A Movie A Day: THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS (1958)
My heart and mind are Chinese, only my blood is mixed.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Forgive me for being a day late with this installment. Christmas merriment with family took up all of yesterday and I barely squeezed in the viewing of this film, THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS, before getting to sleep around dawn. The holidays have successfully delayed me, but I’m in catch-up mood, so we’ll have a few AMADs posting today.
We follow the lovely Ingrid Bergman over from yesterday’s NOTORIOUS. THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS is a biopic of Gladys Aylward, a real life missionary who made her way to China from England because she heard a calling. She worked for her ticket, essentially putting it on layaway, adding a couple pounds at a time until she reached the full cost. She slaves away as a maid and notices the master of the house has a lot of books on China in his library, so she “borrows” them one at a time, reading up on the country.
When she is caught her boss is more interested in than upset, having spent a lot of time working in China. He keeps her employed until she has the ticket money and even gives her the name of a friend, an elderly woman (Athene Seyler) who is essentially doing what Bergman is aiming to do.
This is only the beginning of the eternal optimism of the character and how it infects those around her. The movie is very much about the power of positive thinking, which sounds all new age bullshitty, but in my experience it’s true. If you have a dream and you follow it people will go out of their way to help you, you’ll get support you never anticipated.
I guess you could plug in a religious overtone to that, but I’m not a religious guy and never felt particularly guided. However there is a feeling of being helped. I don’t believe it’s God necessarily, but what it is doesn’t matter. Karma, Jesus, Buddha, Fate, Destiny, Zeus, Lucas, Muhammad, basic human goodness or nothing at all… could be one, some, all or none, but the result is the same.
The first act of this movie is this innocent, cheerful being trying to achieve her dream. In Gladys Aylward’s case, she feels a calling from God to go to China, help the people and spread the gospel. China is a volatile place at this time and it’s a dangerous time. She is not experienced enough to be sent officially, so all the help she gets is from sheer force of personality.
This helps her not only get a train ticket, but helps her in a much more important way when she reaches the Russia/China boarder on the Transsiberian. She is ordered to get off the train by Russian soldiers and refuses. It’s a test of faith and of her commitment to her dream. Her stubbornness and determination sees her through in the end and she finds herself in China, looking up her contact.
THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS is a pretty long movie, about a reel shy of 3 hours and what I’ve described above all happens in the first 30 some minutes. It is Gladys Aylward’s first tests and we see her overcome many more, including befriending the Mandarin of the province, freeing Chinese girls from bound feet (a painful tradition in which the smaller toes of young girls were broken and bound tightly to give them extremely tiny feet… in the movie they say it is a way to keep the women smaller than the men, but I think it was more of a beauty tradition in real life), playing politics with the Governors of the region, etc.
Her Yoda is in the form of Athene Seyler, the elderly missionary with the bright idea of opening an Inn on the roadside offering free food, the only obligation being that when the guests are eating there will be stories of Christ told.
Strangely enough they don’t really focus on the religious angle to the missionary work, instead on the work they do to make life better for the people of the region. I’m all in favor of that. I hate being preached to and I really dislike the idea that these people go into different cultures to convince them that they’re wrong. That said, I think the best way a Christian can spread their faith is leading by example and that’s exactly what the women in this story do.
They don’t force their religion on anybody. There are no strings attached to anything but the Christ stories during meal time. Bergman adopts abandoned children (mostly “worthless” girls), risks life and injury to quell uprisings and gains a strong reputation for loving all people. It doesn’t matter if you’re a prisoner, a farmer or governor. Everybody is equal and equally deserving of love and kindness.
Seyler’s quiet strength and stubborn insistence to do the work herself makes her an endearing character and one that you’d never associate with missionary work. She’s almost gruff, but that makes you love her all the more. Seyler has a strong grandmotherly quality, instantly likable.
Bergman takes on this “important” role without making it feel like it’s an “important” role. She naturally handles the character and story so that it doesn’t feel like you’re being force-fed how “important” this movie is. This would be a huge Oscar bait movie today, with someone like Angelina Jolie starring, but still looking like a model. Bergman is hardly glamorous in this film, but is all the more beautiful for it.
