A Countess From Hong Kong

1967, Movie, NR, 120 mins


Chaplin's final return to the screen after a 10-year hiatus (THE KING IN NEW YORK, 1957), is a dismal, uninviting comedy. Brando is a stuffy American diplomat whose coffers bulge with millions. He sails from Hong Kong on a luxury liner, heading for Honolulu where his estranged wife, Hedren, is to join him. Complicating his life is a white Russian countess, Loren, who, utterly penniless, seeks a new life in the US and stows away in his suite. She met him earlier in a nightclub and explained that since age 13 she has been earning a living as a dance-hall floozie. She begs him, once he discovers her hiding in his suite, to allow her to go to America. When he refuses, she threatens to charge him with abduction and ruin his good name. Brando allows her to stay while he attempts to figure out a way to explain her presence. This leads to innumerable comic situations, few of them funny. When Loren is discovered, Brando saves the day and pretends to marry her, giving her US citizenship. She believes he hates her, so, when the ship nears Hawaii, she leaps overboard, swimming to shore. Hedren arrives and Brando realizes he does not love her at all. He races off to find Loren and make their marriage a happy reality.

This kind of bedroom farce, so dear to Chaplin's heart, died at a box office long tired of such archaic plots. Brando's great talent is entirely wasted. He accepted the acting assignment without ever having glanced at the script, assuming that any film Chaplin would make would be a masterpiece. Chaplin's story and script employed moth-eaten dialog and static scenes which none of the actors could enliven. Loren spends most of her time teasing Brando and the audience while wearing his silk pajamas, running in and out of closets and toilets to hide, a peek-a-boo performance that is embarrassing. Her lines are delivered phlegmatically and are almost unintelligible through her thick Italian accent. She is earthy and peasantlike in a role that calls for sophistication and culture. Her unbelievability is matched by Brando, who struts about mouthing diplomatic ambiguities over what Loren's presence will do to his image and career. Hedren's appearance is mercifully brief. Her lines seem ground out of a mechanical toy. Chaplin's return to the movies is a sad failure and was universally shunned. The only redeeming feature of A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG was the performance of the always charming Rutherford who plays an eccentric old lady confined to her stateroom because of illness. Chaplin fought back against critics who condemned the film, sending out a release which he had penned. The film, he explained, "resulted from a visit I made to Shanghai in 1931 where I came across a number of titled aristocrats who had escaped the Russian Revolution. They were destitute and without a country, their status was of the lowest grade. The men ran rickshaws and the women worked in ten-cent dance halls. When the second World War broke out many of the old aristocrats had died and the younger generation migrated to Hong Kong where their plight was even worse, for Hong Kong was overcrowded with refugees. This is the background to A COUNTESS FROM HONG KONG. I have tried to achieve a simplicity of direction which should lend realism to the situation, and which should create a compelling belief in the comedy." Songs: "This Is My Song" and "My Star" (Chaplin). leave a comment

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A Countess From Hong Kong
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