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The Teahouse of the August Moon

The Teahouse of the August Moon(1956)


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The opening credits include a written statement reading: "We wish to gratefully acknowledge the courtesy and cooperation of the Daiei Motion Picture Company of Japan, Mr. Masaichi Negata, President." Although only John Alton receives onscreen credit as director of photography, a June 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item states that Russell Harlan shot the Japanese location scenes. The film begins and ends with Marlon Brando, as "Sakini," addressing the camera directly. The final monologue, taken verbatim from the play upon which the film was based, concludes with: "Lovely ladies... kind gentlemen-go home to ponder. What was true in the beginning remains true. Pain makes man think. Thought makes man wise. Wisdom makes life endurable. May August moon bring gentle sleep."
       John Patrick's stage adaptation of Vern J. Sneider's novel, also entitled Teahouse of the August Moon, won the Pultizer Prize for drama in 1955. In November 1952, Variety announced that M-G-M was negotiating for the screen rights to the play, which had not yet been produced on Broadway. The next month, a Daily Variety news item noted that the studio had purchased the film rights to Sneider's novel. Modern sources note that Brando, after seeing the play in New York, asked to be cast as Sakini. According to a November 1953 Los Angeles Times news item, producer Jack Cummings planned to record a live staging of the play from which the screenwriter could copy passages directly. Patrick eventually was hired to write the screen adaptation, which differed from the play in that "Capt. Fisby," played by John Forsythe on Broadway, rather than Sakini, played on the stage by David Wayne, emerged as the central character.
       A September 28, 1953 "Rambling Reporter" item in Hollywood Reporter stated that famed literary agent Irving Lazar sold the property to M-G-M and that the studio was planning for Robert Taylor to star. In June 1954, Hollywood Reporter wrote that Tita Magaleno, a Philippine actress, was testing for the role of a geisha girl. "Rambling Reporter" then noted in August 1955 that Tiger Joe Marsh would test for the role of "Mr. Hokaida." Initially, the filmmakers planned to shoot the entire production in Japan, and on April 16, 1956 began filming various locations including Kyoto and Nara. However, as noted in a June 10, 1956 New York Times piece, after about twenty percent of the scenes, including outdoor footage, was completed, stormy weather forced the production to return to Hollywood in June 1956. Whole sets and the full cast and crew had to be transported to the M-G-M backlot to finish the film.
       Long-time stage and film actor Louis Calhern was originally cast in the role of "Col. Purdy," but died of a heart attack on May 12, 1956, in the middle of production. M-G-M replaced him with Paul Ford, who had originated the role of Purdy on stage. Contemporary sources noted Brando's intense preparation for the role of Sakini, which included spending a daily regime of two hours in makeup and several hours studying Japanese. Many contemporary reviews praised the performance of Brando, who was playing against type in the comic role. The Hollywood Reporter review stated, "Brando gives one of the most skillful impersonations in recent memory," and the BHC review called his Sakini "one of the greatest performances ever seen in the long history of the screen." Other reviewers, however, noted that he was physically larger than the slight Okinawan character seen on stage, and modern critics criticized his performance, as did Brando himself in his autobiography, in which he points to his feuds with Glenn Ford as creating an atmosphere of grandstanding. Modern sources add that Brando also disliked director Daniel Mann. Critics also praised Ford's performance, with the Hollywood Reporter reviewer noting, "Nothing in Ford's background can prepare you for the amazing job he does in this part."
       As noted in a November 21, 1956 Los Angeles Times article, the film's premiere at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles included in the audience representatives of the Japanese government and more than 1,000 armed forces members. In 1957, Universal Pictures produced a film entitled Joe Butterfly, directed by Jesse Hibbs and starring Audie Murphy and Kieko Shima, which had some thematic similarities to The Teahouse of the August Moon. Hollywood Reporter reported in March 1969 that theatrical producer Herman Levin had asked M-G-M for permission to produce a musical version of the play, which would be written by Patrick, with the music and lyrics written by Stan Freeman and Franklin Underwood. That production was never made.