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All her life Englishwoman Gladys Aylward knew that China was the place where she belonged. Not qualified to be sent there as a missionary, Gladys works as a domestic to earn the money to send herself to a poor, remote village. There she eventually lives a full and happy life: running the inn, acting as "foot inspector", advising the local Mandarin and even winning the heart of mixed race Captain Lin Nan. But Gladys discovers her real destiny when the country is invaded by Japan and the Chinese children need her to save their lives. Based on a true story. Written by
The real Gladys Aylward (1902 - 1970), born in London, was a former domestic turned missionary in China, best known for her work with children. She became a Chinese citizen in 1936. Four years later, despite being in ill health herself, she shepherded over 100 children over the mountains to safety at the height of the Sino-Japanese war. In 1958, the year this film was released, she founded a children's home in Taiwan, which she continued to run until her death. Known in China as "Ai-weh-deh", or "Virtous One", she continues to be regarded as a national heroine. See more »
The cook speaks Cantonese, a dialect from the Southern part of China. The other Chinese actors in the movie speak Mandarin. See more »
My name is Gladys Aylward. I've written to the head of the missionary society. His reply stated that he'd see me if I ever came to London. If he's busy, I can wait.
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The opening title card reads: "This story is based upon the life of Gladys Aylward, a woman of our time, who was, and is dedicated to the simple, joyful and rare belief that we are all responsible for each other." See more »
This film concerns the life and achievements of one Gladys Aylward, a Christian woman from Great Britain who conceived early on that her place in the world was in China. She was a remarkable person who let absolutely nothing deter her in her calling. That included a lack of formal education, no support at all from any accredited missionary group and no money of her own. She worked as a maid to get the money to get a one way ticket to China with only an address of an aged female missionary who needed a young assistant.
This film marked Ingrid Bergman's complete return to our fickle public's favor. After the scandal of her affair with Roberto Rosellini and her divorce, the public would not accept her in saintly roles like Joan of Arc and The Bells of St. Mary's. But winning her second Oscar two years earlier cemented her comeback from Europe and this part restored her in our fickle public's affections. We'd never get away with casting her as an Englishwoman today, but she overcomes any accent problems with unbridled talent.
She soon inherits the whole mission when Athene Sayler dies. And she supports it by working as a foot inspector for the local mandarin. In those days of the twenties among other things the Kuomintang government was trying to do was undo the Chinese custom of footbinding females at a young age so they would have petite feet. It met with a lot of local resistance, but she proves up to the task.
The title of the film comes from the idea that Athene Sayler had. Not to open up a formal church as such. Instead she wanted to open an inn in which travelers could stop and hear stories for entertainment. No television in those rooms. The stories they heard were those of the Bible. It was Sayler, Bergman, and their cook Peter Chong who ran the place and soon it was Bergman and Chong.
If Bergman's casting seems bizarre by today's standards, the casting of Curt Jurgens as a Chinese Kuomintang Army Colonel is worse. Jurgens's occidental features are written into the script making him bi-racial, Dutch father and Chinese mother. He's a man with little convictions about spiritual matters, except he comes to believe in Bergman, in her innate decency, her dedication to his people, and what she's trying to accomplish.
The mandarin is even more bizarrely cast. The part calls for an asthetic actor so they got the best around in Robert Donat. This was Mr. Donat's farewell performance, he died while the film was still in theaters. No one would get away with that casting today, but Robert Donat is also that good a player.
I'm sure if the film were remade today, we'd have real oriental players like Russell Wong for the Colonel and James Shigeta for the mandarin and maybe someone like Kate Winslet for Gladys Aylward. But would it be as good as this film?
The subject of missionaries and the good they do is one hotly debated topic. It does take a certain amount of brass to go to a given place and tell everyone your belief system is all wrong.
I suppose the best way to lead is by example and Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward set the best example she could. In fact she did one thing most missionaries, good or bad, wouldn't consider. She gave up her British citizenship and became a Chinese citizen.
The film was helped a great deal by the inclusion of that children's song This Old Man where Ingrid tries to teach her youngest charges some English with it. It was enormously popular back in the day and Mitch Miller's record of it was heard constantly.
The climax of the film and what gave Gladys Aylward her place in history is that trek with a hundred orphans away from the advancing Japanese army. A remarkable achievement indeed from a remarkable dedicated woman who wouldn't listen to anything, but what was inside her soul.
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