Shame (1921)

Genres - Drama  |   Countries - USA  |  
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This eight-reel Fox feature is a blatant example of the rampant racial prejudice that existed in the early part of the 20th century. Even the Photoplay review, which pans the film, smacks of racism. "When the hero of Shame hears that his mother was Chinese, he immediately dashes to the mirror and sees himself reflected with almond eyes, long nails, and a Chinese laundry. The thought drives him almost insane so he goes to Alaska and fights a wolf." Although the plot isn't quite as ludicrous as Photoplay implies, it doesn't make for a quality film. Even so, it brought John Gilbert to the attention of the powers-that-be at Fox, and they offered him a three-year contract. He signed, but only reluctantly. William Fielding (Gilbert), a young widower, is living in Shanghai with his little boy, David (Mickey Moore). A young Chinese woman looks after the child, and Foo Chang (George Siegmann), a trader, lusts after her. Because he believes she is David's mother, he kills Fielding. Fielding's faithful secretary, Li Clung (William V. Mong), takes the boy to San Francisco to be raised by his grandfather (George Nichols). As an adult, David (also played by Gilbert) fights against opium trafficking with Li Clung's help. Foo Chang, who is himself smuggling opium, tries to blackmail David into stopping his crusade by threatening to expose the fact that he is half Chinese. David is so upset at this unexpected information that he runs away from his wife and goes to Alaska, taking their infant child with him (and yes, he fights a wolf there). Li Clung follows after him, as does Foo Chang. The two Chinese men battle it out, and Foo Chang is killed. David, it turns out, is pure Caucasian, so he avoids whatever disgrace he thought he would have.

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Keywords

death, bad-guy, blackmail, business, drug-dealer, good-guy, grandfather, inheritance, killing, marriage, smuggling