The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is an exceptional movie. Made even more exceptional by the fact that it’s based on a true story. It’s the story of Gladys Aylward (performed by Ingrid Bergman, Casablanca in a great performance). A British woman in the early 20th century who feels called by God to be a missionary in China.
Since she has no education or qualifications, the Missionary Society refuses to send her. Gladys steadfastly believes that God has called her there. So she works as a servant, putting money aside from each paycheck until she can afford a one-way trip to China. Once she’s there, she swiftly finds that her struggle is only beginning …
Gladys is an indomitable woman. She faces her share of self-doubt, but whose faith prods her on. Gladys begins by loving and serving the Chinese people. She is eventually given the name of “She who loves me“. The local Mandarin (Robert Donat, in a truly great performance) uses her as the official foot inspector of the district. This is to comply with an order to put an end to the barbaric practice of foot binding. This serves a dual purpose. It allows Gladys to earn a living, and lets her meet and care for the women of the district.
Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman): [handing a Chinese girl to her father] Here, the next time you want her feet bound, bind them yourself, not the woman, and you listen to her screams.
She becomes a Chinese citizen, a trusted adviser to the Mandarin. Gladys even helps quiet a prison riot by showing true concern for the prisoners. She shows the desire to treat even the worst of them as human beings. A half-Chinese military officer, played by Curt Jurgens (Me and the Colonel) is at first dismissive. He gradually softens, and eventually becomes loving toward Gladys — another great performance.
Gladys begins adopting abandoned and orphaned Chinese children — and becomes crucial to their survival when China is invaded by Japan. The acting, cinematography, and direction are all excellent. The film does take some liberality with the actual story, but in all remains truthful to the actual story. It’s not a documentary, but also not a sensationalized typical Hollywood film, either. It’s a very good film, and I rate it 4 stars out of 5.
Editorial review of The Inn of the Sixth Happiness courtesy of Amazon.com
An epic and extraordinary true story–or, at least, an extraordinary story based on a novel (Alan Burgess’s The Small Woman) based on a true story. Gladys Aylward (an improbably mesmerizing Ingrid Bergman) is a British would-be missionary with an obsession about China. As she has no experience, the Missionary Society won’t let her go, but she goes anyway, alone, to a remote northern province. She is hated, then loved; finally she becomes both a significant political figure and the heroine of a miraculous escape in which she shepherds 100 children to safety across the mountains just ahead of a Japanese invasion.
Curt Jurgens is suitably stony as Lin Nan, the half-Dutch, half-Chinese military officer who falls in love with her, and a visibly ailing Robert Donat (who died before this, his final film, was released) is the wily local mandarin who sees and makes use of her extraordinary abilities. Directed by Mark Robson, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is a sweeping, stirring tearjerker, a big tale told in a big landscape with acres of orchestrated strings by Malcolm Arnold. A beautiful and beautifully made film that’s a classic of the “everyone said I couldn’t but I did it anyway” genre. –Richard Farr