Arlecchino Cinema > 11:00


Charles Chaplin

Preceded by a homemovie showing Charles Chaplin, Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando on set (5′)


Friday 01/07/2016


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

Chaplin is clearly the guardian angel of our festival. We are now presenting his last feature, A Countess from Hong Kong, a much maligned film, but, at least to this writer, a masterpiece.

Peter von Bagh

A luxury liner, carrying an American heir serving as a diplomat, calls at Hong Kong, where one of his father’s old friends offers the ambassador a choice among Russian prostitutes. One of these is determined to seize the opportunity to escape to America, and the rest of the film follows their game of cat and mouse across the Pacific. Brando’s performance as the uptight, pompous Ogden Mears has gone down in history as one of his least successful: indeed it seems defined almost by its negativity, as Mears grapples with his determined stowaway, the disappointing news of his next posting, and a collapsing marriage to greet his return. Almost entirely set in his suite, the action most closely resembles classic farce, with every knock at the door provoking a flurry of frantic concealment. And both Brando and his co-star, Sophia Loren, prove adept at this demanding discipline, superbly choreographed by a past master, although Loren later revealed that Brando was intimidated by Chaplin’s ebullient direction, making his ‘small voice’ even smaller.
What would be Chaplin’s last film has gone down in received history as a disaster, putting it in the same category as Tati’s contemporary Playtime, and indeed most of the late work of such veterans as Lean, Powell and Cukor. But the time may be ripe for a radical reassessment, as Donna Kornhaber has recently argued. Chaplin himself was mystified by the negative reception, believing that he had achieved exactly what was intended, working for the first and only time in colour and widescreen. Forsaking the sentimentality and melodrama of his other sound features, he returned to a script first drafted in 1936, to portray what are in fact two desperate characters, flanked by the diplomat’s cynical retainers. Loren’s apparent glamour cloaks her refugee’s desperation, while Brando’s attempts to maintain a statesmanlike dignity are constantly undercut by his own inner emptiness, and the antics required by his growing commitment to Loren.

Ian Christie

Cast and Credits

Sog., Scen., Mus.: Charles Chaplin. F.: Arthur Ibbetson. M.: Gordon Hales. Scgf.: Robert Cartwright, Vernon Dixon. Int.: Marlon Brando (Ogden Mears), Sophia Loren (Natascia Alexandroff), Sydney Chaplin (Harvey Crothers), Tippi Hedren (Martha Mears), Patrick Cargill (Hudson), Margaret Rutherford (Miss Gaulswallow), Michael Medwin (John Felix), Oliver Johnston (Clark), John Paul (capitano). Prod.: Jerome Epstein per Universal. 35mm. D.: 122’. Col.