Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Countess From Hong Kong (1967)



A Countess from Hong Kong is not a typical Charlie Chaplin film. It is silly with some dramatic moments but the story is not balanced like his earlier films such as The Kid and The Great Dictator were. Also unlike his other films Charlie Chaplin is not the main character and he greatly miscast Marlon Brando in the lead.
            Ogden Mears (Brando) is on a cruise that stops in Hong Kong. He does not want to go on the mainland but an older gentleman he knows through his father comes abroad with three young women who were once real countesses. One of the women is Natascha (Sophie Loren) is a White Russian who has lived in Hong Kong all her life. Odgen and Natascha get along very nicely.
            The following day Ogden gets up with a bad hangover and several numbers in lipstick written on his shirt. He goes to the closet to get a robe out, hears a small yell and closes the door apologizing. He opens it again to see Natascha who he cannot remember at all for a few minutes. She tells him she has stowed away to go to America. Ogden is not happy at all about this especially because he could get into so much trouble and she does not have her papers.
            Throughout the trip Natascha drives Ogden crazy about everything from clothes to where she will sleep. Eventually Harvey, Ogden’s friend, finds Natascha in bathroom when he goes to get a towel. He thinks all she wants is Ogden’s money and that he should get rid of her in Tokyo. They talk to Natascha she says she does not want money she just wants to go to America. As they are speaking to each other Harvey is smoking a cigar and the stink along with the rough waves begins to get to them all and they all get sick.
            A few days later Ogden says he was sick with Malaria and Natascha helped him to get better. He is beginning to have a soft spot for the stowaway. That night there is a dance and Natascha is left alone. Ogden is not having a good time dancing with all the annoying young girls. Harvey goes down to check on Natascha when an electrician comes in by an extra key. Harvey thinks it is better to have her come up to the dance than to be caught in the room. At the dance people think she is the lady who has been sick since the boat left Hong Kong. Natascha runs into a man knew she knew in Hong Kong. He will not leave her alone so Ogden and Harvey come up with a plan to get her away from him and it works the guy cannot find her at all.
            While sitting out on the deck Harvey hears over the radio that Martha (Tippi Hedren), Ogden’s wife, will be coming aboard that night. They need to make it look like Natascha has nothing to do with Ogden and they have to eventually get her onto American soil. Ogden has his servant Hudson marry her to make her an American citizen. They make it seem as if her papers were blown overboard. Hudson is hilariously excited and Natascha thinks the man is insane.
            The next day Natascha decides to jump off the ship when it docks in Hawaii since the captain of the ship has told her the marriage may not be legal. She tells Harvey to meet her at Waikiki beach the following day. Martha, Ogden, and Harvey go on land. Martha tells Harvey she knows that Natascha is not Hudson’s wife or his that she is a prostitute from Hong Kong.
            Luckily the papers go through and Natascha can get a passport and papers to go to the mainland. She is heartbroken that Ogden has left for the mainland. Ogden calls Harvey to tell him that he did not leave with the ship he has stayed behind to see Natascha.
            The ending is very typical Charlie Chaplin with the happy couple dancing and not saying a word.
            Marlon Brando was horribly miscast as Ogden. But there are times where I could not believe he was actually good in a comedic scene. The scene after Ogden finds Natascha in the closet is the funniest of film. The two of them run around and bang into things as she tries to hide in the bathroom or the next room. I am not used to seeing Brando act funny this was something different and I liked him in the scene very much. Brando and Chaplin did not get along during the making of the film. You can see that Brando was doing his job and that is it he seemed like he was not trying. Sophie Loren was fabulous as Natascha I liked her so much. She was hysterical she definitely carried the comedy. Loren looked stunning from beginning to end even in oversized pajamas and clothes. Tippi Hedren is in the film for the last five minutes. I will say this about the woman she was very pretty but good lord she could not act to save her life! Chaplin’s son Sydney played Harvey. He was not a bad actor at all he was very good. There are some scene where you can tell he is Chaplin’s son they had the same eyes and cheeks. And he also included his daughter Geraldine Chaplin. She dances with Brando. 
            This was Charlie Chaplin’s last film he made. He wrote and directed it and even had a small cameo as a porter. Unfortunately the film did not do well which is sad considering the long and successful career he had. Chaplin had actually come up with the story in the 1930s as a film called “Stowaway” for his then wife Paulette Goddard. I can absolutely see Paulette Goddard in the role of Natascha especially in the scenes where she has to run to hide and where Ogden chases Natascha around to try to get rid of her. Chaplin I can see him having played Hudson. The night he marries Natascha Hudson goes crazy with excitement and she just stares in stunned silence at him (Sophie Loren’s face is hilarious). I can just picture Chaplin going through all his wacky body movement and his devilish smile and as he flips blankets all over the place. As I mentioned at the beginning the story has a mix of comedy and drama but it is not balanced like Chaplin’s earlier films. I do not know why it did not work maybe it was the cast or maybe it was Chaplin’s writing.
             A Countess from Hong Kong may not be Charlie Chaplin’s best film but it would be outrageously unfair to him to completely write the film off. It had a good story it was not offensive or mean and you can still tell it was Charlie Chaplin’s humor. You can definitely tell after reading that he wanted to make it in the 1930s it would have worked in that era a little better but it worked out perfectly that the subject of this former countess who turned into an escort was made at a later date even if would have been implied in the 1930s. A Countess from Hong Kong is enjoyable and I think should be given more of a chance.