In the years following the huge success of the first Indiana Jones movie, something like a pulp renaissance seemed to be about to sweep the movie halls of the planet.
It never worked out properly, but a number of films actually hit the screens that were plain good fun.
Of the lot, there’s two of them I never tire of re-watching.
Today I think I’ll write about the first.
Released two years after Raiders, High Road to China was a strange beast from the start.
Based on a fine novel by an Australian novelist, set along the Silk Road, co-produced by Warner Bros. and by a Hong Kong company, directed by an American and shot in Yugoslavia by an international crew.
The set-up in a nutshell: flapper heiress Eve Tozer has to hire alcoholic pilot Patrick O’Malley to fly her from Istambul to somewhere in China, in order to save her father and/or protect her inheritance. Adventures ensue.
Pretty straightforward – an uncomplicated yarn, and quite enjoyable.
An Hawksian comedy of sorts, with adventure interludes.
It features good flight scenes, a great interpretation by Brian Blessed of tribal chieftain Suleman Khan, there’s an air duel, there’s some warlord-era Chinese action.
And then there’s the chemistry between the characters.
Just my cup of tea.
The 1977 Jon Cleary novel – which is highly recommended, if you can track down a copy – is much more complex, has a more varied cast, and has Eve’s flying circus starting from Paris, not from Istambul.
It is a perfect example of the paradigm of adventure being narrative applied to geography.
But the simplified plot is ok.
There’s a wonderful score by John Barry – which I posted on this blog in its earlier days.
Stars Tom Selleck and Bess Armstrong are more than adequate to their roles, and their endless bickering is believable and delivered with obvious fun – and yes, Bess Armstrong is beautiful.
Sure, director Brian G. Hutton abandoned his directing career after this movie, to become a plumber.
And after previews they had to add scenes featuring Robert Morley as a petulant bad guy.
And everybody considered this film to be a cheap attempt at riding the Raiders’ popularity – but High Road had been in the works since the late ’70s, and should have starred Roger Moore and Jacqueline Bisset, directed by either John Huston or Sidney J. Furie (that one would have been fun to see!)
And it surely failed in the attempt of establishing Tom Selleck as the new Clark Gable.
But despite what-might-have-beens, this is still one of those films I really enjoy whenever I have the opportunity of catching it on the TV (or, when the telly does not cooperate, popping my DVD in the DVD-machine).