Inn of the Sixth Happiness
Unlike some legendary Hollywood actresses, Ingrid Bergman aged quite gracefully on film. As she died somewhat prematurely, while still in her 60s, Bergman retained her beauty and elegant demeanor into middle age. And she chose wisely with respect to her artistic vehicles. Never exploiting the 1960s craze for low-budget shockers, as did many of her contemporaries, Bergman continued to appear in high- caliber cinematic ventures featuring world-class directors and supporting casts. One of her mature films was the 1958 Inn of the Sixth Happiness, based on a biography of Gladys Aylward, a British missionary in China during the 1930’s.
Born of modest means, Aylward felt the calling so strongly, that she worked as a domestic in order to raise enough money for her train fare east. Surviving a harrowing journey through war-torn Russia, she finally arrived at a mission in Northern China, run by an eccentric, elderly woman. Upon the woman’s sudden death, Aylward was forced to assimilate herself into her new surroundings, and win the confidence of the local ruler, and a backward, and often hostile, populace. Her efforts won her the respect of all, and the love of a Eurasian army official. Yet her work was savagely interrupted by the Japanese attack on China at the outset of the WWII.
Curiously ignored by the Academy, "Inn of the Sixth Happiness "features some superb acting, particularly from Bergman in the featured role. Veteran actor Robert Donat is fine as the ruling Mandarin, as is distinguished German actor Curt Jurgens, playing Gladys’ love interest. Earning the film’s only Oscar nomination, Mark Robson provides seamless direction. Though originally scheduled to be shot in China, "Inn..." was instead filmed in Wales. However, the elaborate sets are historically and architecturally convincing, as are the expansive outdoor vistas; and everything looks terrific in the richly colored, Cinemascope photography.
With its opulent visuals, and epic, 2 ½ hour length, "Inn of the Sixth Happiness" is a logical candidate for the Blu-ray format. Fox’s new edition does not disappoint. The high-def transfer offers richer color and noticeably sharper definition than the earlier DVD release. The lush score of master film composer Malcolm Arnold comes through with excellent separation, as does the dialogue, in the DTS-enhanced, four-channel sound. The special features are meager, and include a few brief video clips of the film’s star-studded premiere. Be sure not to miss the superlative audio commentary on the life of Gladys Aylward, and the making of the film, well executed by film historians Aubrey Solomon, Nick Redman, and Bergman friend and biographer Donald Spoto.
Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)