28 June 2008 | moonspinner55
Chinese Proverbs, knowing butterflies, fortunes told...nothing can stop fate!
Han Suyin's autobiographical novel "A Many-Splendored Thing" becomes glossy, unconvincingly clean and luxurious romance set in Hong Kong, 1949, wherein a widowed female doctor of Chinese-English descent falls for an American correspondent stuck in a loveless marriage. John Patrick adapted Suyin's story, apparently turning her heartfelt remembrances into swooning romantic dross complete with poor dialogue exchanges (He: "I can't believe you're a doctor." .. She: "Too bad we don't have a scalpel, I could make a small incision."). Dark-haired, pale-skinned Jennifer Jones meets handsome, smiling William Holden at a party and immediately feigns indignance, as if widowed women bury their sexuality (or feel they must appear to) once a man takes an interest in them. Henry King directs the proceedings with a gentle touch, bringing it all to a misty-eyed flourish, yet Jones' character is never an embraceable one. Constantly referring to her heritage (and the fact she's "Eurasian"), this lady is forthright in all the wrong ways (she'd be more likely to turn off Holden's reporter rather than keep him around). Jones (who got an Oscar nomination) and Holden do create a loving rapport which becomes sweeter once Jennifer loosens up. This hard-working woman curiously puts a great deal of stock into superstitions (omens, Proverbs, butterflies), which seems out of step with such a no-nonsense lady; the sequence where she travels back home to Chunking to visit relatives is also odd (it doesn't take shape, it just appears as though she's running away). Holden performs in a low, easy key and glides through rather unperturbed (nothing ruffles this guy, but there's nothing to explain his devotion either; the man is obviously touched by this woman, but that doesn't tell us much about him). Alfred Newman's Oscar-winning music (and the memorable, Oscar-winning theme song by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster) are lovely, and the locations are gorgeous, though the obvious studio shots are too tidy--even the hospital where Jones works seems overly opulent. A nice-enough weeper for soap fans, though one without the substance to entice a wider audience. **1/2 from ****