High Road to China (1983) Classic Movie Review 158

High Road to China (1983)

High Road to China (1983)

Is he going to eat us or feed us?




Today’s movie is High Road to China (1983). For some reason, this film is rated 6.0 on iMDB.com[1] and a 65 percent score by audiences on Rottentomatoes.com[2]. The great Roger Ebert killed this film in his review. Ebert stated:

“High Road to China” is not a terrible movie, but it’s a lifeless one. It follows some of the forms of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” without ever finding the comic rhythms. It’s directed at a nice, steady pace, but without flair and without the feeling that anything’s being risked. And it tells such an absolutely standard story that we never fear for the characters and we hardly ever believe them.”[3]

This is a good movie. I really like this movie. It is exciting, romantic, visually stimulating. I felt tension and excitement when I watched it. It has some of the greatest unknown movie quotes of all time. Unfortunately, is also a classic example of the Tarzan Syndrome. One white guy comes to fix everything for the locals. In this case, it was two white men and one white woman. But don’t let that put you off.

Also, this movie can be viewed as a mustache-off as we try to determine who has the better stash, Tom Selleck or Wilford Brimley. 



Tom Selleck, the man with the great 1980s mustache, played drunken World War I veteran Patrick O’Malley. Selleck was covered in Episode 50 – Quigley Down Under (1990).


I was binge-watching “House of Lies” with Don Cheadle. I kept trying to figure out who his boss was. I finally looked it up and was very surprised it was Bess Armstrong, an actress I only remembered from High Road to China (1983). Armstrong played Eve, a self-absorbed, spoiled, rich, rotten socialite.

Armstrong was born in Maryland in 1953. She graduated from Brown University with a degree in Theater and Latin. So, a pretty sharp cookie. Armstrong has 72 film and television credits. Her best-known roles are The Four Season (1981), Jaws 3-D (1983), High Road to China (1983), and Nothing in Common (1986).

Jack Weston played Struts, airplane mechanic and devoted companion of O’Malley. Weston was born in Ohio in 1924. Weston started acting at the age of ten. He stayed with the Cleveland Playhouse until he was drafted into World War II at the age of 19. He served two years in Italy as a machine gunner in an Army infantry company.

Following the war, he went to New York and began working on Broadway. His first movie was Stage Struck (1958) with Henry Fonda. He made about 24 more movies and was very active on television. I first remember him from the Doris Day film, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960).  He was in The Honeymoon Machine (1961), The Cincinnati Kid (1965) a very good film with Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson, and Ann Margret, The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Wait Until Dark (1967), Cactus Flower (1969), The Four Seasons (1981), Burt Reynold’s Gator (1976), and the good/bad Ishtar (1987). Weston died in 1996.

Wilford Brimley played the subject of the quest Bradley Tozer. Brimley is an interesting character. He was born in Utah in 1934. He enlisted in the Marine Corps when the Korean Conflict broke out but was stationed in the Aleutian’s. Brrrr. He farmed and rode in rodeo’s until he got too fat. He then became a blacksmith. At some point, he worked as a bodyguard for rich loony Howard Hughes. He began acting at the tender age of 60. He was riding and doing stunt work like Richard Farnsworth mostly in westerns. Brimley’s best-known films are The China Syndrome (1979), The Electric Horseman (1979), great soundtrack, Brubaker (1980), High Road to China (1983), The Natural (1984), he worked with Robert Redford a lot, The Thing (1982), Cocoon (1985), End of the Line (1987) where they steal a train, Cocoon: The Return (1988), Hard Target (1993), The Firm (1993), and as the narrator of Last of the Dogmen (1995).

Brimley is an accomplished jazz singer, but he is better known for his commercial; where he says eating Quaker Oats is the right thing to do and when he pronounces diabetes as “diabeetus.” He is still working. Cause it’s the right thing to do.

Robert Morley played the bad guy Bentik. Morley was born in 1908 in England. His family educated him for the foreign service, but he preferred acting. Morley attended The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and began stage work in 1929. His first film role was uncredited in Scrooge (1935). His first role on Broadway was in 1938. For his role in Marie Antoinette (1938), Morley was nominated for an Oscar. Morley worked on both sides of the Atlantic. He was great as the weak brother in The African Queen (1951). He worked again with Humphrey Bogart in Beat the Devil (1953). Morley was one of the very few people that could take the place of Sydney Greenstreet. Other highlights include Beau Brummell (1954) and Oscar Wilde (1960), He was wonderful in Too Many Chefs (1978). Morley had 113 television and film credits. His last film was in 1989, and he died in 1992.

