Sunday, November 20, 2011

Marlon Brando & Sophia Loren in A Countess from Hong Kong (1967)

This charming and gentle, if strange film was Charlie Chaplin's last directorial effort. Natascha (Loren) is exiled Russian royalty - a countess - working as a dance hall girl in Hong Kong. She's part of an underclass of people such as herself who have no identity papers and therefore cannot leave. They have no prospects and very little future. Enter Ogden Mears (Brando), heir to a petroleum fortune. He's just been appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia and has arrived in Hong Kong on business. He's traveling by ocean liner and is met by a friend of the family who bring with him three of the royal underclass, including Natascha. After a drunken night on the town Ogden and his entourage depart for home, only to discover that Natascha has stowed away in Ogden's closet. She appeals to his better instincts, but when that doesn't work, she blackmails him let her stay. Of course, the close quarters of a stateroom lead to love, and complications. Will Ogden throw away his career for Natascha?
There's a strange quality to this film. It's shot through with Chaplin's charm and sophisticated physical comedy, most deftly performed by Sidney Cargill as a dotty butler, but Brando as Mears strikes an odd note. His comedic style is a bit heavy handed, in a part more suited to Cary Grant (who had retired from films a year earlier, and also had a stormy relationship with Loren). Not only did Chaplin direct, he also scored the entire film and cast his son, Sidney Chaplin, as Mear's associate. Look for Tippi Hedren as Ogden's wife and Margaret Rutherford in a cameo as a passenger.

This film is available on DVD and can be seen in full on YouTube. Part one is above, uploaded by Longoaiphong.

Obscurity factor: 8 (not well known, available on DVD & YouTube)

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