A Countess From Hong Kong (1967)
By all accounts this was a troubled production and met with harsh words from the critics at the time of it’s release. One that saw three iconic names in the world of movie making converge on a set and subsequently begin to have a serious falling out amongst themselves. So say the history books. Who the hell cares. Frankly I’ve seen this film three or four times and have always liked it even with it’s flaws intact.
Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren play the leads in the final film of the legendary Charlie Chaplin’s career. Brando is a wealthy man of some political pull rumored to be a forthcoming state senator. He’s on a cruise liner that’s arrived in Hong Kong accompanied by his handler and pal, Sydney Chaplin. Shortly thereafter Brando will meet the stoic Sophia Loren. A one time countess now destitute under the current political climate. Short of the word prostitution, she’s fending for herself in the dance clubs of Hong Kong. A night of gaiety and booze follows leaving Brando with a hell of a hang over the next morning in his swank room aboard the cruise liner.
He’s about to realize he has a stowaway hiding out in his room. And so begins a screwball comedy born 25 years too late which is one of the criticisms aimed at the film released in the turbulent times of the late 60’s. At first Marlon wants the beautiful Sophia to turn herself in to the ship’s Captain at which point she’ll be sent back to Hong Kong as she has no passport. That’s a sentence to the streets and brothels of which she is determined to escape. More comical charades ensue as Brando is scared she’ll be discovered in his room ruining his political career and giving his estranged wife, Tippi Hedren, cause to create a stir.
Perhaps Brando will look beyond the situation and play the gallant hero Sophia is looking for. Perhaps Brando might notice the stunning beauty with the playful smile staying in his state room. What do you think? When Sophia emerges from her hideaway to join the ship’s crew and passengers at the Captain’s ball, it has a Cinderella feel that adds to the comical capers moving forward. This gives Margaret Rutherford the chance to appear in an amusing cameo in the year that saw the one time Miss Marple retire from the screen. Another piece of business that adds to the hilarity is Patrick Cargill as Brando’s valet who will be enlisted to serve as Sophia’s love interest to get her into the United States and past the overtly suspicious Hedren once she sets foot on the boat after it arrives in Honolulu.
Hey, isn’t that the Tramp himself turning up as the ship’s elderly steward in Brando’s room. Yes I believe it’s Charlie himself stepping in front of the camera for the final time alongside his son Sydney and he’s even cast his daughter Geraldine in a small role as well.
Chaplin’s directing style harkens back to the silent era in it’s delivery and the musical score and cues are very much of the past. Again it’s easy to see why the film was considered “old hat” in 1967. That doesn’t apply at all when watching the film in 2018. It’s an old movie and it’s enjoyable. I’m not making noise that it’s dated because it is from our vantage point serving as a window to a time past when comedy was a tad more innocent then it is now.
One shouldn’t be surprised that Marlon Brando does well with comedy proving again why he’s considered a screen great when he wanted to be. It’s always hard to take your eyes off him. Let me add here that that’s not always the case opposite Sophia. Her laugh, smile and energy is so infectious it’s impossible not to smile and follow her every movement when she’s enjoying herself on camera. One could easily make the argument that Brando appeared opposite the two most beautiful women in the world during the 1967 season. He followed up his teaming with Sophia opposite Elizabeth Taylor in John Huston’s Reflections In a Golden Eye.
This Countess represents old school entertainment that features three icons of cinema making it a worthy venture should you find the time with your significant other to sit back and give it a look for either the first time or a welcome revisit. No it’s not likely a title that’s going to come to mind when you think of movies starring anyone of the three biggies appearing here. Still, one could argue it’s way better than some of the later output we saw from ………… I’ll let you fill in that blank.
A Countess From Hong Kong is out on DVD as part of a Marlon Brando collection that resides here in the movie room. As a matter of fact the only two movies that don’t at this time are his comedy opposite David Niven, Bedtime Story and a late film he made with Johnny Depp titled The Brave. Not surprisingly they remain the only two Brando film’s I’ve yet to see.