Posts Tagged ‘Robert Donat’

For the CinemaScope Blogathon: The Inn of the 6th Happiness

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 blogathon

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!       The Inn of the 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.

The Mandarin, Colonel Nan, and Gladys

The Mandarin, Colonel Nan, and Gladys

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!!

Telling the Colonel good-bye

Telling the Colonel good-bye

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.

Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward

Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward

The real Gladys Aylward

The real Gladys Aylward

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.

The Inn of the 6th Happiness poster 2

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.


Knight Without Armor: For the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma.”   Due to the quite different political philosophies of the former Soviet Union and of  Western Europe and the United States, movies made about Russians by Western film studios often focused on the evils of communism and Russians trying to escape it’s grasp.  This blog today is part of Movies, Silently‘s tribute to Russia in Classic Films.  Be sure to visit that fabulous site to read more entries about films from Russia and about Russia.

Russian Banner

In 1933, novelist James Hilton wrote Knight Without Armor, telling such a tale: In 1917, a Russian countess is trying to escape the country as the communists and the anti-communists are battling each other  with much bloodshed.  To her aid arrives a British man, a spy who has infiltrated a radical Russian political group.  He is the Knight, without a suit of armor, and he will do his chivalrous best to aid this lady in her efforts to escape.

Knight without Armor poster 1

British film producer Alexander Korda, head of London Films,  bought the rights to Hilton’s novel in 1936.  Hollywood must have at one time thought of  making a movie version of the novel because one of the best female screenwriters who had ever worked in Hollywood, Francis Marion, had written an adapted screenplay a few years prior to Korda’s interest in the film and he hired  Lajos Biro to write a new screenplay, using Marion’s as source material.  Jacques Feyder was brought on to direct and Miklos Rozsa created the music for the film.  This was the first film Rozsa ever scored music for; some of the music was his own creation and the rest he borrowed from Tchaikovsky.

British actor Robert Donat plays Ainsley J. Fothergill(what a name!)  He is an expert in the Russian language, an ex-pat reporter who is now working as an Russian to English book translator.  Due to an earlier critical article he wrote about Russia and its politics, he is kicked out of the country by the Tsar’s government.  Back in England and feeling depressed, Fothergill is asked to aid his government: become a spy with Secret Service, take on a Russian name and become a member of a radical political group, report back to Britain periodically about this group.  Fothergill accepts immediately and becomes Peter Ouranoff.

German actress (and future American Citizen) Marlene Dietrich plays the beautiful heroine, Countess Alexandra Vladinoff.  She visits England in 1913 to attend the Ascot horse races, returns to Russia and happily marries Count Adraxine.  Life is fine for her and then WWI arrives.  Her husband is made a colonel in the Russian Army and is killed in a battle.  WWI, for Russia, also unleashes a civil war: the Tsar’s supporters-The White Army vs the newly-created Communist Party, The Red Army.  Poor Countess Alexandra is caught in the middle of this civil war.  Her estate is overrun by the Red Army supporters and she is arrested for being an aristocrat.  Fortunately for her, our hero, Peter(aka loyal Britain Fothergill) is assigned to be her personal guard and take her to Petrograd(St. Petersburg) to stand trial.  Once on the train, however, Peter(Fothergill) falls in love with Countess Alexandra, and she falls in love with him.  The decision for both of them to  escape the country is easily made.

Marlene in one of her gorgeous gowns

Marlene in one of her gorgeous gowns

Pre-Countess days, Alexandria at the Ascot

Pre-Countess days, Alexandra at the Ascot

The suspense in this film is the myriad of obstacles that keep popping up to hamper this noble couple’s  efforts to escape.   Will these two lovebirds avoid the evil clutches of two warring political factions?  If they are caught, it could mean the death penalty for both of them.  Peter(Fothergill) is supposedly a Red supporter and if he’s taken captive by the Whites, it spells his doom.  The Countess is supposedly a White supporter and if she’s taken captive by the Reds, it spells her doom!  This Russian political stuff is tricky stuff!

Peter and Alexandria hiding in the woods

Peter and Alexandra hiding in the woods

Showing their hands to try and prove that they're really just peasants

Showing their hands to try and prove that they’re really just peasants

To see this interesting, suspenseful, romance film, Turner Classic Movies will be airing it next week, on March 18th, at noon/Eastern time, 11:00 am Central.  I searched Amazon to see if this movie is available for purchase and I could only discover that the dvds of the movie are from Italy, and I am not sure if they’ve been translated into English.  Fortunately, for those of you who don’t have access to Turner Classic Movies cable channel, a very kind soul has put Knight Without Armor on Youtube!

The other actors and actresses in this film were unfamiliar to me and I haven’t listed them because the main focus of the film is Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich, and that’s as it should be!  Donat is charming and debonair as the British spy/hero. Two years earlier he helmed  Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage thriller The 39 Steps.  Marlene Dietrich is sublime as the Countess.  She is gorgeous, her costumes are gorgeous, and she takes on the role with care and skill.

KWA title shot

Seek this film out for a look at Russia, it’s political infightings, but mostly for the love story.