Twilight Time // 1955 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 24th, 2013
Together they defied 5,000 years of tradition!
Based on a real life story and best selling book, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing stars William Holden (Stalag 17) as Mark Elliot, a soon-to-be-divorced stateside reporter who falls in love with Dr. Han Suyin (Oscar winner Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette), a highly acclaimed Eurasian physician. Set in 1949 Hong Kong amidst the end of World War II and China's Civil War, Elliot and Dr. Suyin find themselves in a steamy romance that is not particularly well endorsed by those surrounding them. Their love is stretched to its limits when Elliot is sent off to war, a place that will eventually test both their faith in love and the strength of their bond for each other.
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is old time Hollywood movie making, a film that wears its heart firmly -- and proudly -- on its sleeve. Set in a now long gone 1950s Hong Kong atmosphere (and filmed on location, which was unusual for the era), Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is at its core a love story between two cultures: Eurasian and American, both of which stumble and fumble their way towards each other's hearts. The film isn't very complicated and, while slow in parts, is as easy to follow as A to B. Two people fall in love, and then tragedy strikes. It's a tale as old as time and would have made for a wonderful Nicholas Sparks novel. Giving the film a bit of extra depth is the class struggles and racial prejudices that permeate the story, which are sadly still timely over fifty years after the fact.
Legend has it that William Holden and Jennifer Jones (who would star together a second time in Jones's swan song, the 1974 disaster hit The Towering Inferno) could hardly stand being around each other on set. Certainly they could have fooled this viewer; both actors come across as likable and liking each other, which is a real feat if the rumors of their mutual hatred are true. Jennifer Jones starts out a bit stiff as Dr. Han Suyin but gradually becomes an endearing character as she falls for Holden's character. William Holden personifies 1950s machismo as correspondent Mark Elliot; he's got charm to spare and is tenacious in his pursuit of Dr. Suyin. Both roles are well played even when the dialogue leans toward the corny (care of screenwriter John Patrick, who wrote the far superior High Society); this was apparently a time when you could tell a girl you're married, and when you ask if you can see her again, and she answers "I think not," you can shoot back "I think so" and not be considered a crazy stalker. There are other miner characters to be found here, but generally speaking Love is a Many-Splendored Things feels like a two person show.
One of the true stars of Love is a Many-Splendored Things is the lush cinematography by Leon Shamroy (Cleopatra, Planet of the Apes) which is like a travelogue for Hong Kong. The way that Shamroy is able to frame the beautiful surroundings makes the film all the more interesting and unique. Shamroy's visuals are far more impressive than Henry King's (who also helmed Jones to an Oscar in Song of Bernadette) direction that, while serviceable, isn't really anything special. Screenwriter John Patrick (High Society) adapted Dr. Suyin's book for the screen, and the dialogue is often sharp and snappy (especially Holden's). The screenplay isn't going to shock or surprise anyone, but it does jump though the necessary 'romantic' hoops to get to its final, three hankie destination.
Love is a Many-Splendored Things was eventually nominated for multiple Oscars including Best Picture, Actress (Jones), Art Direction, Cinematography, Sound, and won for Costume Design, Music Core, and Best Song ("Love is a Many-Splendored Thing", which sounds like it was created at Disneyland).
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing is presented in a striking looking 2.55:1 widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition. This is one of the best looking 'older' films I've ever seen on Blu-ray. Film grain is present but naturally so; the colors and black levels are all excellent without any noticeable flaws. In short, this is a great looking transfer for a film that's now more than half a century old. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround as well as DTS-HD 2.0, both in English. The 5.1 mix is very good without sounding artificial or canned (the biggest boost is Hollywood legend Alfred Newman's lushly composed film score). Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Extra features include a newly recorded commentary track by film historians Jon Burlingame, Michael Lonzo and Sylvia Stoddard; a movie time newsreel; an isolated track of Alfred Newman's film score; and a theatrical trailer for the film.
The fact is, movies like Love is a Many-Splendored Thing just don't exist anymore. This is a film that is clearly made for those who love to swoon over a straight forward love story (and have a good cry in the process). Holden and Jones are solid in their roles and the scenery alone is well worth visiting this classic film.
Not Guilty. Old time Hollywood romance at its finest.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
* 2.55:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1955
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Isolated Score