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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Movie of the Week... Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing

"Love is a many-splendored thing,
It's the April rose that only grows in the early spring..."

I'll lay down a challenge for you...  If you're not at least almost in tears at the end of Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing, you may have no heart.  That goes for men and women alike.  While not a really a "tear-jerker", you certainly will have hoped for a happier ending.

Despite that, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing has a lot going for it.  First, there's the theme song.  It doesn't really matter who's singing it, although I really like the Frank Sinatra version myself, it's one of the loveliest songs written.  Repeated frequently throughout the film, you'll always think about lost love when you hear it from now on.  The setting is intriguing - post-World War II Hong King, and the story will sweep you up.

Han Suyin, played by Jennifer Jones, is the daughter of a Chinese father and a Flemish mother.  Widowed after the death of her first husband, a Chinese general, Suyin studies to become a doctor and eventually sets up in Hong Kong, working at the government operated hospital.  Attending a cocktail party at the British resident's home, Han Suyin meets Mark Elliott, portrayed by William Holden, a reporter who is instantly intrigued by the Eurasian doctor. 

Jennifer Jones as Han Suyin

Their romance develops throughout the movie, despite the barriers they face in a somewhat segregated society.  Suyin frequently states that she is "Eurasian", meaning in the context of the film that her identity is conflicted, not fully accepted by either the colonial English or the Chinese.  For his part, Mark Elliott is still married to a wife who will not give him a divorce, despite the fact that she lives in Singapore and has no interest in continuing her marriage.  Pressures against the relationship are brought to bear by the wife of the English resident, jeopardizing Suyin's position at the hospital, as well as the growing instability in China and Korea.  As a war correspondent, Mark is sure to be called away at any moment.

I won't give away the ending to the film, but let me say it's a sad one.  Although Jennifer Jones isn't best suited for her part, by the time you reach the climax of the film, you've entirely accepted her as the devoted Eurasian doctor changed by love.  And, as always, William Holden is completely believable in his role as a strong but genuinely loving partner in this romance.  Interestingly, it doesn't seem to matter who he's acting with, whether it's Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina and Paris When It Sizzles, Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard or Kim Novak in Picnic, Holden is able to pull off just about any roll credibly.

Despite their on-screen chemistry, Holden and Jones weren't particularly fond of each other off-screen.  Jones reportedly chewed garlic before her love scenes to put off Holden.  It's also notable that Jennifer Jones was married to David O. Selznick, one of Hollywood's preeminent producers (remember Gone With the Wind and just about every Hitchcock movie?).  She was not shy about calling on her husband when she wanted changes of any kind made and Selznick was happy to comply.

William Holden

Based on a true story, Han Suyin is still alive and lives in Switzerland and Hong Kong.  Ian Morrison, the British reporter who was portrayed as Mark Elliott, died in 1950.  Jennifer Jones passed away in 2010.

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing works on just about every level and, to make matters even better, is filmed in that glorious Technicolor that gives the films of the fifties that incredible look of color and depth that can't be duplicated.  So, grab a box of tissue and enjoy this movie.  You'll probably want to watch it again and again.

1 comment:

  1. No matter how many times I see that movie,it always is so beautiful and moving.It makes me want to visit HongKong too.