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Newsman Mark Elliott is an American war correspondent in Hong Kong, separated from his wife. During the closing days of the Chinese Civil War, he meets and pursues a beautiful Eurasian doctor, the widow of a Nationalist general. But when they begin to fall in love, their friends and her Chinese family pressure them to stop the cross-cultural relationship. Written by
Brian W Martz <B.Martz@Genie.com>
Jennifer Jones, who was married to studio mogul David O. Selznick at the time of filming, complained constantly during the production, often yelling, "I'm going to tell David about this!" After complaining about William Holden, the two stars barely spoke to each other on the set. Finally, Holden tried to make peace, offering Jones a bouquet of white roses. She tossed them back in his face. See more »
When Mark is at war writing and a butterfly lands on his typewriter, the close-up of the page clearly shows he was writing to inform her that her "twenty-third letter has arrived". In a scene not long after, the letter has reached her and as she reads, his voice-over differs, saying her "eighth and ninth letters have arrived". A line about his bottom hurting from bouncing around in jeeps matches both letters. See more »
Dr. Han Suyin:
I will make no mistakes in the name of loneliness. I have my work and an uncomplicated life. I don't want to feel anything again... ever.
See more »
"Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" is set in Hong Kong in 1949-50, and tells the story of the relationship between Mark Elliott, a white American journalist, and Han Suyin, a half-Chinese half-European doctor. This story of a mixed-race love affair was quite a daring theme for the fifties, and, as it often did, Hollywood tried to soften the blow by casting a white actress as the supposedly non-Caucasian woman who falls in love with a white man, something that would be regarded as politically incorrect today but was quite acceptable then.. (Think, for example, of the casting of Ava Gardner in "Show Boat" or Natalie Wood in "West Side Story") The setting of the story in a British colony was also perhaps a way of exploring racial issues in a way that would cause less controversy in America. Suyin loses her job in a Hong Kong hospital because her British superiors take exception to the fact that she is dating a white man, whom she is unable to marry because his estranged wife will not grant him a divorce. As was sometimes the case, European colonialism was made the whipping-boy for some of America's own failings. Imagine the furore that would have been unleashed had a similar film been made about a black or mixed-race woman doctor in a hospital in Alabama.
Besides racial issues, the film also raises questions of international politics, referring to both the Communist seizure of power in China and the outbreak of the Korean War. Han Suyin was a real person and a well-known author of the period; in reality she tended to support Mao's Communist regime, but here she is shown as firmly anti-Communist. This is not, however, primarily an "issue" movie about either racialism or politics, but rather a romance, a good example of what would have been known at the time as a "woman's picture". Such films, although mostly made by male directors, were mostly aimed at female audiences. They dealt with love and romance- often unhappy romance- from the woman's point of view, and had a strong female character in the leading role. The genre often provided roles for actresses older than the heroines of standard romances. Earlier examples were normally in monochrome, but by the fifties they generally, as here, used lush, sumptuous colour.
Although a Chinese or Eurasian actress would have been more convincing in the role, Jennifer Jones, does a very good job as Suyin. I found William Holden, as Mark, rather uncharismatic, but this does not matter much as Suyin is very much the dominant figure. She is screen much more than Mark, and the film examines her family and professional life much more than it does his. Although Jennifer was still strikingly beautiful, she was in her mid-thirties, rather older than most romantic heroines of films of this period. Holden was about the same age, unusually for the fifties when "boy-meets-girl" often meant "older man meets girl".
The film is not particularly profound, but is well-made with some attractive photography, particularly of Hong Kong itself, reflecting the growing trend in the fifties for shooting on location rather than on studio sets. Seldom can Hong Kong have looked so beautiful; the view from a hill overlooking the city takes on a special meaning, as this is where Suyin and Mark go for their romantic assignments. The overall mood is one of poignant, doomed romance, a mood heightened by the atmospheric photography and the musical score, including one of the most memorable movie themes ever written. 7/10
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