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Walk Like A Dragon (1960) Starring Jack Lord

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Walk Like A Dragon (1960)

Starring Jack Lord

Cowboy Line Bartlett (Jack Lord) comes to San Francisco and meets Kim Sung (Nobu McCarthy), a Chinese slave girl coveted by the manager of a whorehouse. To save her from this fate, Bartlett buys the girl himself and takes her home to serve as a housekeeper. His mother, Ma Bartlett (Josephine Hutchinson), is not happy that a Chinese girl is living in her home, and even less happy when Kim Sung and her son fall in love. Their affair also arouses the jealousy of Cheng Lu (James Shigeta), a Chinese immigrant living in town. The proud Cheng learns to become a western-style warrior by taking sharpshooting lessons from the mysterious Deacon (Mel Torme).

Director: James Clavell
Writers: James Clavell, Daniel Mainwaring

Stars: Jack Lord, Nobu McCarthy, James Shigeta, Mel Torme, Josephine Hutchinson, Rodolfo Acosta, Michael Pate, Don Kennedy, Don 'Red' Barry

James Clavell is better known for his Asian-themed novels Shogun, Tai Pan and King Rat, but he had a wrote the screenplay for the 1958's The Fly and later co-wrote The Great Escape in 1963. And he wasn’t just a screenwriter. Between those two high-profile gigs, he wrote, produced and directed two movies, Five Gates to Hell (1959) and Walk Like a Dragon (1960). While the former project was a war film (Clavell himself was a P.O.W. during World War II), this film was a Western, albeit one with an unsurprisingly “Eastern” theme.
Walk Like a Dragon benefits considerably from its strong cast, with no one playing a wholly right-minded character. Future Hawaii Five-O star Jack Lord makes for a charismatic leading man, but he’s not exactly the cowboy with the white hat. Linc may warm up to Kim, but he’s also disgusted by Cheng Lu, even resorting to racist epithets during more than one of their encounters. We may feel for the guy, but his tolerance for others different from himself is clearly inconsistent. After all, he’s not particularly concerned about what happens to the other girls up for sale at the auction, and he has some selfish thoughts when he comes face-to-face with what life might be like if he marries Kim.
Spicing up the mix is the inclusion of singer/actor Mel Torme as the Deacon. When Cheng Lu encounters problems with the locals, he hires Torme’s enigmatic, Bible-quoting gunslinger to teach him how to be a quick-draw artist, hoping to learn how to gun down any challenger in seconds. Dressed entirely in black, Torme radiates an amazing screen presence, something one might not expect considering his more comedic TV appearances in Night Court and Seinfeld later in life. Unsurprisingly, Torme even sings the title track.
The film’s central concern seems to hinge on Christian hypocrisy, especially as it pertains to racism. Several characters who profess Christian charity are less charitable when it comes to having a Chinese girl live among them. Some of these characters are redeemed; others are not. For instance, Linc lives with his mother (Josephine Hutchinson), who initially rejects Kim Sung as a “heathen.” However, her racism soon softens when she begins to see Kim as a real person. Not so kind towards Kim are the racist townsfolk who, aside from a compassionate preacher, are repulsed by the fact that a so-called heathen would dare step foot in their church.
Clavell puts his characters through the wringer in an effort to explore hard truths about racism, interracial relationships and mixed race children. Considering the fact that the last miscegenation laws weren’t repealed until 1967 - some six years after the release of Walk Like a Dragon - one can see how its subject matter likely wasn’t received as a quaint exposé of a different time. This is a film that had some relevancy to its contemporary moment.

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