The Asheville Film Society closes November with another movie starring Gary Cooper (and a pet monkey named Sam), this time teamed with a different duplicitous blonde, Madeleine Carroll, in Lewis Milestone’s The General Died at Dawn (1936). Lewis Milestone directs the film with the nonstop inventiveness that marks all his best work—and more than a little influence of Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (even making Carroll seem Dietrich-esque)—turning this pulp-fiction adventure yarn into an endlessly fascinating cinematic experience. (At one point Milestone divides the screen into five separate panels—the four corner ones depicted as the edges roll back like Chinese scrolls.) Cooper plays O’Hara, a left-leaning soldier of fortune charged with the task of delivering money to Chinese freedom fighters out to defeat the oppressive warlord General Yang (Akim Tamiroff). (It’s worth noting that both Milestone and screenwriter Clifford Odets were nothing if not arch liberals.) O’Hara’s path is fraught with peril—not the least of which comes in the form of Judy Perrie (Carroll), whose dying father (Porter Hall) is in the employ of General Yang. Judy is emotionally blackmailed by dad into betraying O’Hara to Yang’s men (he wants money to get back to the U.S. so he can die at home). It’s perfectly cast, beautifully photographed and just startlingly good entertainment.
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