Based on the life of Gladys Aylward, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness features IngridBergman as Aylward (granted, Bergman’s accent makes her an unlikely Englishwoman, but shealso played a cockney wench in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, so what the hell). Desperate to be amissionary, but turned down by the society she approaches, Bergman makes her own way toChina, where her extreme goodness soon wins over everyone in sight. At the climax, during theJapanese invasion of China, she must…lead a group of 100 orphans over treacherousmountain terrain (an idea remade very closely a few years later by The Devil at 4 O’Clock). Sodescribed, the film might sound rather sticky, if not appalling in the manner of The Other Sideof Heaven. But unlike that film, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness does at least partiallyproblematize the issue of being a missionary. Bergman’s performance is winning, no matter howyou might steel yourself against it, and the sudden shift from what is essentially a comedy to nail-biting adventure is as assured as it is effective.
The soundtrack is available in both the original mono and a 2.0 stereo remix. Some mightprefer the mono, as the stereo version is afflicted by surround voices. In fact, the surroundelements are largely indiscriminate. On the other hand, they aren’t too powerful either, so theeffect on the dialogue is nowhere near as annoying as it is on many other such remixes.Conversely, there is very little by way of environmental effect. Still, miracles should not beexpected of a 1958 soundtrack. The music generally sounds good, though gets off to adistressingly gurgly start during the opening fanfare.
The original negative is, apparently, in very rough shape, so the restoration is quiteimpressive. The colours in particular are quite gorgeous Technicolor. There is still some damagevisible, but the most apparent difficulty is one that also afflicted Love is a Many-SplendoredThing: virtually every shot transition flickers as the colour jolts suddenly into the correct tint.The low-key strobing effect can be a rather distracting, though I did, eventually, get used to it(which is a good thing, given that the film lasts 158 minutes).
An absolutely top-notch commentary is provided by Nick Redman (who focuses particularlyon the real-life Aylward), Aubrey Solomon (whose specialty is the films of 20th Century Fox)and Donald Spoto (the Bergman expert). The other extras are slight, but the articulate, fascinatingand very informed commentary does run the entire length of the film, so there is a wealth ofinformation here. The other extras are a restoration comparison, two Movietone reels (featuringthe various celebrities showing up at the premieres of the film), the theatrical and Spanishtrailers, and trailers for the other films in the Studio Classics series. The menu is basic.
A very old-fashioned film, one that, for all sorts of reasons, shouldn’t work anymore. But itdoes. Spectacularly well. A classic.
Special Features List
- Feature Commentary
- Movietone Newsreels
- Restoration Comparison