Ingrid Bergman stars in this moving story of a Christian missionary in China. Adapted from a book by Alan Burgess, The Inn Of The Sixth Happiness is a loose telling of Gladys Aylward’s amazing life. A sweeping movie with hints of romance, it is set in a remote province of China during war with Japan. It is one of those classic Hollywood films beloved by its passionate fans, though it is ponderously long and not for everyone. Bergman is always fun to watch and the personal story depicted on screen is truly touching.
Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman) is an English woman of ordinary means and background. A devout Christian, she firmly believes her calling is to be a missionary in China. Unfortunately, the people in charge of missionary work don’t believe she’s qualified with her limited educational experience. That doesn’t stop the optimistic Gladys, whom begins working as a maid to pay her own way to China.
Working against the system and the odds, she finally makes it to China without knowing the language in the beginning. She is sent to help out at an inn run by another missionary, Ms. Lawson (Athene Seyler). What Gladys lacks in education and formal training is made up for quickly by her plucky optimism and kind soul, as she earns the respect of the local Mandarin (Robert Donat in his last performance) and the love of the local villagers. The Chinese are inherently suspicious of the foreigner when she first arrives. It’s only through Gladys’ repeated good works and loving nature that the native community finally accept her as one of their own.
Working as a foot-binding inspector for the Mandarin, she begins to grow closer and closer to a Chinese Army officer, Captain Lin Nan (Curt Jurgens). The Chinese officer is quite suspicious of Gladys and her work when they first meet. He is of mixed heritage and resents the second-class treatment he received in Europe as being part Chinese. Their relationship grows and eventually the two fall in love, though the impending war with Japan must keep them apart.
The movie races to its end with Gladys leading the children of an entire village through a war-torn countryside filled with Japanese soldiers. It’s an inspiring tale that is based on actual historical events. The script is nearly flawless in hitting key points while making the characters seem true to life. There are some obvious bits used for sentimentality that still turn on the waterworks, in that grand style only Hollywood has ever really mastered. Its emphasis on self-sacrifice and selfless charity work seem almost foreign in today’s market, but were standard virtues emphasized in the 1950s.
Twentieth-Century Fox presents The Inn of the Sixth Happiness in a satisfactory transfer, lacking the superior attributes of this studio’s best film transfers on Blu-ray. The 1958 CinemaScope film shows modest improvements at 1080P resolution in terms of definition, detail, and color rendition. Properly presented at its native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the artifact-free video encode averages 29.34 Mbps.
The color timing has a slight teal bias. Color saturation is merely okay, lacking the rich flavor of newer film scans from pristine elements. The HD master is likely an older film scan given the less than dramatic leap in clarity, though the film elements are in good condition with no obvious wear. Some minor registration errors and color fringing examples can be spotted for observant watchers. A wisp of edge enhancement produces the occasional halo but is not a serious problem at all.
Possibly of more concern are the vague indicators of low-level digital noise reduction used to tame the grain structure. At times the grain structure looks somewhat artificial for a CinemaScope production. It’s difficult to determine from the outside whether some digital processing has been necessarily applied to this film transfer. There are also incidents of mumps in a few spots, not uncommon to CinemaScope films.
While the scenic locations shot in Wales are eye-catching, the picture quality lacks a certain amount of depth and texture found in better transfers. The solid black levels and filmic contrast are entirely appropriate for this period of cinema. But, the video is softer than normal and lacks the type of high-frequency detail seen in better film transfers of this nature. Fox has done better restorations with films of this vintage and type.
Fox has used the original four-track stereo mix for the primary 4.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. It’s a fine and evocative score of its era, composed by Malcolm Arnold. There is a good amount of directional sound cues and ambient sounds are fairly decent for a soundtrack this old. No one will confuse the fidelity of this soundtrack with a modern mix but it offers the music and dialogue in pleasing clarity.
Fox has provided a number of dub soundtracks: Spanish, French, and Italian in various audio formats. Subtitles display in a white font which remain inside the 2.35:1 framing: English SDH, Spanish, Italian, and hidden Japanese subs.
Fox provides one of the more informative commentaries for a classic film, using three different experts to fill out the running time.
Audio Commentary With Nick Redman, Aubrey Solomon, and Donald Spoto – All three contributors have excellent insight into this movie, often pulling in details outside the bounds of this movie. Spoto was Bergman’s biographer and talked extensively with her about The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. These commentaries were not recorded together but have been edited into a seamless listening experience. Fans have to hear it for the wealth of information that places the film in its proper context.
Fox Movietone News (02:09 in SD) – Two brief, vintage newsreels highlight the movie’s world premiere.
Theatrical Trailer (03:08 in SD)
Spanish Theatrical Trailer (03:08 in SD)
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