Bergamn Brings Happiness
"The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" is a story of two women, firstly the real Gladys Aylward on whose story the movie is based and secondly on Ingrid Bergman who delivers one of those performances as Gladys Aylward which makes you understand why she is a cinematic icon. It is also about a third thing, director Mark Robson who doesn't do anything fancy other than let the story unfold and Bergman to deliver a character which feels real despite some typical Hollywood tinkering. Now whilst over 50 years after "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" was released the name Ingrid Bergman is still known the name Gladys Aylward is lesser known but that doesn't make it any lesser of a movie and is a fantastic watch for those who loved the epic movies of a bygone year.
Believing she has a calling to be a Missionary in China, Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman - Indiscreet) doesn't let a rejection from the Chinese Missionary Association deter her for lack of qualifications and sets about earning the money herself to make it to China. Through hard work and a bit of fortune Gladys makes it to China taking the cheap but dangerous route via train across Russia to get to China where she is met by old missionary Jeannie Lawson (Athene Seyler). Whilst a constant struggle to break down the barriers as the locals are suspicious of her she finds allies in Capt. Lin Nan (Curd JÃ¼rgens - The Spy Who Loved Me) and The Mandarin of Yang Cheng (Robert Donat) who when disaster hits offers her work in order to keep the newly founded missionary running. Over the years establishing herself as a woman who gets things done and keeps her word Gladys becomes known as Jan-Ai and is respected in the community especially when war breaks out with the Japanese invading China, refusing to abandon the many orphans she has collected over the years.
I started this review with the mention of two women and whilst the name Gladys Aylward is not well known these days her story of faith, determination and compassion is an amazing one. It is because her story from not giving up at the first hurdle to befriending the Chinese who initially are sceptical is so fascinating that every part of "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" is enthralling. It is also entertaining as whilst we have a dramatization of her battles it is done with moments of light heartedness from moments of humour to a romance. Now I don't know how much of Aylward's story is changed although I am sure it has because "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" ends up very 1950s Hollywood in the mixture of elements but it makes it entertaining and that makes you want to watch to find out how it ends.
The other reason why it is entertaining and the other woman in this picture is because of Ingrid Bergman who is brilliant from start to finish. The tone of her performance is spot on so whilst you get a sense of the determination and belief that Aylward had to go on despite so many hurdles you also have the fun part such as the humour of dealing with Russian soldiers on a train who don't speak English. It's a perfect balancing act and when the story gets to China, well Wales doing a good job of masquerading as China, the warmth which Bergman radiates from her smile is magnificent. Okay so whilst we have drama I would never call it a gritty, realistic interpretation of Aylward but it is one which works perfectly for this style of movie.
Now "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" is very much about Ingrid Bergman and her performance but there are other actors to mention in particular Robert Donat as the Mandarin. That does mean by today's standards Donat's casting as a Chinese man is wrong but then his performance as an old Mandarin is good when getting across the fragility of the character. Now for those who know this won't be a surprise as not only had Donat's health declined so much in the years before making the movie that an oxygen tank was kept nearby but he also sadly died whilst the movie was still be made but his own personal fragility worked for the character especially during his final scene and in hindsight a touching one which sees him bid an emotional farewell. The other notable performance is from Curd JÃ¼rgens as Capt. Lin Nan, although it is notable for sounding and strangely occasionally looking like Tony Curtis.
What this all boils down to is that "The Inn of the Sixth Happiness" is still a marvellous movie which is a tale of two women, the powerful story of Gladys Aylward and the performance of Ingrid Bergman. It may be over 50 years old but it is still an entertaining movie full of style and a brilliant performance.