The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Screening on Film
Directed by Frank Capra.
With Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Toshia Mori.
US, 1933, 35mm, black & white, 87 min.
Print source: HFA

Walter Wanger happened to be preparing a Columbia picture from Grace Zaring Stone’s novel The Bitter Tea of General Yen. It was a strangely poetic romance between a Chinese warlord and an American missionary. Representatives of two cultures as far apart as the poles, clash and fall in love. To me it was Art with a capital A. [….]

There were three major roles in Bitter Tea: a young American missionary woman, a powerful Chinese warlord—General Yen, and his diabolically clever American financial adviser. [...] The missionary was a well-bred, straightlaced New England young lady, externally frigid but internally burning with her ‘call.’ Casting this part was easy—Barbara Stanwyck. [....]

In 1932 miscegenation was far, far out. So far out, the British Empire banned it, making it my only other Columbia film that lost money.— FC

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