A Countess from Hong Kong
A Countess from Hong Kong is a 1967 British romantic comedy film scored, written, and directed by Charlie Chaplin and starring Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Sydney Chaplin (Chaplin's third son), Tippi Hedren, Patrick Cargill and Margaret Rutherford. It was the last film directed, written, produced and scored by Chaplin, and one of two films Chaplin directed in which he did not play a major role (the other was 1923's A Woman of Paris), as well as his only color film. Chaplin's cameo marked his final screen appearance.
|A Countess from Hong Kong|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Charlie Chaplin|
|Written by||Charlie Chaplin|
|Music by||Charlie Chaplin|
|Edited by||Gordon Hales|
|Distributed by||Rank Film Distributors|
|Budget||$3.5 million (estimated)|
|Box office||$1.1 million (United States and Canada)|
The story is based loosely on the life of a woman Chaplin met in France, named Moussia Sodskaya, or "Skaya", as he calls her in his 1922 book My Trip Abroad. She was a Russian singer and dancer who "was a stateless person marooned in France without a passport". The idea, according to a press release written by Chaplin after the film received a negative reception, "resulted from a visit I made to Shanghai in 1931 where I came across a number of titled aristocrats who had escaped the Russian Revolution. They were destitute and without a country; their status was of the lowest grade. The men ran rickshaws and the women worked in ten-cent dance halls. When the Second World War broke out many of the old aristocrats had died and the younger generation migrated to Hong Kong where their plight was even worse, for Hong Kong was overcrowded with refugees."
It was originally started as a film called Stowaway in the 1930s, planned for Paulette Goddard, but production was never completed. This resulting film, created nearly 30 years after its inception, was a critical failure and grossed US$2 million from a US$3.5-million budget. However, it did prove to be extremely successful in Europe and Japan. In addition, the success of the music score was able to cover the budget.
Critics such as Tim Hunter and Andrew Sarris, as well as poet John Betjeman and director François Truffaut, viewed the film as being among Chaplin's best works. Actor Jack Nicholson is also a big fan of the film.
The film's theme song, "This Is My Song", written by Chaplin and performed by Petula Clark, became a worldwide success, topping the charts in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium, while reaching number three in the United States and number four in Canada.
Ambassador-designate to Saudi Arabia Ogden Mears sails back to America after touring the world. At a layover in Hong Kong, Ogden meets Natascha – a Russian countess whose parents died after the family was expelled following the Russian Revolution – who then sneaks into his cabin in evening dress to escape her life as a prostitute at a sailors' dance hall. A refugee, she has no passport, and she is forced to hide in his cabin during the voyage.
Ogden dislikes the situation, being a married man although seeking a divorce, and he worries how it might affect his career if she is found. But he reluctantly agrees to let her stay. They must then figure out how to get her off the ship, and it is arranged that she marry Hudson, his middle-aged valet.
Although it is only a formality, Hudson wishes to consummate the relationship, a wish she does not share. She avoids him until they dock in Honolulu, then jumps off the ship and swims ashore.
Ogden's wife Martha arrives in Honolulu to join the cruise, under advice from Washington that they avoid the impropriety of a divorce. Ogden's lawyer friend Harvey, who helped arrange the marriage, meets Natascha ashore and tells her that the immigration officers have accepted her as Hudson's wife, and she will remain in Honolulu. Martha confronts Ogden about Natascha, speaking rather roughly about her and her past lifestyle as a prostitute and the mistress of a gangster, having learned her past from a passenger who was Natascha's customer in Hong Kong. Ogden responds by asking if his wife would have done as well under such circumstances.
The ship sets sail for the U.S. mainland, but Ogden surprises Natascha in the hotel's cabaret where they begin dancing as he has left the ship and his wife.
- Marlon Brando as Ogden
- Sophia Loren as Natascha
- Sydney Chaplin as Harvey
- Tippi Hedren as Martha
- Patrick Cargill as Hudson
- Michael Medwin as John Felix, sailor
- Oliver Johnston as Clark, a director of Mears' oil company
- John Paul as The Captain
- Angela Scoular as The Society Girl ("Daddy says...")
- Margaret Rutherford as Miss Gaulswallow
- Bill Nagy as Crawford
- Dilys Laye as Saleswoman
In addition, Charlie Chaplin briefly appears as an Old Steward, while his daughters Geraldine, Josephine and Victoria make brief appearances as Girl at Dance (on the ship) and as Two Young Girls (entering the Waikiki Hotel), respectively.
This was Chaplin's first film in 10 years, after 1957's A King in New York. He had written a draft of the script in the late 1930s under the working title The Stowaway, as a starring vehicle for his then-wife Paulette Goddard. In the years after, Chaplin worked on the script in increments, "adding a bit here, cutting a bit there."
In 1963, a friend of Chaplin suggested to him Sophia Loren for the lead role of Natascha, the Russian princess. For the character of Ogden, he originally wanted Rex Harrison or Cary Grant to play the role, but eventually Marlon Brando was cast. By 1965, both Brando and Sophia Loren agreed to play their parts without reading a script. Shooting began on 25 January 1966 at Pinewood Studios; it was frequently interrupted by Brando arriving late and then being hospitalised with appendicitis, Chaplin and Brando having the flu, and Loren remarrying Carlo Ponti.
