Today, I'm reviewing The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) starring Ingrid Bergman as missionary Gladys Aylward.
This article is part of The Second Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema.
One of Ingrid Bergman's most radiant performances is in the drama, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), where she plays English missionary Gladys Aylward, who devoted her life to helping the Chinese people.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness follows Aylward's story from the time she is a housemaid in London who longs to become a Christian missionary to China. Aylward is rejected by her church's mission because of her lack of formal education, but the determined woman books a railway passage to China anyway, where, thanks to the recommendation of her former employer (Ronald Squire), she becomes the assistant to an elderly missionary (Athene Seyler) in rural China. At first, Aylward has trouble adjusting to the local customs, but eventually she becomes a beloved member of the community, even becoming a much-trusted adviser to the local mandarin (Robert Donat), until the Japanese army invades China during World War II.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is based on the novel, The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess, which chronicles Aylward's amazing life story. 20th Century Fox bought the rights to Burgess' novel shortly after it was published, and producer Buddy Adler hired a renowned international cast that included Donat in his final film role, Austrian actor Curt Jurgens as a Chinese army officer who falls in love with Aylward, and Bergman, who had recently made her Hollywood comeback in Anastasia (1956) and Indiscreet (1958).
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness does take a few liberties with Aylward's life story. Some names were changed and the pious Aylward never embarked on a romance with a Chinese army officer or anyone else, but in many other ways the movie is an accurate portrayal of Aylward's experiences in China. The real Aylward did travel across Europe and Asia by railway to reach the rural village, and she did befriend the local mandarin, who converted to Christianity in her honor. Most astounding of all, during World War II she did lead a group of around 100 children to safety while climbing over dangerous mountain terrain and dodging the Japanese army. Go here for more of Aylward's life story.
Viewed today, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is an old-fashioned delight. The location shooting in North Wales, which stands in for the mountainous landscape of rural China, is breathtaking, especially during the escape scenes, and the performances are outstanding. Even Jurgens, who has the unfortunate task of playing a half Dutch, half Chinese officer (Sean Connery wisely turned this part down), gives a creditable performance, but the outstanding supporting part is played by Donat as the witty and wise Mandarin of Yang Cheng. The Academy Award-winning actor is always a welcome presence onscreen, but his death from a cerebral thrombosis only a short time after completing the movie, makes his performance especially poignant. His final goodbye in the movie is a fitting valedictory for a fine actor and a true gentleman.
|Ingrid Bergman filming The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958) in North Wales.|
I'll leave you with the children's song, "This Old Man." It is heard throughout The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, and it became a pop hit after the movie's release.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is available for streaming on Netflix Instant and for DirecTV subscribers. It is also available on DVD. Blu ray, and video on demand.