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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Frank Capra’s The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933) Barbara Stanwyck



The Bitter Tea of General Yen is a 1933 American Pre-Code drama film directed by Frank Capra, and starring Barbara Stanwyck and featuring Nils Asther and Walter Connolly.

Based on the 1930 novel The Bitter Tea of General Yen by Grace Zaring Stone, the film is about an American missionary in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War who gets caught in a battle while trying to save a group of orphans. Knocked unconscious, she is saved by a Chinese general warlord who brings her to his palace. When the general falls in love with the naive young woman, she fights her attraction to the powerful general and resists his flirtation, yet remains at his side when his fortune turns.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen was the first film to play at Radio City Music Hall upon its opening on January 3, 1933. It was also one of the first films to deal openly with interracial sexual attraction.

Barbara Stanwyck blamed its poor box-office showing on racist backlash. Miscegenation, so soon to become taboo in Hollywood, is made palatable and attractive as a natural outcome of passions molded by tumultuous times. McBride quotes her as saying, "The women's clubs came out very strongly against it ... I was so shocked. [Such a reaction] never occurred to me, and I don't think it occurred to Mr. Capra when we were doing it."

The film was a box office failure upon its release and has since been overshadowed by Capra's later efforts. In recent years, the film has grown in critical opinion. In 2000, the film was chosen by British film critic Derek Malcolm as one of the hundred best films in The Century of Films.

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