Daily Archives: March 9, 1990

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Frank Capra’s very atypical drama about an American missionary (Barbara Stanwyck) being taken prisoner by a Chinese warlord (Nils Asther) is not only his masterpiece, but one of the great love stories to come out of Hollywood in the 30s–subtle, delicate, moody, mystical, and passionate. Joseph Walker shot it through filters and with textured shadows that suggest Sternberg; Edward Paramore wrote the script, adapted from a story by Grace Zaring Stone. Oddly enough, this perverse and beautiful film was chosen to open Radio City Music Hall in 1933; it was not one of Capra’s commercial successes, but it beats the rest of his oeuvre by miles. With Walter Connolly and Lucien Littlefield; Stanwyck and Asther, both extraordinary, have perhaps never been better. A newly struck 35-millimeter print will be shown. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and 11, 4:15, 443-3737) … Read more »

Joe Versus the Volcano

Scriptwriter John Patrick Shanley (Five Corners, Moonstruck) makes his directorial debut in a whimsical, contemporary fairy tale with romance and adventure that doesn’t quite come off, but it’s sufficiently fresh, charming, and unpredictable to deserve special marks for trying. Tom Hanks plays a former fireman now stuck in a depressing job who is told by his doctor (Robert Stack) that he has only a short time to live. A wealthy businessman (Lloyd Bridges) appears, offering him red-carpet treatment and a bunch of credit cards if Hanks will sail to a remote Pacific island (where the businessman wants to gain mineral rights) and dive into a volcano in order to appease the natives. Meg Ryan plays all three leading ladies in the plot–a secretary and both of the businessman’s daughters–and Abe Vigoda, Amanda Plummer, Barry McGovern, and Ossie Davis are around for other offbeat parts. In the course of borrowing liberally from Delmer Daves’s Bird of Paradise, Shanley manages to achieve some striking (if fanciful) pictorial effects and a few goofy gags and plot turns; he also tries for some uplift that may be less convincing but is easy enough to take. There’s nothing profound going on here, but the results are imaginative and fun.… Read more »