[box cover]

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

Film historian Aubrey Solomon hits the nail on the head when he calls The Inn of the Sixth Happiness a "very '50s movie" in the audio commentary he recorded for Fox's DVD. Sweeping, melodramatic, and brimming with positive messages about morality and virtue, director Mark Robson's epic film embodies many of the values idealized in the Eisenhower era. Luckily, it also happens to be a pretty compelling picture. Ingrid Bergman stars as Gladys Aylward, the real-life heroine who defied naysayers when she made her own way to China in the 1930s to become a missionary — and then found love, fulfillment, and inspiration among her adopted country's people. Generous, hard-working housemaid Gladys scrimps and saves to buy her own ticket to the Orient after a prestigious missionary group rejects her for lack of education and relevant experience. Her patience pays off: When she finally arrives in the remote mountain town of Yangchen, Gladys not only ends up running the titular inn, but she also lands a job as the local mandarin's (Richard Donat) traveling foot inspector. As Gladys spreads the dual gospel of modernity and God, she earns a new name, "Jen-ai" — "the one who loves people." That love is put to the test when the Japanese attack Yangchen and Gladys is forced to flee with 100 orphans in her charge. Their grueling journey to safety is the stuff of legend and inspiration; in other words, the stuff that Hollywood loves to capture on celluloid. Robson — who received an Oscar nomination for the film — does a good job of it; the leisurely paced, richly photographed Inn is a nice change of pace from the frenetic movies that tend to dominate today's multiplexes. And while it is a bit jarring at first to see the regal, Swedish Bergman playing a working-class Englishwoman — just as it's hard to believe visibly Caucasian co-stars Donat and Curt Jurgens as the wise mandarin Gladys befriends and the half-Dutch, half-Chinese soldier she falls for, respectively — the earnest passion with which she plays the part is hard to resist. Yielding to the film's "'50s-ness" means accepting things like its antiquated casting conventions; if that's the compromise necessary to enjoy a stirring classic like The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, it's well worth it. Fox seems to agree: The DVD has obviously been put together with care. The widescreen anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) — painstakingly restored from the unfortunately poorly preserved original 1958 negative — does show signs of age (uneven color between frames, visible edits, etc.), but watch the restoration comparison and you'll see how much worse it could have been. The English 2.0 stereo audio is clear; other audio options include English, Spanish, and French mono tracks, as well as English and Spanish subtitles. In the extras department, the restoration comparison is joined by trailers, two vintage newsreel clips, and the audio commentary, which Solomon shares with Bergman biographer Donald Spoto and filmmaker/Gladys Aylward expert Nick Redman (the trio's tracks were recorded separately and edited together). Closed-captioning, keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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