I love his attitude. When asked if he would give a talk at his alma mater, Willington, he said he would only return to burn the school down.

Brian Blessed played Suleman Khan. Blessed was born in England in 1936. From a working-class family, Blessed excelled at acting and boxing. He worked odd jobs until he got into the Bristol Old Vic. He was in many plays and made his first movie The Valent (1962). Highlights in his vast film career include Flash Gordon (1980), where he played King of the Hawkmen Voltan, Henry V (1989), Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Macbeth (1997), Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999), voice work in Tarzan (1999), Alexander (2004), and As You Like It (2006).

Blessed is still alive and active. He is the oldest person to have reached the geographical and magnetic North Pole, tried to climb Moun Everest three times, and trained as a Cosmonaut and had plans to go to the International Space Station.

Cassandra Gava played Alessa, a mysterious Nepalese woman. Gava was born in the USA in 1959 and is of Filipino ancestry. She is strikingly beautiful. Her first film role was as a stripper in Hanging on a Star (1978). However, her first big role was as the sexy witch in Conan the Barbarian (1982) which included a love and fight scene with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her performance in The Black Room (1982) is well respected. She later was in High Road to China (1983) and was well cast. She remains busy working in television and has film projects in production.

Terry Richards played the role of Ginger. Richards was born in 1932 in England. Beginning with an uncredited role in The Flesh and the Fiends (1960) Richards has been a successful background bad guy and stuntman. He was in The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Empire Strikes Back (1980) as a Wampa, and one of Ming’s brutes in Flash Gordon (1980). However, his most well-known role is the sword-wielding Arab man that Indiana Jones shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Yes, that guy. The scene occurred because the sick Harrison Ford didn’t want to go through with the fight scene. He pulled his gun and fired. Everyone liked it, and it was kept in the movie.

Richards was also in High Road to China (1980), Red Sonja (1985), Total Recall (1990), and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). His final film was Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). He died in 2014.

Anthony Chinn played warlord General Wong. Chinn was born in Guyana in 1930. He worked extensively in English TV in the 1960s and 70s. He played background bad guys in a lot of films. These include Dr. No (1962), Goldfinger (1964), You Only Live Twice (1967), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), Revenge of the Pink Panther (1978), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). He got a little more screen time in High Road to China (1983). Then he was back to the background in films like A View to a Kill (1985) and The Fifth Element (1997).


A rather stogie looking British man is moving through the streets of Istanbul. He is being watched by a series of shady look characters that mingle among the composition crowds. The man is named Charlie (Michael Sheard). He is followed to his room by an assassin carrying a Luger, so we know he is bad. When the killer opens the door, Charlie shoots and kills him.

High Road to China (1983)

High Road to China (1983)

The scene switches to a young flapper Eve Tozer (Bess Armstrong) dancing on a table. This sets the time period to the 1920s, between the end of the first world war and the Great Depression. Young military officers of several nations are in close attendance to Eve.

Charlie nervously walks into the party and is greeted warmly by Eve. He asks about her father, Bradley Tozer (Wilford Brimley), whom she hasn’t heard from in three years. Charlie tells her that her father’s business partner, Bentik (Robert Morley) has convinced a judge to declare the missing man dead unless someone can show cause in a British court within the next 12 days. Eve is upset that she will lose all of her money and no more flapping. Ginger (Terry Richards) is lurking outside.

Eve decides that she must find her father. She makes a bold request to her military beaus, but they quickly shrink back when she wants to borrow a plane for two weeks. One of Eve’s married flapper friends tells her about a gigolo she knows who just happens to be a World War I American ace named Patrick O’Malley (Tom Selleck). The friend names the bar where he can be found drinking every night.

Outside of the bar Struts (Jack Weston) who is O’Malley’s mechanic, best friend, and facilitator is trying to walk the drunken and broke pilot home. O’Malley says he feels that luck is just around the corner, when a man steps out, punches him, and says stay away from my wife. This is the condition O’Malley is in the first time Eve and Charlie see him.

Feeling that she has no other choice, she goes to the airport with the drunk pilot and waits for him to wake in the morning. She finally tires of waiting and douses him with an old glass of wine. Struts comes from working on the planes to market for O’Malley. O’Malley is not interested in flying to Afghanistan. Eve says she can fly the second plane. Even though O’Malley is hungover he decides to go up. Eve flies the plane and does stunts that even impress the ace pilot.

