Cast & Crew
In August 1937, a mysterious woman with a fake Russian accent boards a train going from Kalgan to Shanghai in China. She spurns the company of fellow passenger Hank Topping, a drunken ex-reporter, and panics when the conductor announces that, because Mongolian bandits are terrorizing the countryside, the train must return to Kalgan. The woman gets off the train at the village of Pangchow, where she takes refuge at the U.S. Consulate run by Samuel J. Cady. Cady has been at the Consulate since his appointment by President McKinley in 1900 and has grown old in unrecognized service to his country. Cady is delighted to welcome the woman, who tells him that she is the Russian widow of an American, but she is less than pleased when Hank also appears and requests shelter. Hank, who sees through the woman's masquerade, vouches for her when she asks Cady to supply her with a passport, and she gratefully tells him that she is an American named Emmy Jordan. Hank in turn confesses that he used to be a top newspaperman but, while on an extended drunk, faked an important story and has since been blacklisted by all the newspapers in China. After dinner, Cady receives a Chinese Nationalist soldier, Col. Wai Kang, who offers to escort Emmy and Hank to Shanghai. Emmy is eager to accept the offer, but Hank refuses and tells her that the bandits, who are waging a war against the government farther south in China, will kill Kang on sight. Emmy is outraged when Hank prevents her from leaving, but his prediction comes true as Kang is killed. Later that night, the couple discover that they grew up a few blocks from each other in Brooklyn. The next day, Emmy and Hank are amazed by Cady's courage when he braves going to Pangchow to rescue the inhabitants of a mission. Cady returns with the mission head, Mrs. Little, and Mr. and Mrs. Upton Ward and their daughter Winifred. Cady orders his devoted servants, Ling and Yen, to allow no one to enter or leave the compound as a safety precaution. Later that evening, Hank shows Emmy a story he wrote describing Cady's bravery and patriotism. Impressed with Hank's writing ability, Emmy insists that they sneak out to Pangchow and telegraph the story to Shanghai newspapers. Emmy overcomes Hank's reluctance by telling him that this is an opportunity to redeem himself, and they leave. After they successfully transmit the story, they are attacked, and the confusion drives Emmy to confess that, while working as a nightclub performer in Kalgan, she killed her employer in self-defense when he tried to force himself upon her. Hank drives off the bandits by shooting one, and the terrified couple make it back to the compound. Cady furiously reprimands them for endangering the others, and soon the bandits are pounding on the walls and demanding that Hank be turned over to them for killing their leader's son. While the desperate group defends itself, Hank's stirring story about "Uncle Sam" Cady is run by a Chinese newspaper. The news reaches the U.S. State Department, where the assistant secretary demands that the Chinese army be sent to the rescue. Back in Pangchow, Yen is killed by a bandit sniper, and Cady is forced to send his charges into hiding when the bandits swarm over the walls. The bandits discover their hiding place, however, and are about to overwhelm them when the Chinese army arrives. The bandits are routed and everyone is safe. Later, Sam receives a telegram from the president calling him home to be recognized for his distinguished service. Emmy and Hank, meanwhile, plan to marry in Shanghai, where Hank will work as a reporter and Emmy can clear herself of the charges against her.
Howard Soo Hoo
Mrs. A. Ng
Lee Tong Foo
Darryl F. Zanuck
The working titles of this film were By the Dawn's Early Light, The Girl from Brooklyn, and White Lady of the Orient. According to Hollywood Reporter news items and publicity material, "By the Dawn's Early Light" was an original screen story written by Gene Markey for production at RKO in 1936. The screenplay of Markey's story was written by Anthony Veiller, and it was to be directed by William Seiter and produced by Edward Kaufman, who worked at RKO at the time. Fred Stone and Joan Bennett were to be the stars. The property was purchased by Twentieth Century-Fox in April 1938. The Screen Achievements Bulletin lists only Markey, Veiller and co-screenplay writer Darrell Ware, and not Granville Walker, who is listed in the onscreen credits of the completed film. Because the Screen Achievements Bulletin is dated September 22, 1938, which was before the extensive retakes shot in 1939, the contribution of the other three writers to the final film has not been confirmed. Although the exact dates of the additional filming have not been determined, Hollywood Reporter news items indicated that "retakes," "added scenes" and "a new finale" were done in December 1938 and January and March 1939, and that "a final dubbing" was done in October 1939. A November 24, 1939 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that "a new beginning, new ending and added scenes" were put in by producer Harry Joe Brown, although Brown's participation in the completed film has not been confirmed.
There appears to have been many reasons for the extensive reworking of the picture. A March 19, 1939 New York Times article stated: "The initial difficulties were created by the Hays office demand that emphasis be given the 'compensating moral values.'" The article states that the Hays Office demanded that the character played by Alice Faye "not be allowed to get away with" killing a man, even though it was to defend her honor. The article also noted that in December 1939, Twentieth Century-Fox had announced that it would be spending $100,000 on "added scenes." According to a publicity synopsis of White Lady of the Orient, Faye's character, "Emmy Jordan," witnesses the murder of an important Chinese leader, and then kills the assassin when he attempts to murder her too. In the viewed print, this action occurs before the story begins. These murders May have been what the Hays Office was objecting to, although correspondence in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library does not contain any reference to "compensating moral values" or the murders. Publicity material for the film states that in the original story, the bandits were Chinese rather than Mongolian, and that the setting of the action was Peiping rather than near Kalgan. After receiving complaints from the Chinese consul in Los Angeles, the changes were made. The PCA files confirm that the film was the subject of much scrutiny by the Chinese consul, who demanded that Chinese characters not be shown attacking the American consulate or American citizens.
According to modern sources, production was halted in 1938 because the "cast and crew never really believed in the weak story line." Modern sources note that J. Edward Bromberg and Joseph Schildkraut were edited out of the finished picture. Bromberg and Schildkraut are listed in December 1939 Hollywood Reporter news items about the retakes being shot at the time, and the publicity synopsis lists them as playing characters in the abandoned prologue sequences described above. Hollywood Reporter news items state that May Beatty and Sen Yung were to be included in the cast, but their participation in the completed film has not been confirmed. Modern sources note that "There'll Be Other Nights," a song written by Lew Brown and Lew Pollack and sung by Faye, was in the early sequences that were cut. The PCA files also include lyrics for the songs "Time Stood Still" by Jule Styne, George Browne and Pollack, and "Here's That Heart Again" and "Just My Luck" by Walter Bullock and Pollack. These songs were also not in the released picture, and apparently were not filmed.