Saturday, April 28, 2018

They do explain the first five

Quite some time back, FXM had the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness in their rotation, and I recorded it then. I never got around to watching it because when I looked it up on the TCM Shop, it didn't seem to be in print on DVD. But the movie is going to be on TCM tomorrow afternoon at 2:00 PM, and again at 10:15 PM on May 7. (Amazon lists is on DVD and currently streaming for those who can do that.)

The movie is a dramatization of the life of Gladys Aylward, played here by Ingrid Bergman. Gladys was a British woman who, at the start of the movie, has no real prospects in the UK and has felt a calling, so she wants to become a missionary in China. The folks who run the mission don't think she's up to it, so she gets a job as a maid until she can save up to go to China.

Once she gets to China, she meets Jeannie Lawson (Athene Seyler), an elderly British woman who needs help running her inn and taking care of the people there while telling them Christian stories. Of course, Jeannie being old she dies fairly early in the story, leaving poor Gladys to take care of the inn, and ultimately a bunch of orphans, herself.

There are many of the usual tropes here, notably the local leader, the mandarin (Robert Donat), and the mixed-race military officer Lin Nan (Curd Jürgens credited as Curt). Gladys endears herself to the community by being willing to do things that locals won't, such as serving as an anti-foot-binding official, checking to make certain the loca girls are no longer having their feet bound. Or, seeing that the local prisoners get humane conditions. She's so good at what she does, and loves the place so much, that she takes Chinese citizenship and gets a Chinese name.

But it's the 1930s, which you may know from your history was a turbulent time in China because the Japanese had invaded Manchuria at the beginning of the decade and were about to invade much more of the country. Eventually, the war comes to Gladys' neck of the woods and she gets yet another batch of orphans dropped off at her door, so she has to take all of them on a difficult overland journey to the big city.

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was not my type of movie. I found it overlong, and filled with tiresome tropes of the type I've seen in all sorts of movies about China. Apparently, the real-life Gladys hated it too because it took a lot of liberties with the truth, which would have made an interesting enough movie in its own right. The one thing the movie has going for it is the nice cinematography. Well, that and Bergman's performance; she's competent in a thankless role.

As for the title, it's based on a legend that you wish people five types of happiness: wealth, longevity, good health, virtue, and a peaceful death in old age. As for the sixth happiness, that's one you have to find within yourself. But even here this is all bunk, as the inn was named the Inn of Eight Happinesses, eight being an extremely lucky number in China.

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