Gary Cooper plays the title character, sent by his father on a perilous journey to the Far East to open up trade relations with China. Once in the court of Kublai Khan, he becomes involved in the palace intrigue, falling in love with the emperor’s daughter, and running afoul of evil councillor Basil Rathbone.
Cooper is hardly Italian, but in a film that offers us the spectacle of Alan Hale having his eyes narrowed by make-up to play a Chinese warlord, and Rathbone in shoe polish to…play a Saracen, Cooper’s ethnicity is the least of the suspension-of-disbelief issues. The racial politics of the movie are, shall we say, extremely 1938. Its sexual politics, on the other hand, might as well be 1838. So a fair bit to cringe over today. But that said, there is still a great deal of adventurous fun to be had, and Cooper’s touch is deft, bringing a welcome dash of self-deprecating humour to his hero.
As ever, you have your usual choice between the original mono and a stereo remix. Said remixes frequently feature unfortunately indiscriminate sharing of the sound between front and back channels, and that is very much the case here, with the rear speakers almost as loud as the front. The age of the soundtrack is apparent, too, in a degree of background static. Music and dialogue are nonetheless clear.
The print is showing its age, too, at least as far as grain is concerned. The level is variable, with much of the film looking quite good, but numerous scenes are much grainier than the reest. Damage is minimal barring a couple of guitar strings that show up around the 48 and 76 minute marks. The black-and-white tones, though, remain fine throughout.
Everything about this film has aged, and not always for the best, but it is still a hoot to watch.