Monday, 24 November 2008

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)

Occasionally, when opportunity allows, I choose to rewatch a well-thought of film that has not lingered in my thoughts nor formed part of my vast list of well-loved movies, in the hope that time and distance might lend new enchantment. Such was the case here since this film has (on paper) much going for it: the ever-watchable Ingrid Bergman playing a real-life heroine Gladys Aylward, the ever-likeable Robert Donat in his last film role, and a generally heartwarming, life-affirming story. However my final reaction after more than two and a half hours' running time -- during which several many pots could have boiled -- is that this earnest tale of a missionary in China during the build-up to the Japanese invasion of the late 30s outstays its welcome.

It is something of a problem that we have a Swede playing English (Bergman never really bothered with accents and by and large these did not distract from her performances), an Englishman playing a mandarin (more of a problem), and a German (Curt Jurgens) playing a half-Dutch/half-Chinese soldier. Further one can't help associating Burt Kwouk with the comic Pink Panther franchise and seeing him playing a self-sacrificing peasant feels unreal. However based on fact this rendering may have been, it all went on in too much detail and far too long. The hills of North Wales filled in rather well for not being able to shoot on location in China and the film-makers seem to have recruited an amazing number of British toddlers of oriental descent to illustrate the trek across the mountains to safety. That the Aylward charcter was then planning to return to the war zone in search of her love Jurgens ended the film on an overly romantic and not quite believable note -- too Hollywood by half.

I'm still thinking about saying more about the latest "Hellboy" flick, but whether this translates into action remains to be seen...
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