[box cover]

Dragon Seed

After the great box office success of The Good Earth (1936), based on the popular book by Pearl S, Buck, MGM hoped for a similar audience response to Dragon Seed (1944), based on another Buck novel. And, indeed, it did very well for the studio — the picture received Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Cinematography, and the film did good business. But time has not been kind to Dragon Seed, primarily due to the casting of Caucasian actors as Asian characters, especially Katherine Hepburn as young Chinese woman Jade Tan, who leads her fellow villagers in revolt against Japanese aggressors. It's an epic picture, with rice planting, bombs falling, Japanese soldiers exploiting well-meaning Chinese farmers, famine killing off beloved characters, and a strong WWII-era message about taking up arms and killing evil Japs. At two-and-a-half hours, it's a lot of movie, and it's very, very difficult to take it seriously with actors like Hepburn, Walter Huston, Akim Tamaroff, Turham Bey, and Agnes Moorehead playing Asians with widely varying levels of success. Hepburn is especially ill-served, with her WASP-y voice and iconic delivery making her Chinese eyeliner and silly, stiff walk especially ridiculous. The story's compelling, but because of the casting — and the pedestrian direction by Harold S. Bucquet, known primarily for helming the 1940s-era Dr. Kildare films — the movie's difficult to watch without wincing. Warner's DVD, part of their six-disc "Katherine Hepburn Collection," is nicely restored, although the contrast on the full-frame black-and-white transfer could be better. The DD 1.0 audio (English, with optional English and French subtitles) is mostly good, with the volume in some scenes slightly lower than in others. Extras include "Twenty Years After: A New Romance of Celluloid," a self-congratulatory MGM anniversary short (9 min.), along with the Tex Avery cartoon "Happy-Go-Nutty" starring Screwy Squirrel (7 min.). Available only in Warner's "Katharine Hepburn Collection," a six-disc digipak with semi-transparent sleeve.
—Dawn Taylor



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