The Adventures of Marco Polo 
(1938), 100 min. b&w

The film opens with a brief historical background statement: "Marco Polo lived in Venice seven hundred years ago. He was the first European to visit China and write the story of his adventures in that land of magic and mystery."

A Venetian merchant named Nicolo Polo sends his son Marco and his bookkeeper Binguccio to China in order to establish trade relations, and thus acquire the treasures of the Far East cheaply. After a long, tiresome journey Marco and Bingucco arrive in Beijing.

Marco strikes up a conversation with a man whom he heard reading the Bible to his children. This man (Chen Tsu) invites Marco and Binguccio to have dinner at his home, where Marco discovers two new wonders unknown to the Italians: spaghetti and gunpowder. Chen Tsu warns Marco Polo to be very careful when he visits the palace. The emperor Kublai Khan is a good man, a just man, but he is dominated by a foreign advisor (Ahmed) who has little respect for the sanctity of life. "Make every effort to convince him that you are no more than a friendly gentleman who is anxious to see the world without treading on anyone's toes."

At the palace Kublai Khan is making plans to conquer Japan. Khan is also worried about a rebellion forming in the West, under the leadership of a Tartar named Kaidu. Khan asks Ahmed to send spies to Kaidu's province.

The Persian ambassador approaches Khan and reminds him that his daughter, Princess Kukachin, is betrothed to the king of Persia. Khan agrees to send his daughter to Persia on the seventh moon.

While he awaits his audience with the emperor, Marco Polo flirts with a beautiful young woman in the garden, completely unaware that she is the princess Kukachin. She is polite and curious about him.

Marco Polo is presented to Kublai Khan and his minister of state Ahmed. Ahmed's evil nature is hidden by his suave and polite demeanor. Khan explains, "Ahmed is a Saracen, and descended of the great kings of Babylon."  Khan tells him that it is Ahmed's duty to see that Marco Polo doesn't get what he has come for. Marco says that he has come for nothing but education.

George Barbier and Rathbone
Kublai Khan and Ahmed
Rathbone and Gary Cooper
Ahmed and Marco Polo

Ahmed takes the two Venetians on a tour of the palace, starting with his private quarters. He has a tower of his own, complete with vultures and a pit full of hungry lions. Ahmed executes a man while Marco Polo and Binguccio watch in horror.

When Marco Polo sees the princess again he asks her if she will be able to marry the man of her choice. He is smitten with her, and therefore sad that she is betrothed to the king of Persia. He asks her if he may kiss her before he leaves. "Kiss? What is that?"  And Marco happily demonstrates this European custom, and the princess enjoys it.

Meanwhile Ahmed and his cohorts discuss the rebellion in Kaidu's province, and it becomes clear that the Tartar tribesmen are rebelling because Ahmed is stealing their tax money. Ahmed also has his eyes set on replacing Khan as Emperor. A guard reports what he saw Marco Polo and the princess doing in the garden. Ahmed is furious -- he covets the princess for himself.

Khan asks Marco Polo to go to Kaidu's camp and spy on him.  "If you do us this favor, it's possible that upon your return, you may be that much nearer to your own coveted trade agreements."  Ahmed is fairly certain that Kaidu will kill Marco Polo and thereby rid him of this nuisance, but he assures Marco Polo that he will use every precaution to guarantee his safety.

When Marco Polo and Binguccio reach the Kaidu territory they are immediately captured by Kaidu's warriors, and taken to the camp. Kaidu is a vicious warrior who boils his enemies in oil, but he also likes to be with pretty young girls and his domineering wife prevents that. When Kaidu notices his wife flirting with Marco Polo, he realizes that Marco can divert the wife's attention, thus allowing Kaidu freedom to play around. So Marco and Binguccio are spared as long as Marco can keep Kaidu's wife occupied. Marco discovers yet another wonder unknown in Italy: coal.

While Kaidu dallies, Kublai Khan and his army go off to fight the Japanese. Power-hungry, Ahmed stays behind with plans to usurp the throne. The Persian ambassador reminds Ahmed that it is but one week until the seventh moon, when the princess is to be sent to the Persian king. Since Ahmed wants the princess for himself, he orders his guards to take the ambassador away, presumably to kill him.  Ahmed visits the princess and tells her that he will not send her to Persia, but will keep her and marry her instead. She hates him, so she sends a message via carrier pigeon to Marco Polo.

Marco receives the message and asks Kaidu's permission to leave because the princess is in danger. Kaidu refuses. Marco talks to him about his revolt.

Marco: "Why are you rebelling against the Emperor?"
Kaidu: "Because my people are taxed to the point of starvation. I don't mind paying proper tribute to Kublai Khan, but I refuse to pay Ahmed for his private treasury."

Marco talks him into taking his warriors to Beijing. With the Emperor and his army away fighting the Japanese, now is the perfect time to attack Ahmed. Kaidu wonders how to get past the walls of Beijing and also the palace walls. Marco says he can get into the palace and will find a way to get Kaidu's army in. Marco Polo rides ahead to make arrangements.

The emperor's army was defeated by the Japanese; Kublai Khan and the other survivors return to Beijing. Khan discovers that Ahmed has usurped power, and now Ahmed threatens to release hungry vultures upon the captive princess unless Khan signs a document recognizing Ahmed as the rightful successor to the throne.


