powered by AFI
Based on an autobiographical novel, Love is a Many-Spendored Thing (1955) is the story of a love affair between Eurasian doctor Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones), who works in a British-run hospital in Hong Kong, and married American journalist Mark Elliott (William Holden). The romance is played out against the background of mid-century Hong Kong, with its colonial and cultural conflicts, as well as the looming threat of the Korean War. The novel, by the Belgian-Chinese writer-physician Han Suyin, fictionalized her real-life affair with a British journalist and dealt with social and political developments in China in the late 1940s.
The novel, A Many-Splendoured Thing, had been published in 1952, but the Production Code Administration, the industry's censor, rejected the book, with its themes of adultery and miscegenation, as unsuitable for a film. Three years later, 20th Century Fox bought the rights, and submitted a first draft script that was rejected by the PCA. After much discussion, the censors agreed to allow the film to be produced as long as there was no suggestion that the couple's relationship was sexual.
Love is a Many-Spendored Thing was the first film in a three-picture deal with Fox for Jennifer Jones. The offer had come at a time when she badly needed it. She had won an Oscar for her first starring role in The Song of Bernadette (1943) and had become one of the top stars of the mid-1940s. But her stardom had waned after her marriage to her mentor, producer David O. Selznick, who micro-managed her career and whose interference was dreaded by producers and directors. Jones's own high-strung temperament also made working with her difficult, in spite of her enormous talent. Her most recent film, Indiscretion of an American Wife (1954), made in Italy by director Vittorio De Sica and co-produced by De Sica and Selznick, had not been successful. The combination of Italian neo-realism and American gloss didn't work, in spite of heartfelt performances by Jones and Montgomery Clift, and Selznick made matters worse by drastically cutting the American release version to just over an hour. Jones's Broadway debut in a stage adaptation of Henry James's novel, Portrait of a Lady (1954), had also flopped. Love is a Many-Spendored Thing was Jones's return to the screen after those failures. Selznick was busy trying to develop other projects, so he did not get involved in the production of Love is a Many-Spendored Thing, but he did send his usual lengthy memos with his usual barrage of suggestions about Jones's hair, makeup, and wardrobe to producer Buddy Adler and director Henry King.
Jones was on edge without Selznick on hand to be her advocate. She was unhappy that William Holden, by then the bigger star, had top billing. At every imagined slight, she shouted, "I'm going to tell David about this." Holden tried to smooth over their differences, giving her a bouquet of roses. She threw them in his face.
In spite of the offscreen tensions, the onscreen chemistry was excellent, and Love is a Many-Spendored Thing was a big success, even though the film received decidedly mixed reviews. "Fine and sensitive," Variety raved, adding, " [it] is indeed a many splendored thing...as simple and moving a love story as has come along in many a moon." But Bosley Crowther of the New York Times called it "elaborately sentimental," and slammed John Patrick's screenplay. "His story is commonplace and stilted, his dialogue is foolishly verbose, and his characters are stiff and bloodless people with no seeming urge for anything but love." Crowther and other critics credited Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster's romantic title song, which was a pop hit even before the film's premiere, for much of Love is a Many-Spendored Thing's success. The song and Alfred Newman's score and Charles LeMaire's costumes won Academy Awards. The film was nominated for five other Oscars®, including Best Picture (it lost to Marty), and Jones as best actress (she lost to Anna Magnani for The Rose Tattoo).
Director: Henry King
Producer: Buddy Adler
Screenplay: John Patrick
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Editor: William Reynolds
Costume Design: Charles LeMaire
Art Direction: Lyle R. Wheeler, George W. Davis
Music: Alfred Newman; title song by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster
Principal Cast: William Holden (Mark Elliott), Jennifer Jones (Han Suyin), Torin Thatcher (Mr. Palmer-Jones), Isobel Elsom (Adeline Palmer-Jones), Murray Matheson (Dr. John Keith), Virginia Gregg (Ann Richards), Richard Loo (Robert Hung), Soo Yong (Nora Hung), Philip Ahn (Third Uncle), Jorja Curtright (Suzanne), Donna Martell (Suchen).
by Margarita Landazuri