For Reel

West of Shanghai (1937)
November 30, 2015, 6:49 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: John Farrow
2.5 Stars
West of ShanghaiOne of John Farrow’s first directorial assignments cast Boris Karloff as a Chinese warlord named General Fang, a role that would allow the actor the valued chance to step outside of the horror genre he made his name on. Despite being hidden behind prosthetics and make-up (it’s a fairly convincing transformation for the period), his tremendous gift for expression isn’t too restricted, allowing a fairly dynamic characterization. Perhaps taking cues from Nils Asther’s performance in The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Karloff works to give Fang a convincing sense of humanity–an aspiration far removed from his earlier excursion into yellow face as the sinister Dr. Fu Manchu (in 1932’s The Mask of Fu Manchu). What is surprising about his take is that Fang looks to be in a perpetual state of amusement, indulging in drinks and cigarettes, engaging in repartee with his colleagues, and grinning his way throughout the picture. When Fang asks his right-hand man (Richard Loo) to translate for him, there is a sense of playfulness in trying to adapt western expressions and modes of talking. Other than the central performance, there is little that sticks in West of Shanghai–it is a forgettable, utterly disposable picture, but a valuable piece to study for fans of the immensely talented Karloff.