Ahmed and Princess Kukachin

Marco Polo reaches Beijing and disguises himself as a local to gain secret entrance to the palace. While polishing the floor, he makes his way towards the princess' room. The princess is about to kill herself to avoid marriage to Ahmed, but Marco reaches her in time and stops her.

Kaidu's army is outside the city gate. Ahmed traps Kaidu and a few followers between the palace gate and city gate, and then he leaves for his wedding.  Marco's friend Chen Tsu brings "fire powder" (gunpowder), with which Marco blows up the outside gate so the rest of Kaidu's army can ride through.

Princess Kukachin stalls the wedding as best she can until Marco Polo arrives and engages in a hand-to-hand battle with Ahmed. Ahmed opens the trap door to the lions, but Marco manages to throw Ahmed in.

With Ahmed out of the way, order is soon restored. Kublai Khan gives Kaidu a bevy of beautiful women, Binguccio draws up the trade agreements between Venice and China, and Marco Polo is given the task of escorting the princess to Persia.

Don't expect historical accuracy from this film, but who cares? The film has an attractive hero (Gary Cooper), a sinister villain (Rathbone), and a love story.  It's utterly charming and entertaining.

Lana Turner can be seen as the young girl that Kaidu (Alan Hale) admires.

History records that a 21-year-old Marco Polo traveled to China with his father and uncle (not his bookkeeper) and lived there for 24 years. After his return to Venice Marco Polo captained a ship, and was subsequently captured and imprisoned by the Genoese. While in prison he recounted his adventures in China. The published manuscript became very popular, but most of the incredible tales Marco told were not believed, and he was therefore dubbed "the man of a million lies." China had many wonders that were unknown to western culture in the 13th century: paper money, coal, gunpowder, for example. Yet, Marco Polo never mentioned the Great Wall of China, calligraphy, the binding of women's feet, and tea drinking. These omissions have led some people to believe that Marco Polo never actually visited China. Also supporting that theory is the fact that there is no mention of Marco Polo in Chinese historical records. The controversy is discussed in a 1995 book by Frances Wood called Did Marco Polo Go to China? and the 2001 book Marco Polo and the Discovery of the World by John Larner.

Go to Page Two and Page Three for more photos from "The Adventures of Marco Polo."

 

Cast

 

Credits

 
Basil Rathbone .............. Ahmed Production Co. .............. Samuel Goldwyn Co.
Gary Cooper ................... Marco Polo   Producer ........................ Samuel Goldwyn
Sigrid Gurie .................... Princess Kukuchin   Assoc. Producer ........... George Haight
Ernest Truex .................. Binguccio   Director ......................... Archie Mayo (with John
Alan Hale ....................... Kaidu  

Cromwell

 and John Ford)
George Barbier ............ Kublai Khan   Screenplay...................... Robert E. Sherwood
Binnie Barnes .............. Nazama  

Story ..............................

 N.A. Pogson
Lana Turner .................. Nazama's maid   Cinematographers ......... Rudolph Matfont> and
Stanley Fields ............... Bayan     Archie Stout
Harold Huber ................ Toctai   Film Editor ..................... Fred Allen
H.B. Warner .................. Chen Tsu   Original Music .............. Hugo Friedhofer and
Eugene Hoo .................. Chen Tsu's son  

Alfred

 Newman (uncredited)
Helen Quan ................... Chen Tsu's daughter   Music Director ............. Alfred Newman
Soo Yong ...................... Chen Tsu's wife   Art Director ................... Richard Day
Mrs. Ng .......................... Chen Tsu's mother   Costumes....................... Omar Kiam
Lotus Liu ....................... Visahka   Set Decoration ............. Julia Heron
Ferdinand Gottschalk ... Persian Ambassador   Asst. Art Director ....... Lance Baxter
Henry Kolker ................. Nicolo Polo Art tinting ..................... John M. Nikolaus Jr.
Hale Hamilton ................ Maffeo Polo   Sound Department ....... Oscar Lagerstrom,
Robert Grieg ................... Chamberlain     Thomas T. Moulton
Reginald Barlow ........... Venetian businessman   Asst. Director .............. Walter Mayo
Theodore von Eltz ........ Venetian businessman   Second unit directors ... Ralph Cedar (uncredited)
Diane Toy ................. Kaidu entertainer     John Ford (uncredited)
Harry Kerus ................... Kaidu guard   Special Effects .............. James Basevi
Greta Granstedt ............ Kaidu maid   Stunts ............................. Richard Farnsworth
Harry Cording .............. Kaidu officer     Henry Wills (uncredited)
Dick Rich ....................... Kaidu officer   Archery Instructor ...... Chester Seay
Joe Woody ................... Kaidu officer   Orchestrator .................. Edward B. Powell
Leo Fielding .................. Kaidu officer      
Richard Alexander ....... Ahmed's aide (uncredited)      
Granville Bates ............. Venetian businessman (uncredited)      
Ward Bond ................... Mongol guard (uncredited)      
Richard Farnsworth .....  ? (uncredited)      
Mia Ichloka ................... court girl (uncredited)      
James B. Leong ............. Tartar warrior (uncredited)      
Diana Moncardo .......... court girl (uncredited)      
Jason Robards Sr. ........ messenger (uncredited)      
Evelyn Terry ................. ? (uncredited)      
Gloria Youngblood ...... court girl (uncredited)      
Dora Young .................. court girl (uncredited)      

 

Images on this page as well as pages 2 and 3 are from the film "The Adventures of Marco Polo," copyright 1938 by Samuel Goldwyn Co.

 

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2007