LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING
Directed by Henry King
Written by John Patrick
Based on the novel by Han Suyin
William Holden as Mark Elliot, Jennifer Jones as Han Suyin
In my ongoing mission of public service, I scour through the vaults of Hollywood, providing guidance as you contemplate what film to watch next whether it is from the video store, on television or even in the theatre.
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is a boring romance made back in the day when all the good parts of a love affair happened off screen and the only traits characters had were their good looks, which were so overpowering that nothing else was needed to fall in love.
The film starts in Hong Kong, China 1949. Our main character is Dr. Han Suyin, a Eurasian doctor played by Jennifer Jones. She fulfills the "Eur" ethnicity of the character; however, with a little make up and some broken English, lo and behold, she becomes Eurasian. Jones' performance is all right, but the illusion shatters when she shares the screen with other Asians. I'm not implying that this rises to the offensive level of Mickey Rooney's portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's, but it is odd to think that with the hundreds of years that Asian countries had been around there were no Asians good enough to star in a film 50 years ago. They've come along way, baby.
At a large party thrown by the hospital director, Han meets journalist Mark Elliot, a well-known womanizer whose wife lives on mainland China. He asks Han out immediately. She's very shy and lets us know repeatedly that she's a widow. She eventually relents to his offer, contrary to the advice of her coworker. They have a nice time and continue to see each other. Their relationship progresses with dates comprising of idyllic situations like swimming and reciting poetry. Word travels quickly through their small network of associates and most are unhappy with the couple's decision to see each other.
While shopping, Han runs into an old school friend, who looks fairly odd with her hair dyed blonde. It turns out this friend is having an affair with the hospital director. Han keeps this secret, and inexplicably doesn't attempt to blackmail the director when he forces her out of the hospital due to her unsavory relationship with Mark. I understand she's this shy, quiet woman, but Mark would have stormed into his office and straightened things out. Women certainly didn't have an easy time finding work back then, so her lack of motivation is baffling and so is the fact that she wouldn't mention the director's affair to Mark during pillow talk.
After leaving the hospital, Han goes to see her family and Mark accompanies her to tell the family his intentions with Han are honorable. When they return, Mark leaves for the mainland to ask his wife for a divorce. Mark returns with news that his wife won't grant the divorce. Before there's time to deal with that news, Mark has to head off to cover the Korean conflict as it breaks out. Even without all the foreshadowing, it doesn't bode well when someone goes to a war zone late in a movie. Han gets news of his death and then receives a letter he wrote the day before. If I cared about these people, it might have been touching.
I'm not sure what the big deal is with this movie and yet again have been led astray by AFI's Top 100 Romances list. The viewer is never certain what is going on with Han and Mark's relationship. Since Han wrote the story, it's being presented through her tainted vision of what took place, and yet even with her rosy view clouding things, Mark still comes across like he's not playing straight with her. She just met the guy but doesn't question why many of her friends warn her about him. I understand that Mark is the first man she's allowed herself to have feeling for since her husband died and is the second man she's had any type of relationship with, but she still comes across as immature. Han is weak and seems manipulated by events rather than having to make choices on her own. The fact that the script and direction were done by men might be the cause of her poor characterization, but without knowing the source material it's unfair to calumniate anyone, but if I had to wager. Too bad there weren't any women who could write or direct back then, but at least they had it better than the Asians did.
Last and definitely least, the love theme, which isn't good, was played ad nauseum throughout almost every scene. I despised the theme before it was all over in the same way the man hates to hear "Niagara Falls" in the classic vaudeville sketch. Only if you were having trouble sleeping, would I recommend this movie. Otherwise, you'll be a very bored thing.