Wednesday, February 16, 2011

the hills are alive...

Ingrid Bergman made one of the most memorable comebacks in screen history. While making "Stromboli" in Italy in 1950, she fell in love with her married director, Roberto Rossellini, becoming pregnant by him. Times were different then. The American public, provoked by religious groups, ostracized an actress it once adored (Sister Benedict of "The Bells of St. Mary's"!) and, consequently, no Hollywood studio would touch her.

But six years later, she returned to American filmmaking with Anatole Litvak's "Anastasia," winning her second Academy Award. (The first was for "Gaslight.") It was obvious: All was forgiven. In 1958, she struck box-office gold with two hits - Stanley Donen's silky-smooth "Indiscreet" and Mark Robson's hugely popular "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness," the latter based the life of Gladys Aylward, a determined British woman who, most unlikely, became a missionary in China just prior to World War II.

The highlight of the film is its big finale when Bergman's Aylward escorts hundreds of Chinese children across mountain terrain while the kids sing the British traditional, "This Old Man." It's the greatest Rodgers and Hammerstein moment that had nothing to do with Dick and Oscar. Given the team's penchant for singing kids ("The King and I" and "The Sound of Music"), it's odd they never musicalized Aylward's story for the stage.

"The Inn of the Sixth Happiness," which runs an epic 158 minutes, is also noteworthy for the unusual participation of the fine German actor Curt Jürgens and the British Robert Donat in Chinese roles. While such casting would be eschewed today, considered politically incorrect and insensitive, the fact is both actors deliver solid, convincing performances, particularly Jürgens, who with little make-up, convincingly gives the appearance of the half-Chinese officer Colonel Lin Nan. (His father was Dutch.)

Mark Robson received the film's only Oscar nomination, which was more than well-deserved.

Turner Classic Movies, which has aired several difficult-to-see Fox films lately (Nunnally Johnson's "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," Henry King's "Tender Is the Night" and Henry Koster's "Good Morning, Miss Dove," for examaple - all with Jennifer Jones), will screen "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" at 5:15 p.m. (est) on Sunday, 20 February.


kim m. said...

I agree with you on two counts here. Yes, yes, this material was made for R&H, and absolutely, jürgens is remarable in his role.

Beef said...

I've always loved this movie--and it's odd, as you point out, that only director Mark Robson was nominated for an Oscar. The sets, costumes, cinematography, and score were all definitely worthy of at least a nomination! 1958 was a strong year in the acting categories, but it's sort of puzzling that Bergman and Donat didn't get Academy Award nods. This was a great role for Ingrid, and she was very memorable in "Inn"--Donat, too.