When I discovered that Becky of Classic Becky’s Brain Food and Rich of Wide Screen World were co-hosting a blogathon all about movies filmed in Cinemascope, I decided to participate. I chose The Inn of the 6th Happiness, which starred Ingrid Bergman and was made in 1958 by 20th Century Fox. Before I get into the movie’s plot, what in the world was CinemaScope?
CinemaScope was the process of filming a movie with a lens that made the images on the screen two and a half times as wide as they are high. It was popular in Hollywood from 1953-1967. From my research, Hollywood was a bit downhearted when televisions began to be purchased by the American consumers. Attendance numbers at movie theaters nationwide started to drop. The movie studios needed another tactic to entice the movie goers back into the theaters so advertising a new movie as eye-catching, with surround sound, was one marketing tool used to great effect. CinemaScope, indeed, did help to pull Americans back into the theatres and away from their tiny television screens. For more technical details about CinemaScope, read this link and this link. Now, on to The Inn of 6th Happiness!
This movie is based on the real life adventures of English missionary Gladys Aylward and her life in China. Gladys’s life had been successfully told in the book, The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess. 20th Century Fox bought the film rights and the movie was made, shot in Wales and alas, not in China. To have a lot of Chinese orphans on hand, since the real Aylward helped orphans in China, the children from Liverpool’s China Town were hired to be in the film! I had no idea Liverpool had a China Town, and from my readings, it is the oldest Chinese settlement in Europe.
Ingrid Bergman stars as Aylward, with her two main co-stars, Curt Jurgens as Colonel Lin Nan, Robert Donat as the Mandarin of Yang Cheng. Athene Seyler plays Jeannie Lawson, Ronald Squire as Sir Francis Jamison, Moutltrie Kelsall as Dr. Robinson, and Burt Kwok as Li.
Gladys Aylward has only had one desire in her life, to be a missionary, and specifically, in China. Due to her family’s poverty, she had to drop out of school and became a house maid. She worked hard, saved her earnings, and wrote to the China Inland Mission, an organization in England that began in 1865.(It is now known as Overseas Missionary Fellowship or OMF.) Due to Gladys lack of a full education and her age, the mission turned her down. Determined to get to China, Gladys saved enough money to purchase a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Railway. It was a lower-priced fare because it was a more dangerous route to take of the two that existed in the late 1920s for travel to China from England. Gladys arrives in China, gets to the town of Yang Cheng, and obtains employment at The Inn of 6th Happiness, which is owned and operated by English missionary Jeannie Lawson. Pretty soon, Gladys has proved herself a valuable asset at the Inn, and when Lawson dies in an accident, Alyward goes on with running the Inn rather than closing its doors.
Yang Cheng is run by the Mandarin, sort of like the town mayor, but a mayor for life. He calls on Gladys and asks her to undertake a project:go into Yang Cheng and the surrounding smaller villages and convince the citizens to stop binding their young daughters feet. The binding of young girls feet began hundreds of years before the 1920s, and despite the crippling effect it had on a foot’s development, the Chinese government had a difficult time in eradicating the practice. Gladys succeeds at stopping the foot binding and even finds time to stop a prison uprising! She greatly impresses the Mandarin who decides to look into this God that she believes in. Gladys has also caught the eye of Colonel Lin Nan, a half-Chinese, half-European man. He is worried for Gladys when news reaches them that Japan has now invaded China. The colonel urges Gladys to flee Yang Cheng but she tells him she can’t due to the 50 orphans who have turned up at her Inn, needing help.
When Yang Cheng falls under attacks from the Japanese Air Force, the citizens know that the army will soon follow, and the exodus begins. Gladys doesn’t know what to do with the 50 orphans who have arrived at the Inn for help. Colonel Lin finds out that in the neighboring province trucks will be there and they can take Gladys and the orphans to a safer place in China. However, Gladys only has 3 weeks to get the orphans to the trucks and they will have to climb a mountain region to get there! With Li as her only other adult helper(he being the former prison revolt leader)they prepare to depart. On the day of leaving the Inn, 50 more orphans arrive from a neighboring village!! Gladys and Li have no choice but to also add those children to their original 50. Gladys and Li move forward with their journey, to get over the mountain with 100 orphans and get them to safety!!
The Inn of the 6th Happiness was a box office smash. It was the second most popular movie in Britain in 1959. Director Mark Robson was nominated for Best Director at the 1959 Academy Awards. Sadly, it was the last movie Robert Donat would ever appear in. He was plagued with horrible asthma most of his life and shortly after he began the movie, he discovered that he had a brain tumor. He died shortly after all of his work was done in the film, his last line in the movie proving prophetic: “We shall not see each other again, I think, Farewell.”
Gladys Aylward was still alive and working with orphans in Taiwan when the movie arrived at theatres. While the book The Small Woman was a correct account of her life, the movie version horrified her! First, she herself was a very petite woman and who did they cast to play her but 5’9″ Ingrid Bergman! Second, Aylward was English and spoke with a Cockney accent, not a Swedish accent as Bergman did. Third, there was no romantic notions between Aylward and the real Colonel Lin, who was 100% Chinese. Aylward was very upset that they made Lin a mixed nationality person as she felt it demeaned his real heritage;she was also horrified at the hints that they had been in love with each other. Aylward devoted her life to working in China, serving those in need, and had decided a long time ago to not have a husband or a family of her own. Fourth, the movie hardly mentioned her difficulties in becoming a missionary and the difficulties she had in getting to China. The train she took stopped in Siberia and wouldn’t continue on to China so Aylward had to walk the rest of the way! In the film, Aylward just has to put up with some rude soldiers and the train takes her right to Tsientsin! The real Inn was named The Inn of the 8th Happiness due to the number 8, in China, being considered special or auspicious. Why Hollywood changed the number from 8 to 6 also perplexed Aylward. Despite her frustrations with the movie, the book and the movie both gave her a bit of cause celeb and she was able to use her new found fame to shine the focus onto her work in Taiwan with the orphans.
The Inn of the 6th Happiness-where can you see it in it’s glorious CinemaScope? From time to time it does air on Turner Classic Movies, a kind soul has put the film on Youtube, it’s available to buy or watch on instant rent through Amazon, and it’s also available to buy through TCM’s Shop, in a blu ray or a regular dvd format.
For a heartwarming and intelligently told film, despite the real Gladys Aylward’s reactions to it, seek out this film, one that the whole family can watch together. Here is the trailer for the film.