China Girl is a 1942 “war” movie that some might call propaganda. The Americans are the good guys; the Japanese are the bad – cold-blooded executioners all. Starring Gene Tierney and George Montgomery, the film recounts the savage Japanese invasion of China in early World War II.
Tierney, renowned as the most beautiful actress ever to grace the silver screen, plays the half-Chinese, half-white daughter of her stoic Chinese father who runs a school for young Chinese children. Montgomery plays a dashing, devil-may-care American news photographer. The two fall in love.
What’s great about the movie (besides the early forties slang: scram, swell, dame, joint, jalopy) is the depiction of the American character: rugged, ambitious, fearless, enterprising, resourceful, defiant of authority, selfish yet noble when push comes to shove. We rarely see such a depiction in movies today.
Another theme of the movie is the incredible bravery, discipline and character of the Chinese people in the face of the furious Japanese onslaught. In one scene the Japanese air force mercilessly bombs a Chinese village. Tierney and her father are teaching school in the middle of the raid. As walls are collapsing around them, Tierney and her father keep the young children from panic by reciting the following poem.
No credit is given to the poem’s author, other than a reference in the script that it was written by a famous writer on the other side of the world. The movie was written by Ben Hecht, one of Hollywood’s greatest writers and an early advocate of America’s entry into the war against Hitler. I suspect the poem was his.
The poem is a moving tribute to hope and heroism in the face of tyranny. It is an inspiration to freedom-fighters the world over. I transcribed it as best I could from the movie’s dialogue. I apologize to the author for any inaccuracies.
How small are we beside the king.How little is our hand to raiseAgainst the awful bludgeoningOf wicked men who rack our days.How tiny is the voice we ownBeside the tyrant’s trumpet blare.How unheard is the little groanWe utter in our great despair.We are the easily slain. Death callsUs everlastingly to him,And yet it is our hand that holdsThe light aloft that none can dim.No tyrant’s dream of earthly might,No canon roar, nor battle toll,Can quench this small but holy lightOf freedom rising from our soul.The little glow of love that keepsThe face of mankind always fair,Out of our agony it leaps.It died and died and still ‘tis there.Above the graves where heroes lieThere gleams the light of victory.For freedom’s soldiers when they dieHand down their spirit to the free.