High Road To China was released in Sweden in the latter part of ’83, so I was 15 years old at the time.
I watched it at our local theater, “Folkan”, here in Klippan, which sadly closed down in 1992 and a year later, the building that housed the theater burned down. Most of the theater was spared, but it was never rebuilt as a movie theater again. The foyer is still intact though and looks very much as it did when we were kids. The projection-room is also still there, with the projectors!
We actually had two movie-theaters at one point, but the other one, “Scala”, closed down in the 1960’s. The remaining one was modernized in 1955 and more or less doubled its seating capacity to 460, making it the largest rural movie-theater in Sweden at the time. Kinda neat, huh? It was built in 1907 and actually also started screening movies as early as that.
When the gentleman who ran it, Alfons, retired in 1992, he had been running the place for almost 50 years. We watched a LOT of movies there, almost every weekend as I recall. I still have vivid memories of those days and can almost smell the room, you know? I’m sure most of you have similar movie-going memories from your own childhood, right? Ah, yes…
So? What was I talking about? Oh, right! High Road To China…
This is a great little adventure-movie starring Tom Selleck (Runaway, Quigley Down Under, Magnum P.I.) as Patrick O’Malley and Bess Armstrong (Jaws 3-D, Second Sight) as Eve Tozer. The movie starts in Constantinople, Turkey, in 1920. The rich society-lady Eve is living a carefree life until she’s approached by the company solicitor who needs to know her father’s whereabouts. He has been missing for a couple of years and is about to be declared legally dead by his business-partner, Bentik. He’s played hilariously by Robert Morley (A Study In Terror, Oh Heavenly Dog).
If he succeeds with this, he’ll take over the company as sole owner, thus leaving Eve without means to support her excessive lifestyle. Her father, played by Wilford Brimley (The Thing, Cocoon) is a VERY successful industrialist/entrepreneur/inventor and was last seen in Afghanistan. Eve decides to go find him, of course, because she doesn’t want to lose the fortune. But with only 12 days to do it, she needs transportation fast. This is where Mr. O’Malley comes in! He’s an ace World War I pilot, but also a drunkard and a womanizer. When we first meet him, he’s dead-drunk and getting his lights punched out by the husband of one of the women.
The next morning as he’s sleeping it off, Eve impatiently waits for him to wake up, so she can hire him and his two biplanes, Dorothy and Lillian. (They’re named after the Gish-sisters apparently!) Eve Tozer comes off as a spoiled brat at the start of the movie, but money isn’t the ONLY reason she wants to find her dad. She hasn’t seen him in years, so naturally she misses him too!
O’Malley does NOT want to take the job and certainly NOT if Eve is coming along! But the right amount of money finally makes him change his mind! But when she tells him that she’s going to fly the second plane, he scoffs at her and, not believing it, makes her show him. Which she does!! In a very funny scene she shows him that she is indeed an accomplished pilot. Keep in mind that he’s very hung-over! Doesn’t go to well together with acrobatic flying… They soon take off towards their chosen destination, her in one plane and O’Malley and his mechanic Struts in the other. He’s portrayed by Jack Weston from Dirty Dancing and Gator to name a couple of titles.
Upon arriving they are greeted by the treacherous Suleiman Khan played by the brilliant Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon, Henry V, The Bruce) who tells them that her father is dead. He’s lying of course, which we learn from one of the women of the camp, Alessa. A soon as I set eyes on her, I heard a line from another movie, in my head: “Zamora… You’ll find what you are looking for in Zamora!” And sure enough, (after I checked of course) it WAS Cassandra Gava, who played the witch whom Arnold Schwarzenegger encounters in Conan the Barbarian.
After a couple more stops in Nepal and India, they finally learn that Bradley Tozer, Eve’s dad, is supposed to be in China, hence the title of the movie. All through this we’ve been going back and forth between them and London, where Bentik (remember?) has been plotting their deaths the whole time. This ends in a spectacular dogfight between O’Malley and the man sent to kill them. There are some beautiful aerial shots in High Road To China, not just in this scene, but throughout the entire movie. And remember, boys and girls, this was in times before CGI arrived, so those are real planes and real stunts!
I can’t deny that this is kind of a rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark which was released a couple of years before and did you know, Tom Selleck actually auditioned for the part of Indiana Jones. Ok, so maybe rip-off is too strong a word, but High Road To China is certainly very similar in style, but this doesn’t make it a bad movie. No, on the contrary, it’s a very entertaining adventure-movie with a great deal of humor and action. It’s been a while since I last watched it, so it was fun to re-visit it again and it held up very well I might add.
I’ll end with a fun bit of trivia. The director Brian G. Hutton, who’s responsible for such classics as The First Deadly Sin, Kelly’s Heroes and Where Eagles Dare, gave up directing and left the movie-industry completely in the mid 80’s. He instead chose to pursue a career in real estate and apparently did very well for himself! Go figure!
Until next time my friends…