The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

87-89 mins | Drama | 6 January 1933

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HISTORY

The Bitter Tea of General Yen was originally scheduled to be directed by Herbert Brenon and to star Constance Cummings as "Megan Davis" and Anna May Wong as "Mah-Li." It was the first picture shown at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The film provoked controversy with its theme of interracial love. For example, the Var review stated, "Seeing a Chinaman attempting to romance with a pretty and supposedly decent young American white woman is bound to evoke adverse reaction."
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, there were complaints by Chinese officials stationed in Washington, D.C. about the scenes of the war prisoners and various lines such as "Human life is the cheapest thing in China." It appears that the war prisoner scenes were shortened through editing because of the complaints. The Hays Office also received complaints from unnamed sources about the portrayal of missionaries in the film. In a 1950 memo to PCA Director Joseph I. Breen, PCA staff members advised that "it would be well if the company [Columbia] would drop its plans to reissue this picture." The memo stated: "Probably the most objectionable characterization is that of the American financial advisor to the General, played by Walter Connolly. He is a completely unscrupulous character without morals or ethics. This does not seem to be a good portrayal of an American in the Orient to be circulated at this time." The staff members also objected to the portrayal of the missionaries, stating that they were "shown to be somewhat silly and ineffectual," and asserted that there was "a very ...

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The Bitter Tea of General Yen was originally scheduled to be directed by Herbert Brenon and to star Constance Cummings as "Megan Davis" and Anna May Wong as "Mah-Li." It was the first picture shown at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The film provoked controversy with its theme of interracial love. For example, the Var review stated, "Seeing a Chinaman attempting to romance with a pretty and supposedly decent young American white woman is bound to evoke adverse reaction."
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, there were complaints by Chinese officials stationed in Washington, D.C. about the scenes of the war prisoners and various lines such as "Human life is the cheapest thing in China." It appears that the war prisoner scenes were shortened through editing because of the complaints. The Hays Office also received complaints from unnamed sources about the portrayal of missionaries in the film. In a 1950 memo to PCA Director Joseph I. Breen, PCA staff members advised that "it would be well if the company [Columbia] would drop its plans to reissue this picture." The memo stated: "Probably the most objectionable characterization is that of the American financial advisor to the General, played by Walter Connolly. He is a completely unscrupulous character without morals or ethics. This does not seem to be a good portrayal of an American in the Orient to be circulated at this time." The staff members also objected to the portrayal of the missionaries, stating that they were "shown to be somewhat silly and ineffectual," and asserted that there was "a very questionable element of the heroine offering herself sexually to the General."
       According to modern sources, Leo Carrillo, Leslie Banks and Chester Morris were variously selected to play "Yen" before Asther was chosen. Contrary to Capra's statement in his autobiography that the film was banned in Great Britain, contemporary sources confirm that the film was released there on 22 May 1933. Capra also mentions that part of the filming was done in the San Fernando Valley, CA. Joseph Walker, Capra's photographer, wrote in his autobiography that at his suggestion, the sets of this film were reused for One Night of Love, a 1934 Columbia film directed by Victor Schertzinger and starring Grace Moore (see entry). Modern sources list the following additional crew credits: Cost Edward Stevenson and Robert Kalloch ; and Dial dir Gene Lewis.

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
PERSONAL & COMPANY INDEX CREDITS
HISTORY CREDITS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
18 Nov 1932
p. 3
Film Daily
5 May 1932
p. 7
Film Daily
24 May 1932
p. 6
Film Daily
1 Jun 1932
p. 6
Film Daily
23 Jun 1932
p. 2
Film Daily
13 Jul 1932
p. 3
Film Daily
20 Aug 1932
p. 4
Film Daily
12 Jan 1933
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
16 Jul 1932
p. 4
Hollywood Reporter
1 Aug 1932
p. 4
Hollywood Reporter
16 Nov 1932
p. 2
Motion Picture Herald
9 Jul 1932
p. 46
Motion Picture Herald
6 Aug 1932
p. 46
Motion Picture Herald
26 Nov 1932
p. 30
Motion Picture Herald
3 Dec 1932
p. 22
New York Times
12 Jan 1933
p. 20
New York Times
22 Jan 1933
p. 5
Variety
17 Jan 1933
p. 14
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Frank Capra Production; Harry Cohn, President
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Frank R. Capra
Dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
Edward Paramore
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
FILM EDITOR
Edward Curtis
Film ed
MUSIC
Mus score
SOUND
E. L. Bernds
Sd eng
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Bitter Tea of General Yen by Grace Zaring Stone (Indianapolis, 1930).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
6 January 1933
Production Date:
7 Jul--15 Aug 1932
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Columbia Pictures Corp.
15 December 1932
LP3486
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Noiseless Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
87-89
Length(in feet):
8,105
Length(in reels):
9
Country:
United States
SYNOPSIS

Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, elderly missionaries in Shanghai, welcome guests to their home for the wedding of Dr. Robert Strike, a fellow missionary, and Megan Davis, Bob's childhood sweetheart whom he has not seen in three years. Shortly after Megan arrives, however, Bob rushes in with the news that the wedding must be postponed so that he can rescue some orphans in terrible danger from the spreading civil war. Megan waits in the car while Bob pleads with General Yen, a powerful Chinese warlord, to give him a safe passage pass, but Yen, contemptuous of Bob's missionary ideals, gives him a worthless paper describing Bob's foolishness. Megan and Bob reach the orphanage safely, but the pass only makes the soldiers laugh and steal their car when they try to leave with the children. The beleaguered missionaries and children reach the train station, but in the chaos, Bob and Megan are both knocked unconscious and are separated. Megan regains consciousness in the private train of Yen and is attended by his lovely concubine, Mah-Li. They soon arrive at Yen's summer palace, where Jones, Yen's American financial advisor, is waiting to tell Yen that he has succeeded in raising six million dollars, hidden in a nearby boxcar, for Yen's war chest. Yen, who is fascinated by the beautiful, spirited Megan, tells her it is unsafe to send her back to Shanghai due to the wartime violence. Soon, after Megan's own attraction to Yen is revealed to her in an unsettling dream, she accepts his invitation to dinner. It becomes obvious that Mah-Li is betraying Yen with Captain Li, one of his soldiers, and ...

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Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, elderly missionaries in Shanghai, welcome guests to their home for the wedding of Dr. Robert Strike, a fellow missionary, and Megan Davis, Bob's childhood sweetheart whom he has not seen in three years. Shortly after Megan arrives, however, Bob rushes in with the news that the wedding must be postponed so that he can rescue some orphans in terrible danger from the spreading civil war. Megan waits in the car while Bob pleads with General Yen, a powerful Chinese warlord, to give him a safe passage pass, but Yen, contemptuous of Bob's missionary ideals, gives him a worthless paper describing Bob's foolishness. Megan and Bob reach the orphanage safely, but the pass only makes the soldiers laugh and steal their car when they try to leave with the children. The beleaguered missionaries and children reach the train station, but in the chaos, Bob and Megan are both knocked unconscious and are separated. Megan regains consciousness in the private train of Yen and is attended by his lovely concubine, Mah-Li. They soon arrive at Yen's summer palace, where Jones, Yen's American financial advisor, is waiting to tell Yen that he has succeeded in raising six million dollars, hidden in a nearby boxcar, for Yen's war chest. Yen, who is fascinated by the beautiful, spirited Megan, tells her it is unsafe to send her back to Shanghai due to the wartime violence. Soon, after Megan's own attraction to Yen is revealed to her in an unsettling dream, she accepts his invitation to dinner. It becomes obvious that Mah-Li is betraying Yen with Captain Li, one of his soldiers, and after dinner, Yen arrests Mah-Li for being a spy. When Megan intervenes, Yen challenges her to prove her Christian zeal by chaperoning Mah-Li and forfeiting her own life if Mah-Li proves unfaithful again. Megan naively accepts and ends up unwittingly helping Mah-Li betray Yen by passing information to his enemies about the location of his hidden fortune. The enemy soldiers steal Yen's fortune, and Yen is ruined, deserted by his army and servants. Yen cannot take Megan's life, however, for it is too precious to him, and after she leaves his room in tears, he prepares a cup of poisoned tea for himself. Megan returns, dressed in the Chinese finery Yen gave her, and waits on him, pampering him just as Mah-Li did. He smiles when she says that she could never leave him, then nobly drinks the poisoned tea. Later, on a boat back to Shanghai, Jones and Megan contemplate the beauty and tragedy of Yen's life, and Jones comforts Megan with the thought that one day she will be reunited with him.

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

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