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Alan Burgess' novel The Small Woman, was adapted by 20th Century-Fox as The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958). In the film, English housemaid Gladys Aylward (Ingrid Bergman) realizes her childhood dream of becoming a missionary by using her life savings to go to the mountains of China. There, she helps a missionary (played by Athene Seyler) start an inn at a remote mule crossing and saves 100 children during the Sino-Japanese War in 1936.
The casting was Hollywood International - Bergman, a Swede, played an English maid and Englishman Robert Donat played a Mandarin who at first resents Bergman and later converts to Christianity in her honor. Scotsman Sean Connery was considered for the role eventually given to the Austrian Curt Jurgens - a Eurasian Chinese army officer whose romance with Bergman is interrupted when she must flee with the children from the village when the Japanese invade.
The real-life missionary Gladys Aylward was furious with Fox, calling the film "a bunch of lies" and loudly proclaimed that not only had she never been given a final script, she never had a romance with a Chinese colonel. She was further angered that "my name was used without my permission and associated with that wicked woman." Aylward was referring, of course, to Ingrid Bergman, who had left her husband and child for an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, which had resulted in not only an out-of-wedlock child but a public backlash that included a denouncement on the floor of the United States Senate. A few years later, now engaged to Swedish producer Lars Schmidt, Bergman resumed her career, but apparently Aylward could not overlook Bergman's supposed sins. Despite all her protests and letters written to the media, she never sued the studio.
While public opinion had changed and Bergman had had a big success and an Oscar® for Anastasia (1956), the studio was worried about having Bergman associated with any one religious denomination, so she is never shown teaching religion to the children or going into a church. Bergman was also hesitant about the role, saying, "I swore that I wouldn't play any more saints or nuns, so now I'm playing a missionary!"
Although the film was produced by 20th Century-Fox, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was actually shot in Cinemascope at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in Boreham Wood, Elstree, England and Snowdonia in Wales from March to July 1958. The Hollywood Reporter announced that the film was going to be shot in Formosa, but had to be moved to Wales when relations with the Chinese government broke down and they refused permission. The children in the film were from the Chinese community in Liverpool, which is one of the largest in Europe. Perry Lee was one of the children who had worked on the film. "It was amazing, it was really great and I have extremely fond memories of the experience. Once they had decided to film in Snowdonia, the Chinese community in Liverpool was the obvious place to come to find the children to play the parts of the orphans. I was just turned six and my brother William was four and a half. We got paid 12.50 a week which was a lot of money in those days so I got a bike out of it and he got a little scooter. For a six year old it was tremendously exciting but it wasn't all glamour. We weren't allowed to wear shoes. If you were lucky you were allowed to wear pumps and if you were very unlucky you had to have rags tied around your feet - painted red to simulate blood. And we had to dive in the cow pats whenever the Japanese planes came over. You were never conscious of the cameras being trained on you but my big scene was the river crossing when Ingrid Bergman grabbed me." Burt Kwouk, who starred as the schoolteacher who sacrifices his life for the children, remembered that they "were a lively bunch but very well behaved, they had chaperones and they were very well taken care of." Kwouk's career was launched by this film and he would later become famous as Peter Sellers' assistant Cato in the Pink Panther films.
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness was Robert Donat's last film. Long ill with asthma-related complications which weakened him, a large brain tumor was discovered just before his death and he died of cerebral thrombosis shortly after his scenes were filmed on June 9, 1958. His final line was, "We shall not see each other again, I think. Farewell." Ironically, it was also producer Buddy Adler's final film. He would die as production ended on July 12, 1958.
Gladys Aylward opened a children's orphanage in Taiwan in 1958 and continued to run it until her death in 1970. Considered a national hero in that country, she nevertheless was deeply embarrassed by the film and regarded it as having "soiled" her reputation.
Producer: Buddy Adler
Director: Mark Robson
Screenplay: Isobel Lennart (screenplay); Alan Burgess (novel "The Small Woman")
Cinematography: F.A. Young
Art Direction: John Box, Geoffrey Drake
Music: Malcolm Arnold
Film Editing: Ernest Walter
Cast: Ingrid Bergman (Gladys Aylward), Curd Jurgens (Capt. Lin Nan), Robert Donat (The Mandarin of Yang Cheng), Michael David (Hok-A), Athene Seyler (Jeannie Lawson), Ronald Squire (Sir Francis Jamison), Moultrie Kelsall (Dr. Robinson), Richard Wattis (Mr. Murfin), Peter Chong (Yang), Tsai Chin (Sui-Lan).
by Lorraine LoBianco
"Reunion for Film's Classic Cast", BBC News 25 Apr 04
The AFI Catalog of Feature Films
The Internet Movie Database
Spoto, Donald, Notorious: The Life of Ingrid Bergman