Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The (1958)

“You feel where you belong, as if you’re told; for me, it’s China.”

Synopsis:
A young housemaid (Ingrid Bergman) determined to become a missionary in China saves up enough money to travel there from Britain, and finds work helping an older missionary (Athene Seyler) run an inn. Soon she finds herself a respected member of a local community led by an aging mandarin (Robert Donat), and falls in love with a half-Chinese captain (Curd Jurgens), who warns Donat and Bergman of an impending invasion by Japan.

Genres:

Review:
Based upon the real-life adventures of missionary Gladys Aylward, this lushly photographed biopic (directed by Mark Robson) notoriously took some liberties with Aylward’s life, to the point where Aylward herself renounced the film. She was most upset about the inclusion of a romantic subplot, given that she claims never to have even kissed a man; see Wikipedia’s article for more specific complaints. Regardless, Inn… remains an entertaining film about a fascinating personality, played to perfection by Bergman (who looks nothing like Aylward; naturally, Aylward complained about this, too). Bergman/Aylward’s utter conviction that she belongs in China rather than England gives one renewed faith in the notion that we all may have a specific path to follow, if we’re willing to listen to our hearts and follow our passions. Aylward never questions the challenges she faces, instead simply accepting them as part of the life journey she’s meant to undertake; for instance, she adopts numerous orphans throughout the course of the film, never doubting whether she has the ability or the resources to care for them — they simply become a part of her ever-expanding household.

The culminating sequence — chronicling Aylward’s harrowing cross-country journey to bring 100+ orphans to safety in the midst of a Japanese invasion — is likely what most viewers will remember years after viewing this film; it remains a gripping adventure, especially knowing that it really occurred. Much less involving is Bergman’s romance with Jurgens, which comes across as strictly Hollywood, and should likely have been cut altogether (the film runs too long as it is); Aylward’s complaint was accurate in this case. However, Bergman’s relationship with Donat’s aging mandarin remains of interest, as we view his growing respect for the vital qualities she brings to his village — most specifically her ability to convince villagers to finally give up the barbaric practice of foot-binding. Her final scene with Donat (who died during the film’s screening) is genuinely touching, and will surely bring a lump to any ff’s throat.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
  • Fine cinematography by Freddie Young
  • The harrowing final escape sequence

Must See?
No, though it’s definitely worth a one-time look. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The (1958)”

  1. Not must-see.

    Made in the somewhat-declining period of director Robson’s career, this is a rather forgotten film today – and that’s more or less for the best. I’ll leave it to historians as to what’s accurate and what isn’t – but the film doesn’t hold up as being all that compelling (its final, escape sequences notwithstanding – there is reason to be moved a bit at the end). The story is told in a manipulative manner and, overall, the acting comes off as ‘acting’ rather than the reflection of lives imaginatively lived-in. It could, of course, just be me but, on this first rewatch since childhood, I hardly felt a thing through most of it.

    Compare, for example, this sentimental slice of Chinese history with another film about China that really does pack a punch: ‘The Sand Pebbles’.

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