The Adventures of Marco Polo

For the American musical group, see The Markko Polo Adventurers.
The Adventures of Marco Polo

1938 US Theatrical Poster
Directed by Archie Mayo
John Ford (uncredited)
Produced by Samuel Goldwyn
George Haight
Written by N.A. Pogson
Robert E. Sherwood
Starring Gary Cooper
Sigrid Gurie
Basil Rathbone
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Rudolph Maté
Archie Stout
Edited by Fred Allen
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
  • April 7, 1938 (1938-04-07)

(New York City)[1]

Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2 million[2]

The Adventures of Marco Polo is a 1938 drama-adventure genre film, and one of the most elaborate and costly of Samuel Goldwyn's productions.[3]


Nicolo Polo shows treasures from China and sends his son Marco Polo (Gary Cooper) there with his assistant (and comic relief) Binguccio (Ernest Truex). They sail from Venice, are shipwrecked, and cross the desert of Persia and the mountains of Tibet to China, to seek out Peking and the palace of China's ruler, Kublai Khan (George Barbier).

The philosopher/fireworks-maker Chen Tsu (H. B. Warner) is the first friend they make in the city, and invites them into his home for a meal of spaghetti. Children explode a fire-cracker, and Marco thinks it could be a weapon. Meanwhile, at the Palace, Ahmed (Basil Rathbone), the Emperor's adviser, harboring dubious ambitions of his own, convinces Emperor Kublai Khan that his army of a million men can conquer Japan.

Kublai Khan promises Princess Kukachin (Sigrid Gurie) to the King of Persia. Marco, arriving at the palace, sees Kukachin praying for a handsome husband. Marco is granted an audience with the emperor at the same time as a group of ladies-in-waiting arrive; Kublai Khan lets Marco test the maidens to find out which are the most worthy. Marco tests them all with a question ("How many teeth does a snapping turtle have?"), and he sends off the ones who had incorrectly guessed the answer, as well as those who had told him the correct answer (none), retaining those saying they did not know. His reasoning behind this is that they are the perfect ladies-in-waiting, not overly intelligent, and honest. Kublai agrees and Marco immediately becomes a favored guest. Ahmed shows Marco his private tower with vultures and executes a spy via a trapdoor into a lion pit. Kukachin tells Marco that she is going to marry the King of Persia, but, having fallen in love with her, he shows her what a kiss is. A guard tells Ahmed, who vows to keep Marco out of the way. Ahmed then advises Kublai Khan to send Marco into the desert to spy on suspected rebels. Kukachin warns Marco of the deceiving Ahmed.



Contemporary reviews were mixed. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times wrote that "we could never forget for a moment that it was all make-believe," referring to the actors' accents which were clearly inaccurate for the film's time and place. However, he went on, "it is amiable make-believe, rich in the outlandish pageantry Hollywood loves to manufacture, facilely narrated and enjoyably played."[4] Variety called the film "a spectacular melodrama" and "an excellent vehicle for Cooper" and inaccurately predicted that it would be a box office hit.[5] Film Daily called the film a "thrilling, romantic offering" and called Cooper an "excellent" choice for the role.[6] Harrison's Reports found "Expert performances" and a romance "handled in good taste," but found that its appeal would be limited to "sophisticated audiences" because it was lacking in action.[7] John Mosher of The New Yorker called the film "a big disappointment" and described the dialogue as having "the swing of a bad libretto."[8] Motion Picture Daily praised the "lavish" production but said the title role would have been much better suited to Rudolph Valentino than Gary Cooper.[9] The New York Sun wrote, "In spite of its elaborate settings and the presence of Gary Cooper, The Adventures of Marco Polo never quite lives up to its promises."[10]

In Italy, the fascist censors considered the film disrespectful to the eponymous hero and insisted on re-dubbing it to make the protagonist a Scotsman and releasing it under the title Uno Scozzese alla corte del gran Khan.[11]

The film was a box office flop, losing an estimated $700,000.[12]


  1. Hanson, Patricia King, ed. (1993). The American Film Institute Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the United States: Feature Films, 1931-1940. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 11. ISBN 0-520-07908-6.
  2. Stephens, E.J.; Christaldi, Michael; Wanamaker, Marc (2013). Early Paramount Studios. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing. p. 118. ISBN 9781467130103.
  3. The AFI Catalog of Feature Films: The Adventures of Marco Polo
  4. The New York Times Film Reviews, Volume 2: 1932-1938. New York: The New York Times & Arno Press. 1970. pp. 1488–1489.
  5. "Film Reviews". Variety. New York: Variety, Inc. February 16, 1938. p. 17.
  6. "Reviews of the New Films". Film Daily. New York: Wid's Films and Film Folk, Inc.: 8 February 15, 1938.
  7. "The Adventures of Marco Polo". Harrison's Reports. New York: Harrison's Reports, Inc.: 47 March 19, 1938.
  8. Mosher, John (April 9, 1938). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker. New York: F-R Publishing Corp. p. 91.
  9. "Hollywood Preview". Motion Picture Daily. New York: Quigley Publishing Co.: 4 February 15, 1938.
  10. Marill, Alvin H. (1976). Samuel Goldwyn Presents. A.S. Barnes. p. 192. ISBN 9780498016585.
  11. Abend-David, Dror (2014). Media and Translation: An Interdisciplinary Approach. New York: Bloomsbury. p. 101. ISBN 9781623566463. Retrieved 28 August 2015.
  12. Miller, John M. "The Adventures of Marco Polo". Turner Classic Movies. Turner Entertainment Networks. Retrieved September 14, 2015.
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