CHINA GATE (director/writer: Sam Fuller; cinematographer: Joseph Biroc; editors: Gene Fowler, Jr./Dean Harrison; music: Max Steiner/Victor Young; cast: Gene Barry (Sgt. Brock), Angie Dickinson (Lucky Legs), Nat ‘King’ Cole (Goldie), Paul Dubov (Capt. Caumont), Lee Van Cleef (Maj. Cham), George Givot (Cpl. Pigalle), Marcel Dalio (Father Paul), Maurice Marsac (Col. De Sars), Gerald Milton (Private Andreades), Paul Busch (Cpl. Kruger), Sasha Harden (Pvt. Jaszi), James Hong (Charlie), Warren Hsieh (The Boy); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Fuller; 20th Century Fox; 1957)
“Both the overloaded heroic war drama and the heavy-handed romance narrative have an air of phoniness.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Sam Fuller’s (“The Steel Helmet”) anti-communist war drama is one of the first American pics to deal with Vietnam. It’s also one of the least distinguished films in his successful career. Fuller misses what’s happening here as much as the Americans did in their later war, who learned nada from the French mistakes. Every character is a dumb cliché; the dialogue is clunky and almost risible; both the overloaded heroic war drama and the heavy-handed romance narrative have an air of phoniness. But singer Nat “King” Cole turns in a decent performance and in his army fatigues sings the title song “China Gate,” not once but twice.
After a narrator in a voice-over informs us the film is dedicated to the French missionaries that came to Indo-China 300 years ago and helped the country prosper, we are further informed of the devastation caused when the Japanese arrived in 1941 as conquerors and how the Chinese Communists under their puppet leader Ho Chi Minh, North Vietnamese president from 1954-69, fought the French and eventually kicked them out.
The film picks up with the French occupiers fighting the Chinese Communists in 1954, and the Americans sitting out the war after their Korean debacle but on the sly supplying the French with arms. A gung-ho international group of mercenary soldiers has been recruited by French Foreign Legion Colonel De Sars (Maurice Marsac) to go on a dangerous but vital mission to destroy the main commie weapon arsenal strategically hidden in a tunnel by the China Gate (near the Chinese border). Hardnosed American Sergeant John Brock (Gene Barry), a demolition expert, along with the only other American, Goldie (Nat “King” Cole), join up because they want to finish what wasn’t finished in Korea–killing all those dirty Commies.
Local prostitute and owner of an opium den who made real good, Lucky Legs (Angie Dickinson), a Eurasian (French father and Chinese mother) who doesn’t look a bit Chinese or worse for wear by living such a dissolute life, has been recruited by the colonel to lead the men to the China Gate because her commie guerrilla boyfriend in charge of the China Gate army base is fellow Eurasian Major Cham (Lee Van Cleef). She turns down big money from the colonel and says she’ll only take the mission if her cross-eyed Chinese looking 5-year-old son can be given papers to go to America and have a chance for a better life. In Saigon people are starving to death and depend on the Americans dropping food packages from planes to survive. She’s at first reluctant to go when she finds out Brock is on the mission. They are married but when Brock found out his son looked completely Chinese, he took a powder five years ago not able to face that shame of raising a racially-mixed child.
The film moves along at a typical Fuller breakneck speed and conforms to the filmmaker’s brutal concept of war. The patrol is led by French Captain Caumont (Paul Dubov), as he guides them through the enemy infested jungle with the help of Lucky Legs entertaining the Commie guards with booze and promises of sex while the mercenaries wait in the bushes to pull a surprise raid on them.
At last, they reach the China Gate and Major Cham tells Lucky Legs “Your son is going to Moscow.” She replies “He’s going to America.” She then pushes him off the compound balcony and to his death, while the mercenaries bomb the headquarters. Predictably the racist Brock gets redeemed in the face of all the overwrought concluding melodramatics and reunites with his son.
REVIEWED ON 7/1/2005 GRADE: C
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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