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Saturday, July 22, 2017

THE WORLD OF SUSIE WONG (1960)

In the movies, guys tumble for hookers in one of two ways: either going in without knowing, having the dirty secret exposed by a rival (just beating a tearful tell-all), then having a crisis over ‘used goods’ (think ANNA CHRISTIE/'23; ’30); or they know from the start and won’t admit to feelings because of . . . the ‘used goods’ issue (think MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE/’64). Different roads/same destination. WONG opts for the latter as William Holden, taking a sabbatical to try his hand at painting, snags a cheap apartment in what turns out to be a Hong Kong hotel/brothel. That’s where he spots the girl he met on the ferry (debuting Nancy Kwan), who turns out to be the joint’s top hooker. Hired by Holden not for bed, but for portrait, complications ensue via Michael Wilding’s lonely lush (for Suzie) and via lonely bank clerk Sylvia Syms (for Holden). But what really sells the film is the extraordinary look of the thing, stunningly realized in Geoffrey Unsworth’s eye-popping location lensing (non-location studio sets also unusually fine) and from what must be the most imaginative, vigorous megging Richard Quine ever managed. Kwan, pretty raw-toned here, mistakes irritating for mysterious & intriguing, but her Natalie Woods looks (they could be half-sisters) helps her get away with it.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: Paul Osborn’s more rounded stage version had France Nuyen & William Shatner in the leading roles, but is now remembered largely for critic Kenneth Tynan’s use of the title as a putdown for Rodgers & Hammerstein’s FLOWER DRUM SONG which he famously (if inaccurately) labeled ‘A World of Woozie Song.’ Ironically, the 1961 film version of that musical would be Kwan’s next role.

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