jul 44
p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jul 44
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jul 44
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jul 44
p. 4, 12
Hollywood Reporter
27 Dec 44
p. 1, 16
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
18 Dec 43
p. 1675.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
22 Jul 44
pp. 2005-06.
New York Times
22 Aug 1943.
---
New York Times
21 Jul 1944.
p. 16.
Variety
19 Jul 1944.
p. 13.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
Paul E. Burns
Lee Tung Foo
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Dial dir
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
2d cam
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Assoc
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Cost des
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
Rec dir
Unit mixer and re-rec and eff mixer
Re-rec and eff mixer
Re-rec and eff mixer
Re-rec and eff mixer
Mus mixer
Mus mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff cam
Miniatures
Miniatures
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Casting
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Dragon Seed by Pearl S. Buck (New York, 1943).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
August 1944
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 20 July 1944
Production Date:
4 October 1943--early March 1944
addl scenes 3 April--10 April 1944
Copyright Claimant:
Loew's Inc.
Copyright Date:
20 July 1944
Copyright Number:
LP12741
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Sound System
Black and White
sepia
Duration(in mins):
146 or 148
Length(in feet):
13,229
Length(in reels):
15
Country:
United States
PCA No:
10000
Passed by NBR:
Yes
SYNOPSIS

In the spring of 1937, in the valley of Ling, China, Ling Tan and his family busily plant seedlings in their rice paddies, unaware of the strife that is about to consume their country. Ling's wife is concerned because their youngest son, Lao San, her husband's favorite, is still a carefree bachelor, while Ling's middle son, Lao Er, worries that his wife Jade spends too much time away from home. One night, Lao Er drags Jade from a village meeting, at which the recent Japanese invasion of the north is being discussed, and chastises her for neglecting her wifely duties. Fearing that Jade, who was also courted by his cousin, is not truly in love with him, Lao Er questions her about her feelings, and she confesses her ambivalence toward him. After Lao Er agrees to share his deepest thoughts with her that night, however, Jade instantly warms to him. As they exchange confidences, Jade begs Lao Er to buy her a book, revealing that, unlike most peasant women, she knows how to read. Lao Er at first balks at the idea, saying that Jade is too independent and modern, but finally agrees to make the purchase. The next day, Lao Er asks his literate brother-in-law, Wu Lien, a city merchant specializing in Japanese goods, to recommend a title for Jade, and Wu Lien suggests the book All Men Are Brothers . Wu Lien is then confronted by a mob of angry students, who demand that he agree to stop selling Japanese merchandise. When Wu Lien refuses to comply, his shop is destroyed. That night, Lao Er presents Jade ... +


In the spring of 1937, in the valley of Ling, China, Ling Tan and his family busily plant seedlings in their rice paddies, unaware of the strife that is about to consume their country. Ling's wife is concerned because their youngest son, Lao San, her husband's favorite, is still a carefree bachelor, while Ling's middle son, Lao Er, worries that his wife Jade spends too much time away from home. One night, Lao Er drags Jade from a village meeting, at which the recent Japanese invasion of the north is being discussed, and chastises her for neglecting her wifely duties. Fearing that Jade, who was also courted by his cousin, is not truly in love with him, Lao Er questions her about her feelings, and she confesses her ambivalence toward him. After Lao Er agrees to share his deepest thoughts with her that night, however, Jade instantly warms to him. As they exchange confidences, Jade begs Lao Er to buy her a book, revealing that, unlike most peasant women, she knows how to read. Lao Er at first balks at the idea, saying that Jade is too independent and modern, but finally agrees to make the purchase. The next day, Lao Er asks his literate brother-in-law, Wu Lien, a city merchant specializing in Japanese goods, to recommend a title for Jade, and Wu Lien suggests the book All Men Are Brothers . Wu Lien is then confronted by a mob of angry students, who demand that he agree to stop selling Japanese merchandise. When Wu Lien refuses to comply, his shop is destroyed. That night, Lao Er presents Jade with All Men Are Brothers and swears his undying love, and she is at last persuaded to return his affection. Sometime later, after Jade reveals to Lao Er that she is pregnant, the farmers notice Japanese airplanes bombing the nearby city. Ling, an ardent pacifist, goes to inspect the city with Lao San and is shocked to see the destruction there. Back at home, Ling, Lao San and eldest son Lao Ta vow to remain on the farm despite the anticipated Japanese incursion, but Lao Er and Jade announce that they are joining a group of refugees dedicated to resistance. Soon after Jade and Lao Er leave with the refugees, the Japanese Army takes over the valley, and Lao Ta's wife Orchid is raped and killed by a group of soldiers, who also kill Wu Lien's elderly mother. Enraged by what he has seen, Lao San declares that he is leaving to fight the Japanese and is joined by Lao Ta. In the city, the traitorous Wu Lien, meanwhile, agrees to become the local leader of the new Japanese-controlled government. Jade and Lao Er then reach the mountain headquarters of the resistance movement, while many in occupied China, including Lao Ta's three children, die slowly from hunger and disease. In the midst of their grief, Ling and his wife, who have begun hiding food from the Japanese, are surprised by the return of Lao Er, Jade, and their infant son. Jade explains that they have come to foment resistance among the farmers and plan to use Ling's house as their base. After arming themselves with weapons stolen from the Japanese, the resistance fighters, including Lao San, launch a deadly surprise attack on some Japanese soldiers who are trying to force the village men into slavery. The attack is successful, but Ling is distressed to see how bloodthirsty Lao San has become. Later, Ling's third cousin and his domineering wife, who has long resented Jade for marrying Lao Er instead of her now-deceased son, visit Wu Lien at his Japanese-guarded mansion. When Wu Lien suggests that the couple act as spies for him, Third Cousin's wife blurts out that Jade and Lao Er are hiding out at Ling's house and are resistance leaders. After a shame-faced Third Cousin reveals his wife's betrayal to Ling, Lao Er and the other men debate how best to handle Wu Lien. During their discussion, Jade sneaks off to her brother-in-law's mansion and questions him about his loyalties. Feeling that Wu Lien will eventually expose his relatives, Jade slips into his kitchen, where a lavish banquet is being prepared, and pours poison into some duck sauce. Scores of Japanese officers die from the poison, and Wu Lien is shot and killed in revenge. Months later, at harvest time, Jade and Lao Er return from another trip to the mountains and tell Ling and the other elders that as their final act of resistance, they must burn their crops and farms. When Ling refuses to destroy his land, Lao San condemns him as a coward. Later, however, Jade delivers an impassioned speech to the elders and convinces Ling that he must sacrifice his present life to ensure his grandson's future. Ling and his wife then set fire to their crops and house and flee to the mountains with Lao Er and Jade. Upon arriving at the resistance camp, Ling and Lao San finally reconcile. Later, as Ling and his wife prepare to leave for free China, Lao Er and Jade, who have chosen to remain and fight, entrust their son, the "seed of the dragon," to his loving grandparents' care. +

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

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