On the ground, O’Malley makes a better deal with Eve. Struts is excited about the trip and the money until O’Malley tells him to mount the Lewis machine guns on the planes.

Eve and Charlie go back to the hotel to get her luggage. Ginger is lurking outside. Charlie takes a knife to the belly to give Eve time to get away. The bad guys chase Eve in a car, but she gets to the airfield first. Ginger drives onto the airfield while shooting at the planes. Eve jumps in Dorthey, while O’Malley and Struts get into Lillian. The two planes are named for the Gish sister.

As the two planes fly away, O’Malley thinks the shooter is a husband of one of his female clients. Back in England Bentik gets word that his agents have failed to stop Eve from beginning her search.

High Road to China (1983)

High Road to China (1983)

At the end of their first day of flying, the two planes land at an English airfield in what could be present-day Iran or Pakistan because they are fighting the Wazir. They get into an argument about how to handle the soldiers. Eve wants to use her feminine persuasion, and O’Malley wants to use his knowledge of the military. The officer remembers O’Malley from the war. That night O’Malley entertains the troops with war stories and drinking. When a young officer asks about Verdun, O’Malley becomes somber saying the German pilots were too young and inexperienced and that it was just a slaughter. When Eve tells O’Malley that he has had enough to drink he is pretty rude. The British officers are shocked.

They leave in the morning with new fuel and supplies. Bentik learns that they are heading to Afghanistan. He offers a reward for anyone that can stop Eve and co.

In Afghanistan, they land next to a large Wazir camp. They are quickly surrounded by armed horsemen. Suleman Khan (Brian Blessed) arrives, and O’Malley is handling everything until Eve speaks up. O’Malley slaps Eve to make her lower her eye. The Khan is impressed and invites them to his tent to feast. One of the young princes is taken with the golden-haired woman. Wasn’t that in King Kong (1933)? Eve eventually shows the Khan a picture of her father. He says the man is dead. The Khan hands the picture to Alessa (Cassandra Gava). The Khan tells O’Malley that he will use his planes to drop bombs on the English camp. The Khan says his nephew will fly with O’Malley to make sure he doesn’t fly away and leave his friends. Alessa eyes Eve as she holds the picture of Bradley.

Later that night as the three Anglos wait, the young prince offers jewels for Eve. O’Malley handles it pretty well saying he will consider the offer. Alessa translates for the group. Eve stops Alessa who tells her that her father Bradley is still alive. O’Malley works out an escape plan. Alessa shows up and says she wants to join the escape. She says Eve’s father escaped a year ago and is likely headed to Nepal. Alessa gets clothes for Eve and Struts.

High Road to China (1983)

High Road to China (1983)

In the morning, they load Lillian with bombs and the nephew gets in front. The plan is based on the nephew not knowing about seatbelts. Once in air O’Malley puts on his seatbelt. After takeoff O’Malley flies over the camp and inverts the plane dropping the nephew and half the bombs on the Khan’s tent. The villagers begin shooting at the plane, but O’Malley uses the Lewis gun and the remaining bombs to cover the escape of Eve, Struts, and Alessa. The three make it to Dorothy. The prince rides up, and when Eve points a gun at him, he bares his chest. She decides not to shoot him. The plane, overloaded with three people, gets airborne. O’Malley wants to go back but Eve heads her plane towards Nepal. O’Malley follows.  As they fly east, word of their movement is sent from India. Bentik has a fit. He tells his aide to contact Major Von Hess in Deli and tell him to stop Eve.

The arrive at Alessa’s village in Nepal. It is a much happier greeting that the last place. Alessa asks about Bradley and is told he is not there. Eve passes out from stress and exhaustion. O’Malley finds out that there is no booze in the village. Alessa says that Bradley was there and that an old priest may know where he went. They ask about Bradley, and the old man says he went to China with some people that needed help. He says he will pray to Buddha for their journey. O’Malley asked if there is anything else he can tell them and the priest replies “the oxen are slow, but the earth is patient.” Using cattle instead of oxen, this has been my favorite quote since 1983.

That night Eve is suffering from a fever. O’Malley holds her through the night to keep her warm.

Von Hess takes off in his armed German bi-plane.

