Dragon Seed (1944)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - War Drama  |   Release Date - Jul 20, 1944 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 145 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Dragon Seed is criticized today for the fact that every major role is played by a Western actor, despite the fact that all of the characters are Asian, common practice for the time in Hollywood. For many modern viewers, the mere fact of this kind of casting will be too off-putting to allow them to watch the film. But even those who accept the "East by West" casting as a product of its time will most likely find much of the film miscast. There are so many and different accents tossed about that it's impossible to establish a feeling of place and of a common culture, which is crucial to the story. And Katharine Hepburn, an abundantly talented and resourceful actress, simply seems out of place. Her New England air shines through her attempts to de-Occidentalize herself, and her work is self-conscious and showy. The rest of the cast work out better, but only Aline MacMahon really turns in a performance that is satisfying and dramatically pleasing. The problems are compounded by an inconsistency in direction (due in part to the fact that the original director was replaced halfway through filming) and pacing, with the film at least 20 minutes too long. More damagingly, the screenplay is fairly faithful to the plot of the Pearl S. Buck novel that is its source, but it doesn't find a cinematic equivalent for the author's voice; without that, the story seems forced and melodramatic. While not a bad film, Dragon is a missed opportunity that could -- and should -- have been much better.