Cast & Crew
As the rebellion against oppression rages in China, Chinese-American sympathizers in San Francisco prepare a shipment of war materiel to be smuggled to their homeland. Faced with losing the shipment unless he can raise $100,000 in four days, Sin Kai appeals to his people for urgent help, even though his nemesis, The Sea Crab, the secret identity of wealthy merchant Fen Sha, will stop at nothing to prevent the ship's sailing. Despite their concern for China, Dr. Dong Tong and his beautiful daughter Lien Wha have a happy life. When Lien Wha falls in love with a poor young university student named Tom Lee, Tong's affection for his daughter outweighs his concerns for traditional Chinese courtship and he gives permission for them to marry. Soon, however, Sin Kai tells Tong that he must obtain a $25,000 marriage settlement for Lien Wha to give to the cause in compensation for the fact that he has no son to offer. Sadly, Tong agrees, as does Lien Wha, though she and Tom Lee are heartbroken. Even the revelation by Sin Kai that Tom Lee is really Prince Chun, the heir to an important position in the rebellion, cannot alter their duty. After hearing that three other girls have come to an unfortunate end in similar situations, Tong has a change of heart, but Lien Wha encourages her suitors to bid more for her until Fen Sha offers $100,000. Because of her sacrifice, Tong calls her his "son-daughter," a title she accepts proudly. After the wedding, Fen Sha arranges for Tong to be robbed and murdered, then, because Sin Kai has poisoned himself after his capture, Fen Sha only needs to kill Tom Lee to prevent the arms shipment. Tom Lee secretly goes to Lien Wha, and they both overhear the details of Tong's murder. He then steals the money from Fen Sha's safe, but is wounded by a knife before escaping back to Lien Wha. Ater his death, Lien Wha strangles Fen Sha with his queue in their bridal chamber and sails to China with the arms shipment, having avenged her loved ones.
Louise Closser Hale
H. B. Warner
Robert Z. Leonard
Oliver T. Marsh
From the start of his career Ramon Novarro had played various ethnic roles, including Spaniards, Arabs and an Indian, but The Son-Daughter was his sole attempt at a Chinese role. Despite Novarro's huge success the year prior playing opposite Greta Garbo in Mata Hari (1931), the biographer André Soares argues that his career nonetheless suffered in the Thirties because he was given a number of inappropriate roles, such as a football player in Huddle (1932). This occurred as a result of him not managing his own career effectively, but also because studio heads did not know how to use him. During this time he devoted more energy to his singing career, which would later include a smash concert tour of Europe. In August 1932, MGM requested that Novarro and other top stars accept salary cuts because of the economic downturn. Although Novarro resisted the cuts, he did agree to perform in The Son-Daughter for a lower fee. In a subsequent interview he claimed that he did not enjoy working with Helen Hayes, calling her "the opposite of Garbo," and adding: "She's a very fine technician, but from an artistic point of view..."
For Helen Hayes, the film came at a very active and turbulent period in her career. Although she had married the playwright Charles MacArthur in 1928, in June 1932 MacArthur's ex-wife Carol Frink MacArthur sued Hayes for $100,000, accusing her of being a "homewrecker." In November, while The Son-Daughter was in production, she won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her Hollywood debut, The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931).
Behind the scenes, the production experienced a great deal of turmoil. The studio originally announced Jacques Feyder as a director, and at various points Robert Young, Robert Montgomery and Richard Cromwell were considered for the lead male role. Anna Mae Wong and Lupe Velez were both considered for the role of Lian Wha before the studio settled on Helen Hayes. In fact, MGM also had Hayes in mind for a leading part as a nun in The White Sister (1933) and nearly took her off The Son-Daughter, but when production of The White Sister was delayed she ended up staying in The Son-Daughter. The film employed hundreds of Chinese extras, and at one point about four hundred of them went on strike in order to get better food. Clarence Brown also fell ill and Robert Z. Leonard took over direction for ten days. George M. Scarborough, one of the co-authors of the original play, reportedly sued MGM over unauthorized changes to the script.
The Son-Daughter faced a divided critical reception when it opened in December 1932, partly because its source material was already considered dated. The reviewer for the New York Times praised the film's production design and noted, "The entire cast is excellent, and there should be a special encomium for Mr. Novarro." The trade paper Hollywood Filmograph called it "another MGM Wow," a "beautiful, sweet and quaint love story," and lauded Clarence Brown's direction for not descending too far into hokum. The article noted that the audience applauded when the villain (as played by Warner Oland) "was given his just deserts." The reviewer for Variety called the 1919 source play "old-time stuff" but praised the "expert" performance of Helen Hayes, writing: "Miss Hayes is more often playing Helen Hayes than Lian Wha, although a neat change of pace in a role that calls for a protean switch from lotus flower to tiger lily." The reviewer also noted a mismatch between Novarro's accent and the script's "stilted and fancy dialogue."
Director: Clarence Brown with Robert Z. Leondard (uncredited)
Screenplay: John Goodrich and Claudine West, based on the play by David Belasco and George M. Scarborough. Additional dialogue by Leon Gordon
Director of Photography: Oliver T. Marsh
Film Editor: Margaret Booth
Musical score: Herbert Stothart
Songs: Anselm Goetzl and Herbert Stothart
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Principal cast: Helen Hayes (Lian Wha); Ramon Novarro (Tom Lee/Prince Chun); Lewis Stone (Dr. Dong Tong); Warner Oland (Fen Sha); Ralph Morgan (Fang Fou Hy); Louise Closser Hale (Toy Yah); H. B. Warner (Sin Kai).
by James Steffen
The play opened in New York City, New York, USA on 19 November 1919 and had 223 performances. Writer George Scarborough filed a lawsuit against M-G-M over alterations in his play, but the outcome of the suit has not been determined.
Robert Z. Leonard took over as director for about 10 days when Clarence Brown fell it with the flu.
Special lighting techniques were employed to make Chinatown look gaudy by day and drab at night.
400 Chinese extras went on strike after filming had started, until they were served the kind of food they liked.
According to news items in Film Daily and Hollywood Reporter, Jacques Feyder was originally announced as the film's director, and M-G-M contract players Robert Young and Robert Montgomery had at various times been named as the male lead. Other news items mentioned that Richard Cromwell was going to be borrowed from Columbia for the lead. Actresses mentioned as possible leads included Anna May Wong and Lupe Velez. About ten days before the start of production, it was announced that Helen Hayes would be replaced as the lead so that she could appear in The White Sister, however, that production was postponed and Hayes was able to appear in both films. Other actors mentioned as possible cast members were Edmund Lowe and John Miljan, but the specific parts for which they were considered has not been determined. Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items included Sumner Getchell, Frederick Burt, Ben Bard, Edward McWade and Bodil Rosing in the cast, however, their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. Other news items note the following information: Robert Z. Leonard took over as director for about ten days while Clarence Brown was ill with a bad case of flu; special lighting techniques and sets were specifically designed for "day" and "night" scenes so that Chinatown would look gaudy by day and drab by night; shortly after production began four hundred Chinese extras went on a food strike until they were given the kind of food they liked; and in early December 1932 ten days of new scenes were added to make the picture "a special." A 10 November Film Daily news item erroneously reported that the picture starring Roman Novarro and Helen Hayes, entitled Let's Go, had been renamed Fast Life. Fast Life actually starred Madge Evans and William Haines (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.1287). According to a 24 December Hollywood Reporter news item, playwright George Scarborough filed a lawsuit against M-G-M over script alterations in the film, however, no additional information on the suit has been located.