Speaking of beauty, something has to be said of the cinematography by Freddie Young (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DOCTO ZHIVAGO). I’m a sucker for eye-popping Technicolor of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, but what struck me with this movie was how real the Technicolor came off. The candy colored process usually doesn’t lend itself to realism, more to a spectacular cinematic fantasy world, but here it felt restrained. Definitely beautiful, especially when featuring the Chinese landscapes, but not so much that it further separates the audience from the picture in front of them.
Both Curd Jurgens and Robert Donat are Caucasians playing Chinese and that could come off as offensive, but they don’t play up stereotypes. Like Christopher Lee in previous AMAD TERROR OF THE TONGS, these people seem perfectly suited for their roles and play them with subtlety, so I couldn’t find any offense in them. Of course, I’m not Chinese, so maybe that means my opinion doesn’t count for much on the subject.
Donat in particular is great as the Mandarin of Yang Cheng. He has the difficult role of being a hardass, traditional man who also has the desire to change in his heart. Where he ends up at the climax of the movie is progressive, to say the least, and that’s all on Donat’s shoulders to deliver believably. But more than that, he’s just a charming man and very funny.
Curd Jurgens is a Captain in the army, of mixed blood. He’s half Caucasian and that causes him some shame. Oddly enough, he seems to be the only one who cares, though. Nobody else thinks any less of him for not being full-blooded Chinese. What that does do is give an incredibly strong man a deep insecurity, humanizing him.
Jurgens and Bergan have a romance in this film that is not the focus of the film, but underlines every conversation between the two and influences their actions. Even though I wouldn’t call this a romance movie their love story is slowly built until it is almost crushing.
I would also like to spotlight an early turn by one Mr. Burt Kwouk as a prisoner who is helped and changed by the kindness shown by Bergman. In return, he risks his life for her and the many children she is shepherding out of the area when the Japanese attack. You’ll remember Kwuok as Cato from the PINK PANTHER series. He’s incredibly young in this movie and gets a real chance to show off his chops.
The direction by Val Lewton regular Mark Robson (ISLE OF THE DEAD, BEDLAM) is strong and assured. He’s telling a massive story, but doesn’t ever rush it or spend too much time focusing on unimportant details… you know, typical trappings when telling an epic story.
Final Thoughts: This movie isn’t mind-blowing and deeply emotionally affecting, but it does work. Ingrid Bergman’s lead performance carries the story. You do love this woman by the end of the movie and you will feel moved, just don’t expect to be worn out like at the end of DR. ZHIVAGO. I doubt the film will ever know appreciation from modern audiences, outside of cinephiles… it doesn’t have the iconography of something like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or BEN HUR and ultimately THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS is a small story told in a big way, unlike those other epics, which are big stories told in big ways. That doesn’t mean the film is full of flaw or hard to watch… on the contrary, it’s a very enjoyable experience still to this day, I just don’t think it has the cross-over appeal that makes it a cornerstone in the average filmgoer’s life.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Thursday, December 25th: THE HIGH COMMISSIONER (1968)
Friday, December 26th: THE SILENT PARTNER (1979)
Saturday, December 27th: PAYDAY (1972)
Sunday, December 28th: A STRANGER IS WATCHING (1982)
Monday, December 29th: THE NEW KIDS (1985)
Tuesday, December 30th: SERIAL (1980)
Wednesday, December 31st: THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970)
That’s one down. I got a few more to watch and write-up today then I’ll be back to current.
See you folks tomorrow for THE HIGH COMMISSIONER following the great Burt Kwouk over!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
December 11th: Being There
December 17th: The Party
December 18th: Casino Royale
December 19th: The Stranger
December 20th: Brother Orchid
December 21st: The Petrified Forest
December 22nd: Moontide
December 23rd: Notorious
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Dec. 26, 2008, 4:32 a.m. CST
Can't say that this one appeals to me much. It sounds like one of those films that was probably good for it's time.<p> It just really strikes me as funny watching those old movies and seeing white people attempt to play other races.
Dec. 26, 2008, 5:17 a.m. CST
It's made me more interested to see it as a result.
