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Monday, December 20, 2010

TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON (1956)

Most of cast & crew seem miscast in this adaptation of John Patrick’s once acclaimed, now painfully obvious play. It’s the one about a small town in post-WWII Okinawa where a fumbling U.S. military officer fails to instill the proscribed democratic principles, but backs into success by ‘going native’ and generally disregarding all official orders It’s a sit-com for people whose favorite book is The Family of Man. Poor Glenn Ford huffs & puffs as the well-intentioned Yankee (he's like Robert Walker’s Private Hargrove, but too beefy for it to work), and he hits a career low when Machiko Kyo’s Geisha tries to pull his clothes off. Oy-san! Even wonderful Paul Ford as the commanding officer and solid Harry Morgan as his aide shout all their lines under helmer Daniel Mann’s lumbering touch. But the film will always hold a morbid fascination because the role of Sakini, our guide & the story’s interpreter, is played by Marlon Brando, slight of build & slightly Asian. (Actually, he looks more Asiatic in ON THE WATERFRONT/’54, go figure.) The role is one part Charlie Chan aphorisms and two parts Sgt Bilco, but you can’t take your eyes off the guy. Right at the end, there’s a bit of theatrical slight-of-hand where you can see how this might have worked on stage, but there’s a mountain of dross to navigate before you get there.

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