This is Tippi Hedren's first feature film after her break with director Alfred Hitchcock in The Birds. She had high hopes for the film, until she received the script. When she realised that she had a small part as Brando's estranged wife, she asked Chaplin to expand her role. Although Chaplin tried to accommodate her, he could not, as the story mostly takes place on a ship that Hedren's character boards near the end of the film. In the end, she remained in the film and later said that it was a pleasure working for him.
Hedren described Chaplin's directorial technique in the following way: "Chaplin’s method was to act out all our different roles, which was brilliant to watch. Instead of directing, he’d get out there on set and say: 'OK, do this,' and show us how. He’d become Sophia Loren. He’d become me and Marlon. It was really unusual and I’d never seen it happen before." Although some members of the cast appreciated Chaplin's approach, Marlon Brando felt insulted and wanted to quit before Chaplin was able to persuade him to finish the picture.
Brando considered Chaplin a "fearsomely cruel man", claiming that Chaplin: "was an egotistical tyrant and a penny-pincher. He harassed people when they were late, and scolded them unmercifully to work faster." Brando was particularly angered by what he regarded as the cruel way that Chaplin treated his son Sydney, who had a supporting role in the picture: "Chaplin was probably the most sadistic man I’d ever met."
The film was released on VHS in 1996, as part of the Universal Cinema Classics series. In 2003 it was released on DVD in widescreen format, and later re-released as part of the DVD set Marlon Brando: The Franchise Collection. It is now on Blu Ray.
The film received largely negative reviews, though it has a 60% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- The New York Times review for 17 March 1967 stated: "...if an old fan of Mr. Chaplin's movies could have his charitable way, he would draw the curtain fast on this embarrassment and pretend it never occurred".
- Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 1995 gave it one-and-a-half stars, stating it was "badly shot, badly timed, badly scored".
- TV Guide gave the movie one star, with the comment "a dismal, uninviting comedy".
- Radio Times gave the film two stars, stating that "it's all too staid and too stagey".
- Tim Hunter writing in The Harvard Crimson for 25 April 1967 gave it a fairly good review, stating: "Take the new Chaplin film on its own terms; contrary to all those patronizing critics, the old man hasn't really lost his touch, and Countess is a glorious romance".
- Christopher Null of Filmcritic.com gave it three stars, stating, however: "...the repetitive story (with Loren repeatedly running to hide in Brando's bathroom when there's a knock on the door) gets tiresome".
- Chaplin biographer Jeffrey Vance, writing in 2003, maintains: "A Countess from Hong Kong is less interesting than any of Chaplin's previous sound films because it contains neither political nor satirical elements" (although there is a scene where an old lady renounces a stuffed animal's "red" tongue). Vance believes some of Chaplin's own comic vision and optimism is infused in Sophia Loren's role. A dance-hall girl, Loren's character of Natascha—a prostitute—"perpetuates Chaplin's lifelong fascination with fallen women as heroines. In many ways, Natascha is the proxy for the Tramp in the film, searching for a better life, while always understanding that both happiness and beauty are fleeting. The Tramp's philosophy is expressed by Natascha's dialogue, 'Don't be sad. That's too easy. Be like me. At this moment, I'm very happy...That's all we can ask for—this moment.' This statement can be applied to the film as well: while it is easy to lament its many failures, particularly because it is Chaplin's last film, it is perhaps best to cherish its wonderful, fleeting comic moments."
- Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p345
- "Big Rental Films of 1967". Variety. 3 January 1968. p. 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
- Charlie, Chaplin (1922). My Trip Abroad. Harper & Brothers. p. 127. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
- Milton, Joyce (1996). Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin. Da Capo Press. pp. 192, 356. ISBN 0-306-80831-5.
- "A Countess From Hong Kong". TVGuide.com. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
- "Charlie Chaplin : Overview of His Life". Charlie Chaplin: Official Site. Archived from the original on 4 September 2011. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
- "Producer, star share joke". The Age. David Syme & Co. Ltd. AAP. 3 November 1965. p. 4. Retrieved 27 February 2021.
- Nat Segaloff, Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors, Bear Manor Media 2013 pp. 60–61
- Hedren, Tippi (27 November 2016). "The day I learned about Charlie Chaplin's bizarre directing style with Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
- "Brando's encounter with Charlie Chaplin". Entertainment Weekly. Meredith Corporation. Retrieved 14 March 2020.
- "Amazon.com: A Countess from Hong Kong: Movies & TV".
- Maltin, Leonard (September 1994). Leonard Maltin's Movie and Video Guide 1995. Signet. p. 263.
- Bosley Crowther (17 March 1967). "Movie Review -'A Countess From Hong Kong':New Movie by Chaplin Opens at the Sutton Miss Loren and Brando in an Antique Farce'". The New York Times.
- "A Countess From Hong Kong". TVGuide.com. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
- Radio Times' official republication of their review.
- "A Countess From Hong Kong - News - The Harvard Crimson".
- Review of the film by Christopher Null, founder of FilmCritic.com
- Vance, Jeffrey. Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema (2003): Harry N. Abrams, p. 341. ISBN 0-8109-4532-0