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The Ugly American (1963)

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An intelligent, articulate scholar, Harrison MacWhite, survives a hostile Senate confirmation hearing at the hands of conservatives to become ambassador to Sarkan, a southeast Asian country... See full summary »



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Title: The Ugly American (1963)

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Nominated for 2 Golden Globes. Another 1 win & 1 nomination. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Sandra Church ...
Marion MacWhite
Homer Atkins
Arthur Hill ...
Emma Atkins
Kukrit Pramoj ...
Prime Minister Kwen Sai
Judson Pratt ...
Joe Bing
Reiko Sato ...
Rachani, Deong's Wife
George Shibata ...
Judson Laire ...
Senator Brenner
Ambassador Sears
Yee Tak Yip ...
Sawad, Deong's Assistant
Carl Benton Reid ...
Senator at Confirmation Hearing
Simon Scott


An intelligent, articulate scholar, Harrison MacWhite, survives a hostile Senate confirmation hearing at the hands of conservatives to become ambassador to Sarkan, a southeast Asian country where civil war threatens a tense peace. Despite his knowledge, once he's there, MacWhite sees only a dichotomy between the U.S. and Communism. He can't accept that anti-American sentiment might be a longing for self-determination and nationalism. So, he breaks from his friend Deong, a local opposition leader, ignores a foreman's advice about slowing the building of a road, and tries to muscle ahead. What price must the country and his friends pay for him to get some sense? Written by <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The most explosive adventure of our time! See more »


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Release Date:

2 April 1963 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Der häßliche Amerikaner  »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


One key role, that of the Sarkhanese Prime Minister, was filled quite capably by a non-professional, Kukrit Pramoj, a prominent Thai newspaper publisher, former Thai Finance Minister, and - as fate would have it - future Prime Minister (1975-76). Speaking in Bangkok the day after its world premiere, the film's star Marlon Brando brought forth gasps by labeling his precocious co-star a "dissembler, liar and thief." Before shock could turn to indignation, Brando - straight face intact - quickly broke the stunned silence. "Mr. Kukrit told me he couldn't act, and then proceeded to prove he could act and in fact acted me off the screen. He stole the whole show." See more »


Referenced in Save the Last Dance 2 (2006) See more »


America the Beautiful
Music by Samuel A. Ward and lyrics by Katharine Lee Bates
Heard when the Ambassador arrives and over the closing credits
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A Timeless Historical, Political Thriller
1 February 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Sorry this review is aimed at a more academic influenced audience.

Like few political thrillers since or before, The Ugly American embodies, allegorically, the struggle of international politics and its often-concomitant socio-cultural impasses quite effectively. I further argue that the allegory in this film is so sophisticated, complex that even the informed citizen will wrestle with its multiple meanings upon first view. I suggest that viewers learn more about the early history of the Vietnam War, either before, or immediately after watching this film. The characters in this film fictitiously represent a handful of "actual" major figures during the early period of American's last major war, a whopping failure mind you. Disturbing, to say the least, are the film's quite accurate prognostication of the Vietnam War, and the growing consensus view of the developing world, its often justifiable antipathy towards American imperialism and aggression.

For those reviewers that have diminished the perpetual value of this film with less than 7 stars, you're naive and clearly fastidious. Let's not forget that this film was made in 1963, with the aim of striking mass culture. This mass appeal is clearly suggested in the awful and oriental theatrical trailer located under the "extras" menu of the DVD. By the way, the trailer is the lone, major blemish of this enduring, underrated classic. Thus, expectations for this film to sincerely honor the acclaimed Lederer, Burkin novel of the same name are simply not realistic, nor considerate when considering the release year and target audience. Even in the present, I would argue that mainstream Hollywood is reluctant to release a film on par with the political analysis of this novel without assigning the "indie tag" along with requisite, watered-down editing. So please refrain from critiquing this film along 2007 lines where independent films have a stronger influence than 1963 America. Also, bear in mind that the Cold War, and many of the globe's have-nots, were in the first stage of post-colonial disintegration: a world-wide phenomenon hardly critiqued, known beyond minority opinion. Further, post-colonial disintegration was mired in stubborn arrogance, manic-driven / close-minded policies, brutal wars (often proxy), and select special interests that favored the elites of top-tier nation-states, especially the Eagle and the Bear. Fairly stated, most Americans were detached from world issues at the time, but these same folks would soon lose their innocence and become more active, even revolutionary in the immediate years that followed The Ugly American.

Quite simply, The Ugly American presages the multiple diseases that have constricted American foreign policy the past 45 years. Our hubris, paranoia (Red Scare complex), conniving-cum-meddlesome ways via the omniscient, omnipotent Military Industrial Complex, severe disregard for greater cultural understanding, conscious-unconscious (i.e. our choice to become apathetic), denial, and detached general public are all on fine display throughout this film. Each time I view The Ugly American, several times now, I can't help but wonder why subsequent Presidents and their administrations, educators in general, and claimed foreign policy experts rarely cite this film as a model of "Do's" and "Don'ts" in foreign policy.

The Ugly American may be the only movie where Brando's knack for scene-stealing is quite challenged, perhaps outperformed, by his Asian co-stars: Eiji Okada, who plays revolutionary icon Deong, and Kukrit Pramoj, who plays Prime Minister Kwen Jsai. You will notice my claim in four scenes: two between Brando and Okada, and the other two between Brando and Pramoj. The polemics in these particular scenes are dramatic, impassioned, and seemingly reveal personal philosophy that can only be internally debated, at one time or another, during one's long-term personal struggles with politics and major social issues. You really get the sense that each character firmly believes their high stake positions. Also, the harum-scarum climates throughout The Ugly American reflect how most Americans felt about the the war in Vietnam, and Vietnamese culture in general, both then and now - matter of fact. As for the allegory noted above, the unforgettable scene that closes the Ugly American is just damning against the American mainstream - its sense of detachment from world affairs. Sadly the lessons from this scene firmly remain in the present.

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