Capra does Von Sternberg. Dense frames of latticework shot in a dreamy gauze by DP Joseph Walker. Stanwyck hides in these designs, trying to deny her forbidden lust. Nowhere to hide in those massive close-ups, though, as tremors of sexual longing and race hatred shudder through her face.
Despite the criticism it's received over the years--back then for its lurid depiction of miscegenation, nowadays for its flagrant Orientalism--it is arguably Capra's masterpiece... Stylistically, this film is more impressive than anything he did before or after. With help from cinematographer and longtime collaborator Joseph Walker, its chiaroscuro lighting and informed framing are reminiscent of Sternberg.
Frank Capra's very atypical drama about an American missionary (Barbara Stanwyck) taken prisoner by a Chinese warlord (Nils Asther) is not only his masterpiece but also one of the great love stories to come out of Hollywood in the 30s—subtle, delicate, moody, mystical, and passionate.