Tay Garnett — Far East Comes to Hollywood (1939) 🇺🇸
Muddy rivers in China, and coral-encircled harbors where pearl divers hide, have been brought to the studio for backgrounds for “Trade Winds”.
by Gladys W. Babcock
“Trade Winds” would be an entertaining motion picture if it were filmed inside a tent. It’s that kind of story. But, with the advantages of scenes which Author-Director Tay Garnett traveled half way ‘round the world to film, one gets the “flavor” of the Orient and of far-off places and a fast moving detective story is made that much more interesting because of it.
Nearly four years ago Tay Garnett had a dream of exciting new adventure. He had already directed pictures in Greenland, in the Alps, in Tahiti, Cuba, off the Alaskan Coast, in Central America and in just about every state in the Union and his dream carried him away on his new 105 ft. yacht “Athene” to the Orient, and islands of the equatorial regions. Ceylon and distant shores where there was photographic and dramatic color Hollywood had not yet captured. It was quite a dream but all his life Garnett had been a dreamer and, the son of a naval surgeon, he had always loved the sea and most of his dreams had sails attached them.
On week ends, while the “Athene” lay at anchor in a cove at Santa Catalina island, Garnett began to dramatize and build his adventurous dream into a screen play. Into each adventure of his leading characters he put some dreams of his own, some suppressed desire that some day might be realized. He had had three busy years without a real vacation and his present picture assignment was coming to a close. Before the picture plot was anything like completed Garnett, his wife and a competent crew of equally adventurous studio folk who liked the sea and had time to travel ‘round Hawaii aided by the trade winds of the season.
En route to Hawaii Garnett put more of his dreams on paper. Once in Honolulu he built up the native sequence of the picture and with his camera crew made specific background scenes. After an enjoyable visit to various islands the “Athene” headed for Japan for more color, thence South to Shanghai. Indo-China, the Malay Straits, India, Ceylon and the Laccadive Islands. Days became weeks and months and Garnett’s story reached a climax, was re-written a time or two, polished up and “clocked” with a stop watch to establish a possible length for screening.
The entire crew knew the story plot. In the middle of the night Garnett would sit bolt upright in his bunk, stare into the darkness, snap his fingers with decision and get up and make notes of some new angle, some bit of comedy or dramatics which had just come to him. A dreamer, certainly, but a practical one, we would say.
As the cruise continued Garnett drew out camera angles and the base lines for sets yet to be built and made specific photographic shots to go behind them. “As we look, out of the door we see the front of this Oriental hotel,” Garnett would explain, the finished picture going through his mind, “and out of the window here, to the left, we see the street with hundreds of people, rickshaws, coolies, oxen.” Then armed with native police permits, government orders and frequently with the cameras hidden in laundry wagons or shielded by coats, telephone poles or umbrellas “those secretive Americans” would photograph the “angles” later to fit so perfectly in the finished film.
After nearly 18 months the “Athene” returned to the port of Los Angeles, Garnett brought 150,000 feet of film negative and an equal amount of positive printed film ashore with his typewriter, his script, now dog-eared from constant reference changing and pencilled notations.
While he was making his leisurely cruise around the world, Garnett’s business agent was busy. The director had to make pictures immediately to replenish his treasury from which the cruise drew heavily indeed. Walter Wanger’s Stand-In with Leslie Howard came first and while directing it Garnett interested Wanger in “Trade Winds.” With three other films ahead of it on his production schedule Wanger couldn’t make “Trade Winds” at the time and so Garnett went to RKO to direct Irene Dunne in “Joy of Living.” But Wanger made good his promise and as soon as he had finished “Algiers” and Garnett had finished “Joy of Living” they got together, reviewed all phases of the story as Garnett had written it and selected the scenes (4,000 feet of Garnett’s 150,000 feet) for “atmosphere.”
Art Director Alexander Toluboff , who had been a practicing architect in Turkestan, China and Japan before coming to Hollywood created 79 sets for the picture, ranging from a piece of the dock at Bombay to a dainty Japanese geisha house in Tokyo, a set which was the first authentic reproduction of such a Nipponese house ever erected in a studio. The walls were of oiled paper and bamboo, the floors covered with rattan matting. The only furniture was a tea table 18 inches high and about 40 inches long, a tea stand with a dwarfed maple tree in a simple pot on top of it, a small platform for the native musicians and a small silk tapestry on one wall.
Into this set comes Fredric March, and later Ralph Bellamy, in search of Joan Bennett, who is trying to flee from the police in San Francisco after she thought she had shot Sidney Blackmer. March is a private detective, Bellamy a member of the regular force— a self-righteous fellow who took his 90 days’ training too seriously and frequently becomes more amusing than he intended.
Ann Sothern created a new character for herself in “Trade Winds,” a type of part that is bound to win her many new friends. She is March’s secretary, hungry for romance but well enough acquainted with her boss to know that he should be watched if the $100,000 reward, he is after, is actually won.
Matching Garnett’s Asiatic atmosphere scenes with studio sets gave the production department some real problems at times.
The first day on the set Director Garnett learned that his two sound men were former navy men who had once rescued him at sea when he ‘pancaked’ a 21 passenger flying boat to avoid a fire in mid-air, off La Jolla, California, in 1920. Their enlistments in the navy at an end just as motion pictures became ‘talkies’ Commander Paul Neal and Radio Officer ‘Curley’ Nelson took up film sound recording. Their work with Lieutenant Garnett was one of the many happy coincidences which made the filming of “Trade Winds” almost as romantic as the story of this new film play.
Tay Garnett, at the wheel of his 105 ft. yacht, sets forth on the trail of a dramatic setting for his picture.
The characters in the story take a ride on the Road to Mandalay, or something.
Below – curious vessels and strange boatmen give reality to a spritely detective story.
Source: Silverscreen Magazine, February 1939