When Eve wakes ups in the morning, she starts screaming at O’Malley for taking advantage of her. Alessa explains to Eve what happened while Struts has a minor freak out. O’Malley tells Eve where her father is and that she can’t go on the leg of the trip over the Himalayan Mountains. Eve is tearing into O’Malley while he gets ready to go. Suddenly Von Hess attacks the village shooting at the planes. Dorothy is destroyed by a bomb, but with Struts’ help, O’Malley gets Lillian into the air. O’Malley is finally having a dogfight against a German of his same caliber. After some beautiful aerial dogfighting scenes O’Malley shots and wounds the German who then crashes into a hill.

High Road to China (1983)

High Road to China (1983)

When O’Malley lands Eve tells him that the people that have been trying to stop them are after her and it wasn’t an irate husband back at the airfield in Istanbul. O’Malley says he will go on but Eve must stay behind. She stands up to him, and he finally decides that she can go too. This means Struts will have to be left behind in Nepal.

Struts takes the news pretty well. Struts tells O’Malley to remember that “the ox is slow, but the earth is patient.”

This is followed by some beautiful shows of a bi-plane flying over the mountains.

Bentik is informed that Von Hess failed.

Eve and O’Malley land near an armed hill village in China. The armed villagers arrest the pair. Inside the fortress, all of the people are preparing for battle. Bradley Tozer walks out of a door, backlit by fire and seems unworldly. When Eve sees him, she says daddy. Bradley tells her she is beautiful and looks like her mother. Eve asks him what he is doing, and he says he is helping with a small war against a local warlord General Wong (Anthony Chinn). O’Malley wants Eve to tell her father why she is there right away. General Wong is shown moving his artillery closer to the hill fort. He also has hostages staked out. Bradley tells Eve and O’Malley that they have to leave before the attack. Eve lies to her father that it is too dark to fly. Eve is taken to a room to clean up while Bradly gives O’Malley a tour of the defenses. Bradley says he is an explosives expert and has set out over 400 mines. General Wong’s cannon starts firing on the town.

After prompting, O’Malley tells Bradley about Bentik. Bradley says all of the formulas and patents are in Eve’s name and she will have plenty of money even if Bentik takes the company. O’Malley tells Eve about the conversation and gets ready to leave. Eve blows a gut when she finds out that O’Malley has told. Eve insists that they stay to help her father. When O’Malley goes outside, a shell explodes, and he falls to the ground pretending to be hurt. Eve runs out, and she really cares. O’Malley kisses her, and she kicks him in the butt.

I think your pretty and I want to kiss you. Eve goes the other way saying they will leave in the morning and she will pay him off as soon as they reach a bank.

That night O’Malley and Bradley get drunk and bond. Bradley tells O’Malley to get his daughter away from the battle.

In the morning, General Wong attacks the village. The first cannon shot wakes O’Malley. Bradley is shocked to see him still there. Just then Lillian, flow by Eve cuts around the corner of the skyline. Best scene in the movie! She drops bombs and shots with the machine gun. O’Malley psychicly gives her bombing advice. She is taking pretty heavy ground fire by her third pass. She knocks out the enemy cannon, and O’Malley is back in the fight.

High Road to China (1983)

High Road to China (1983)

Eve’s plane is hit, and she crash lands in a field. O’Malley takes a pistol and goes after her. He kills a couple of General Wong’s men, and he gets a horse. He makes it to the burning plane, and she is on the ground pretending to be hurt just like O’Malley did the day before. Her joke is interrupted as General Wong’s horsemen begin to attack Eve and O’Malley.

The villagers are fighting pretty well, and Bradley uses his mines to great effect. O’Malley gets the Lewis gun and covers Eve as she runs to a ditch. This is oddly similar to The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954).

Eventually, Bradley uses a mine to kill General Wong. His men lose the will to fight. Bradley and the villagers have won. The attack of Eve and O’Malley is called off. Eve thanks O’Malley for everything he has done for her. They are trapped without a plane. O’Malley almost lets her walk away but at last, calls her back for the kiss that seals their love. I guess they have a good life until all her money is lost in the stock market crash.

World-Famous Short Summary – The cattle are slow, and the earth is patient

I hope you enjoyed today’s show. I really appreciate you spending the time listening. You can find connections to social media and email on my site at classicmovierev.com. There are links in the podcast show notes as well. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to Apple Podcast and give me a review. It really helps the show get found.

Beware the moors

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085678/?ref_=nm_knf_t4
[2] https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/high_road_to_china/
[3] https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/high-road-to-china-1983

High Road to China (1983)

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