Dec. 26, 2008, 8:45 a.m. CST
Quint, thanks for the great review and giving this gem of a movie the exposure it deserves. As I mentioned in another AMAD talk-back we actually gave one of our daughters the middle name Aylward. I also appreciate your openness to this story, despite not sharing the same religious convictions as the protagonist. Gladys Aylward truly did live an amazing life and was a force for good. Sadly there are a lot of negative stereo-types that swirl around today about Christian missionaries. I personally know and support quite a few that are more like Aylward than the stereotypes. They quietly invest their energy in bettering the lives of those around them. The friendships they develop have no strings attached, except being granted an opportunity to tell them stories about Christ. Thanks again Quint for all your hard work on this column -- I'll miss the daily updates!
Dec. 26, 2008, 8:49 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
Bergman movie except for bits and pieces of the made for TV miniseries on Golda Meier. I'll have to look this up.
Dec. 26, 2008, 10:29 a.m. CST
by The Eskimo
...I don't want to open up a can of worms here, but, being a white male, I always cringe when a black character is portrayed as a white steroetype (think Carlton in Fresh Prince). So I'm sure it works the other way...the dirrenece is respect, as you said, but these days it seems like both a fine line AND a double standard on the part of everyone. Sometimes I wish we could all just get over ourselves because it's really a shame that you would even have to think about this kind of thing while watching a movie.
Dec. 26, 2008, 10:30 a.m. CST
by The Eskimo
...John Wayne as Ghengis Kan (sp?)
Dec. 26, 2008, 11:04 a.m. CST
Ah yes, but what do we call it when your boss doesn't FORCE you to have sex with him for a raise/promotion? It's not FORCED, but it IS something, isn't it?<br> <br> There are always so many more layers to these things than the perpetrators and their apologists would like you to notice. The statement in the subject is still fact, absolutely. But it doesn't give any of them a sort of absolute ethical pass either. Doing good is what it is, and charity is not required to take nothing. But usually in those cases it's required to consider itself something other than charity, no matter the exchange. You heritage? Traditions? Religion? Dignity? <br> <br> Like I said, good is what it is, but missionaries just leave a bad taste in my mouth. Not that I've eaten any.
Dec. 26, 2008, 11:05 a.m. CST
forgot to say GREAT review. I'm motivated to see this one.
Dec. 26, 2008, 12:50 p.m. CST
by Dr Eric Vornoff
A masterpiece, the greatest Holmes film ever made and maybe my favourite Wilder film (that or The Lost Weekend). Make sure you watch the reconstructions of the deleted segments on the DVD. I'd consider the full director's cut of this as on a par with Welle's original cut of Magnificent Ambersons or the 8 hour Greed in the annals of great lost films.
Dec. 26, 2008, 3:14 p.m. CST
Who plays Will Smith's part?
Dec. 26, 2008, 6:11 p.m. CST
That's a fantastic movie.
Dec. 26, 2008, 7:22 p.m. CST
Maybe for once Quint you shouldn't follow an actor or a director but instead a character. Maybe follow Sherlock Holmes from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes to The Seven Percent Solution?
Dec. 26, 2008, 10:50 p.m. CST
Damn you Mastidon
Dec. 27, 2008, 12:25 a.m. CST
THIS is why there needs to be diversity in movie reviewing. Quick, get the Asian guy who backs up our server and see if yellowface offends him -- he can speak on behalf of the 3.5 billion Asian people in the world. Come on, you guys should know better.
Dec. 27, 2008, 7:01 a.m. CST
Great movie, remember it as a kid and everytime I heard that song afterwards, I thought of this movie.
Dec. 27, 2008, 8:46 a.m. CST
by Paul Bucciarelli
Count me as another lover of The Private Life as well as The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution. Somebody needs to make movies (or maybe mini-series) out of The West End Horror and The Canary Trainer. And then after that, finally do The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness
Dec. 27, 2008, 8:47 a.m. CST
by Paul Bucciarelli
The Italian Secretary.
Dec. 27, 2008, 6:03 p.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
Bergman was indeed a singular screen 'presence'. I noticed that you have "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" coming up. Have you seen "The Seven Percent Solution"? IMO, Nicol Williamson may be the best Holmes ever on film.
Dec. 27, 2008, 6:13 p.m. CST
by Skyway Moaters
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