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Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (Blu-ray Review)

29 Jul, 2013 By: Mike Clark

Available at ScreenArchives.com
Twilight Time
Not rated.
Stars William Holden, Jennifer Jones.

Following the lead of 1952’s "Do Not Forsake Me" theme from High Noon and 20th Century Fox’s own synergetic triumph with another Oscar-winning song via Three Coins in the Fountain two years later, here’s another of the early prime examples of how a pop tune contributed to a movie’s box office smash-dom — and vice-versa. And yes, a best-song Oscar win was again forthcoming (and back when it meant something), even though the list of recording artists who initially turned down what would become a Sammy Fain-Paul Francis Webster Billboard smash was long. According to Julie Kirgo’s typically nimble liner notes here, Nat King Cole wouldn’t even agree to wax the tune with a car thrown in as a bonus. And Frank Sinatra eventually joked about how he originally turned it down as well, leaving it to The Four Aces (whose “Fountain” recording had been a bigger seller than Frank’s, even his was the version in the movie’s opening credits) to go No. 1 for Decca in August of ’55.

This was the same summer that Chuck Berry’s Maybelline and Fats Domino’s "Ain’t That a Shame" indicated that something new was coming on the jukebox horizon, yet I always loved the splendored Aces recording as well — and even saw the movie (double-billed with Fred Astaire’s Daddy Long Legs) at the time. This wasn’t the usual fare for 8-year-old boys who loved the Yankees and owned cap pistols, but a kid has to diversify, even if a lot of the movie’s politics were over my head in this adaptation of Han Suyin’s semi-autobiographical novel (which had no Love Is in its title). Without taking its eye off the ball in terms of any tangential narrative issues, the story deals almost exclusively with a Eurasian physician’s Hong Kong-set love affair with a married male news correspondent (Caucasian) to the typical snobbish social ostracism – or close – of the day. For a Cold War era film set in ’49 against a backdrop of Chinese communism and then the Korean War, it is not particularly jingo-istic, though the most gung ho communist in it (a male physician at the femme protagonist’s hospital) is a contender for the movie’s biggest pain in the behind. Well, a lot of ideologues are just that.

Producer Buddy Adler, whose ’50s blockbusters always seemed to have exotic locales, seems to have spent most of his money on gorgeous location footage (Fox liked taking those CinemaScope lenses everywhere) plus leads William Holden and Jennifer Jones (she with the benefit of marvelous Oscar-winning costumes). Until I read Kirgo’s liner notes and the Wikipedia entry that sourced a Holden biography, I didn’t realize that it’s pretty well known that the two actors didn’t get along and that Jones even chewed garlic before their kissing scenes (maybe she thought he was a vampire).

Even though I think she looks pretty smashing here, it has been said that Jones didn’t like her makeup and thought it made her look old. Not long after, the actress clearly was too old for her roles in The Barretts of Wimpole Street, A Farewell to Arms and Tender Is the Night, but here you figure that the character certainly didn’t get through med school in a day. Both Jones and the less-deserving picture got Oscar nominations, and I think she makes more of an impression here than Holden, who seems a little rigidly un-relaxed (though it’s also easy to argue that this is hardly alien to the role of a guy in a high-pressure job whose unloving wife still won’t divorce him). In any event, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be living in the real-life household of David O. Selznick and Jones household. Head-Trip City.

In always-welcome Twilight Time fashion, Alfred Newman’s score is isolated on a separate track — it being the source of Love’s third Oscar. I once read a review or article that said the soundtrack “wallowed” in the pop hit … but really, now, it is the leads, costuming, locales and the music that keep the narrative going because Henry King’s direction is only a little less pedestrian than it was throughout the entire Scope era (it certainly did its best to take down Carousel). Still, this is an easy-to-take summer movie from an era when that term meant something else (and better). The theater that played it first-run in my hometown sandwiched it between same-month engagements of Francis in the Navy (double-billed with The Scarlet Coat) and David Lean’s Summertime. Every time I hear someone say that today’s movies are more diverse, my eyebrow arches up a little.

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