“You always make dictators strong, then wonder why you are not loved!”
An American ambassador (Marlon Brando) in the troubled southeast Asian nation of Sarkhan is surprised to learn that his former war buddy (Eiji Okada) is now a Communist, though Okada professes he is simply longing for national self-determination on behalf of his people.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Cold War
- Marlon Brando Films
- Pat Hingle Films
- Political Corruption
This unusual entry in Marlon Brando’s oeuvre — directed by his friend George Englund — is loosely based on a 1958 political novel of the same name by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, about “the failures of the U.S. diplomatic corps in Southeast Asia.” Indeed, the fictional country where this film takes place (shot largely in Thailand) is a thinly veiled depiction of Vietnam, and the tale aptly showcases the complexity of politics in such a nation, which is far from as black-and-white (i.e., Communism vs. Democracy) as Ambassador MacWhite (Brando) naively believes. Some of the initial sequences are quite effectively done — as when an American foreman overseeing construction of “Freedom Road” is murdered while giving a patronizing lesson to a local about the difference between a wrench and a “lench”:
… and the scene when Brando’s arriving car at the airport is seriously mobbed by a crowd of violent anti-American agitators.
Brando’s friendly reunion with an old war buddy (Okada) is less convincing, and quickly turns melodramatically sour, as we get to the gist of the narrative: Brando becomes convinced Okada has “turned Commie”, while Okada tries to explain that the construction of Freedom Road simply represents additional power for the prime minister, Kwen Sai (Kukrit Pramoj), courtesy of “the tanks that Wall Street sells.”
Meanwhile, we see do-gooding Americans like Pat Hingle’s Homer Atkins and his wife Emma (Jocelyn Brando) attempting to bring Western medical practices to the poverty-ridden nation:
… and Brando’s loyal wife (Sandra Church) ready and willing to provide him whatever support he needs.
DVD Savant describes this Universal Studios-produced film as “a noble stab at reality”, and that just about sums it up. It’s not must-see viewing but will likely be of interest to Brando fans.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- Marlon Brando as Ambassador MacWhite
- The impressively filmed riot sequence
No, though Brando fans will likely want to check it out.