A romanticized biography of English missionary to China Gladys Aylward, Mark Robson’s The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is nevertheless a bracing, entertaining docudrama. As another in a series of successes welcoming back Ingrid Bergman to English-language films and filmmaking, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness contains all of the components audiences of the era were looking for in a drama of this epic length: some thrills, some comedy, some local color, and some romance, and the film plays just as well now for viewers as it did then.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 4.0 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono), French 1.0 DD (Mono), Other
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hrs. 38 Mins.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 02/04/2014
Eager, hard-working Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman) feels a real calling to do missionary work in China, but she doesn’t have the knowledge or training to gain an appointment, so she works for a couple of years to earn her own passage and eventually finds a champion in Mrs. Lawson (Athene Seyler), an elderly lady who is already at work in a small village in northern China. Once she arrives, she becomes Mrs. Lawson’s assistant until her untimely death at which time she takes on a succession of challenging jobs from the local Mandarin (Robert Donat) which over time earns her the title of “one who loves,” an entry into almost any city or rural situation. She finds romance with a Eurasian colonel (Curt Jurgens) just at the moment of the outbreak of hostilities between China and Japan. As her village is overrun by the enemy, she must transport one hundred orphans through treacherous forest and mountainous regions to safety from the Japanese.
The Production Rating: 4/5
Based on the book The Small Woman by Alan Burgess, Isobel Lennart’s screenplay and Mark Robson’s Oscar-nominated direction keep things moving at a steady clip through more than two-and-a-half hours of screen time. Gladys’ interactions with angry male peasants who are against the new laws outlawing the binding of the feet of females, with rioting prisoners who want only dignity and fairness, and with vigilantes whose trust she wins with her own brand of charming stubbornness are all interesting and involving sequences and which endear the character completely to the viewer. Though the rocky, sprawling plains of Wales have to double for the Chinese countryside, Robson and his cinematographer Freddie Young capture the beauty and harshness of the conditions wonderfully, and the film isn’t harmed at all with this necessary change of locale when local Asian governments hedged on earlier promises of cooperation. Since the Production Code was still in effect during the film’s production, most of the extreme violence happens off camera (a beheading, close-ups of the bound women’s feet as they’re completely unwrapped) though a couple of beloved characters do meet their ends but without undue grotesqueries. And Robson handles the climactic journey to safety with the challenges of cold, hunger, and Japanese soldiers and aircraft all around with superb control and mounting tension.
Though tall, Swedish Ingrid Bergman seemed probably the least appropriate casting for the short, very-English Gladys, her emotional warmth and hearty camaraderie with all she meets negates any problems with her in the leading role, and she gives a touching, joyous performance (though she wasn’t Oscar nominated, she did win the National Board of Review’s Best Actress award). Curt Jergens is reliable and affecting as the army officer who gradually falls under Gladys’ spell. In his last performance, screen legend Robert Donat as the Mandarin is also greatly moving with his relationship with Gladys likewise evolving from one of mistrust to deep and loyal affection. As Gladys’ valuable assistants at the inn and in her work, Michael David, Peter Chong, and Burt Kwouk offer memorable support, and Ronald Squire as her British employer and Moultrie Kelsall as a missionary who doubts her suitability to the task also make the most of their small opportunities.
The film is presented in its theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio and in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Sharpness is outstanding throughout apart from an isolated shot here or there. Color is nicely maintained even if flesh tones occasionally veer from pinkish-purple to slightly brown. Contrast is nicely consistent. Black levels are only rather average, but the overall quality is quite excellent, and the image is spotlessly clean. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 sound mix offers a good use of both the front and rear channels. There is some directionality to the dialogue, and it has been well recorded and is always clearly presented. Malcolm Arnold’s lovely music (which also works into the mix the old children’s chestnut “This Old Man” in much the same way he used “The Colonel Bogey March” in his score for The Bridge on the River Kwai) sounds lush in its surround encoding, and you’ll note nice use of the rear channel for ambient sound effects throughout the film’s lengthy running time. Modern sound mixes obviously could do much more with the bass in the Japanese bombing sequences, but for a film of this era, the sound design is quite good.
Audio Rating: 4/5
Audio Commentary: three film historians offer their expertise in this excellent commentary: Nick Redman speaks of the real life of Gladys Aylward, Aubrey Solomon focuses on the film’s production, and Donald Spoto concentrates on the life of Ingrid Bergman and the film’s place in her life story.
Special Features Rating: 2.5/5
Fox Movietone News (1:04, 1:05, SD): two newsreels capture the film’s premieres in both Los Angeles and New York.
Theatrical Trailers (each 3:08, SD): both the English language and Spanish subtitled versions of the trailer are introduced by Ingrid Bergman.
Still an enjoyable and absorbing screen biography, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness comes to Blu-ray in a wonderful high definition transfer which offers excellent picture and sound. Definitely recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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