Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 2 hrs.
Release Date: March 15th, 1967 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Charles Chaplin Actors: Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Sydney Chaplin, Tippi Hedren, Patrick Cargill, Michael Medwin, Oliver Johnston
Secretary of State hopeful, and a lucky soul scheduled to be divorced in six weeks, Ogden Mears (Marlon Brando) is also the son of the richest oil man in the world. While visiting Hong Kong, overcrowded with refugees as a result of two world wars, with his friend Harvey Crothers (Sydney Chaplin), Mears is introduced to a trio of daughters of Russian aristocrats by the elderly Milton Clark (Oliver Johnston). During dinner at a nightclub, Clark explains that they all escaped from Shanghai and the Russian Revolution and though genuine nobility, they’re frequently relegated to dance halls, where soldiers can pay half-a-dollar for their company. Countess Natascha Alexandra (Sophia Loren), who pays the most attention to Ogden, was the mistress of a gangster at the age of 14, trapped in a dark time with few resources and thoughts only of survival.
The following day, Mears can barely remember anything, though his shirt is plastered with telephone numbers written in lipstick. After their ship leaves the dock, Ogden is shocked to discover that Natascha, determined to escape a life of prostitution and hopelessness in Hong Kong, has stowed away in his closet aboard the ocean liner. He’s furious, but, unable to move her into another room, makes the mistake of lending her a pair of pajamas – which end up getting ripped. Harvey is certain that the countess wants money, though she claims she only wants to get to America. As a newly appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ogden must be particularly careful that the stowaway’s presence doesn’t ruin his career.
While it’s a comedy of respectable appearances and propriety combating sexual tension and disastrous assumptions, very few laughs are to be found amongst the bunglesome interactions. Ultimately, it’s a love story of two opposites who must endure hectic adventures together to realize that they’re a perfect couple. And some of the romance is intermittently affective, though never consistently believable. But the pathos and tenderness of Chaplin’s masterpieces of the ‘30s are glaringly absent. For a former harlot, Natascha dons a startling naivety and innocence that hardly befits her; subplots pointlessly pad the runtime, including a lengthy ruse of marriage to get the countess uneventfully into Honolulu, and even another one once on the island; and supporting roles are designed for inadequate comic relief (Patrick Cargill as loopy servant Henry Hudson) or additional romantic intricacies (Tippi Hedren as Ogden’s wife Martha). So much of this just doesn’t blend well with the basic plot.
“A Countess from Hong Kong” has the mind of a simpler – perhaps even silent – film, with musical cues for character emotions (the score is once again done by Chaplin himself and is unmistakably reminiscent of his earlier compositions), mild slapstick gags (nonstop interruptions in the boat cabin, stumbling about to avoid detection, and energetically falling on the floor), and characters facing away from one another to further exaggerate uncommunicated inner feelings (and as if to awkwardly avoid looking into the camera). The framing and cinematography are equally uninspired, the dialogue severely lacks the zest of Wilder or Sturges, and the acting reeks of phony attempts at anger (slamming doors) and impatience (drumming fingers). Overall, the film seems tragically stuck in a style and storytelling technique from decades ago – and indeed, it’s been ten years since Chaplin’s last fully original work. His only feature in color and the last directorial effort before his death, “A Countess from Hong Kong” is an unfortunately meager parting picture.
– Mike Massie