HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
HTS Overall Score:77
The name Gladys Aylward isn’t exact a household name when one thinks of famous missionaries, but in the time of the first few world wars she was a hot topic, especially in China. Gladys was a tiny cockney woman who was famous for leading a group of nearly 100 orphans out of the war zone during the Japanese occupation of China, in the 1930s. Most people actually didn’t know about her existence, except in China, until Alan Burgess wrote an autobiography about the little woman and skyrocketed her into the public arena. Soon after Hollywood decided that her story was ripe for the picking, turning it into a sweeping epic and a beautiful drama, in my opinion. While Hollywood did doctor it up a bit, a little romance here, a few issues there, the story is still poignant and sweet, creating an epic that has gone on as under rated in the annals of film history.
It’s always amusing watching Hollywood cast roles for real life people and events. Instead of the tiny cockney speaking Englishwoman, they decided to cast Ingrid Bergman, who is much better known for being a tall and statuesque woman with a rather unique Swedish accent. Add a little romance with a half Caucasian, half Chinese military man and you’ve polished it up nicely for the general public. As much as I may chuckle about the projected image of the homely missionary and her need for romance, the film itself is quite beautiful, with a gorgeous display of local color and dramatic tension that makes the 2 hour and 38 minute film pass more quickly than most 90 minute movies.
Here, Gladys Aylward is portrayed as a tour-de force, a woman of a calm and sweet nature, but one with the tenacity of a pit-bull. Sure that God has called to her the Chinese mission field, she is met with rejection at every turn. The missionary committee’s feel that she isn’t qualified, due to lack of formal training and set her up with a rich explorer to earn money. Little do they know, Gladys has not given up her goal and instead saves every penny that she can in order to buy passage to China by herself. By the grace of God she is pointed in the direction of Jeannie Lawson (Athene Seyler), an aging missionary in a city in the remote North of China, near the Russian/Chinese border. There she gains a foothold with the people as Jeannie and Gladys set up an inn, one where there is hot food, a warm bed and a nightly bible story to entertain the guests before they sleep.
Soon enough Jeannie Lawson suffers an accident leaving Gladys to take over the inn, with no help from the skeptical missions board, Gladys takes on the position of “foot inspector” for the local Chinese leader, named “The Mandarin” (Robert Donat) in order to earn money to keep the inn afloat. While there she also meets a progressive thinking military man by the name of Lin Nan (Curd Jurgens), who is repulsed by the foreign woman and hopes to get rid of her. Underestimating her tenacity Lin finds he’s running up against a brick wall and watches in amazement as the tiny woman worms into the hearts of the entire province, where the people call her “Jennai”, roughly translated as “the woman who loves the people”.
As time goes Lin Nan begins to fall in love with the kind hearted missionary and his walls start to crumble down. As fate would have it, their love is short lived, for at this time the Japanese begin their invasion of the Chinese continent, and Lin is called back by the government to rally with the troops. As history tells us, the Chinese were overwhelmed by the aggressive Japanese forces and now even the remote Northern provinces are under attack, including the little village that Gladys calls home. With dozens dead, or wounded, she rally’s forth and takes in all the remaining children and young women and begins a 2 week trip, over the treacherous mountains to the nearest missionary post in unoccupied China. Braving the wild, Miss Aylward as to find it within herself to make it to safety and to fulfill the purpose that she was led there to begin with and save her wards.
A sweet story and one that has a predictable outcome, “Inn of the Sixth Happiness” was incredibly well done and pulls at just the right heart strings. There are a few faults with the film, and it’s historically interesting to see a few Englishmen play certain Chinese rolls, most likely due to the lack of leading Asian men in Hollywood during that time period, but for the most part the changes flow nicely with the original biography of the real Gladys Aylward. Ingrid Bergman is, as always, a fantastic actress and plays the tenacious little woman, with a kindness and gentleness that makes you understand just how she got her Chinese monicker. Lin Nat was, of course, fictionalized in typical Hollywood fashion, but his acting as the cynical military Captain was well done and he played as a nice foil for Ingrid’s spitfire of a character.
Surprisingly heartwarming and loves to tug at the heart strings without mercy, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” is a testament to the mid-20th century era of creating sweeping epics and it does it nearly flawlessly. I didn’t know WHAT to expect when I went into the film, as this was a blind buy for me, but I ended up incredibly pleased and I can’t recommend the film enough for those of you who enjoy classic cinema.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14477[/img]I’m pleased to announce, that 20th Century Fox has done another good job of presenting us with a natural, and unmolested transfer for us once more. The 2.36:1 cinemascope film transfer looks very solid, considering there wasn’t a wild need for re mastering. There is a nice, healthy level of film grain, giving the movie a very authentic 50s look and adds a wonderful bit of flair to the old film, there is minimal scratches or dirt on the film print itself and the detail is quite extraordinary. Especially with the rich blue, red and other primary colored dresses of the Mandarin’s court. The countryside looks jaw dropping and there is a surprisingly minimal use of matte paintings, which were so common in that era. There is only a few minutes here or there that look a bit soft or out of focus as the camera pans across a wide shot, but that’s common with the optical effects used during the 50s. Black are very beautifully done, only really showing issue when they use the old fashioned “day for night shots”. A good transfer and one that I can say looks quite natural and pleasing to the eyes.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14478[/img]The 4.0 DTS-HD MA track isn’t going to be one for the demo track, but it does its job quite nicely considering its original sound design. The dialogue is smooth and clean, locked to the front two channels. Since it’s a mostly score and dialogue centered film, you can expect it to be relegated to the front two channels, except during the music or for the ending battle scenes. The surrounds are utilized a little bit more for ambient noises, but it’s not going to be a vortex of immersion like “Ender’s Game” was. It sounds quite pleasing and the balance of effects and dialogue is excellent, giving us a very true comparison to the original 4 track recording.
• Commentary with Nick Redman, Aubrey Solomon and Donald Spoto
• Fox Movietone News
If you hadn’t guessed, I’m a big fan of classic epics and the romanticism (and surprisingly accurate historical representation) of the movie was a surprise to me and I can happily say that it more than met my expectations. I’m also extremely glad that these last few batches of 20th century Fox titles have all had minimal to no digital manipulation done to them so we get to enjoy these classics without all the annoying DNR and image enhancement that is so prevalent in modern restorations. This is something that I can honestly give two big thumbs up to and say that it is a definite recommendation.
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Robert Donat
Directed by: Mark Robson
Written by: Isobel Lennart
Aspect Ratio: 2.36:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 4.0, Spanish, French DD Mono, Italian DTS 2.0
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 158 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: February 4th, 2014
Buy The Inn of the Sixth Happiness Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Check It Out
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