A Countess From Hong Kong

Released in 1967, A Countess From Hong Kong was the final film directed by screen legend Charlie Chaplin, who also wrote the script. However, the famous actor took only a cameo role in the film, having written for characters who were younger than he was at the time. In the lead roles, he cast Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. With such well-known names attached to the film, I figured there was a pretty good chance that this was one of those films that’s really good, but has become obscure simply due to age or other trivial factors.

As it happens, though, it was well done, but rather tepid.

It’s possible something hilarious might have happened at the dinner party, but since Brando’s character blacks out, we don’t see any of it.

Brando stars as Ogden Mears, an American diplomat on the verge of a divorce, spending some time in Hong Kong before returning to the United States. With his friend and assistant Harvey (Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie), he goes out to spend the night on the town before the debark, with a friend of theirs hooking them up with some Russian countesses as dates for the evening. These countesses are survivors of the Russian revolution, expatriates from their native country since they were teenagers or younger. In Hong Kong, without any fortune or connections, they have to make their livings any way they can. The lucky ones work at dance halls which sell tickets to “dance with a countess”; it’s barely one step above prostitution. The unlucky ones, it’s implied heavily, don’t get that “one step above”.

The stuff that romantic comedies are made of.

In the morning, in his cabin aboard ship, Ogden awakes with little memory of the previous night. He goes to his closet to change clothes, and out tumbles Natascha (Loren), his date. She’s stowed away, in intentions of making her way to America; with no country to call home, she can’t get a passport, so she’s going to try it the illegal way. She coerces and manipulates Ogden into letting her hideout in his cabin until she reaches Hawaii. The standard romantic comedy plot ensues.

There’s a lot of potential in this film, it just didn’t seem to materialize for me. Brando’s a great actor, of course, and is entirely believable as the put-upon Ogden. Sophia Loren is energetic, and her expressions really sell the antics that go on as they try to hide the fact that there’s a person stowing away on board. And both play off well against Sydney Chaplin, whose character acts as a balance between the somewhat stuffy Ogden and the flaky Natascha. But for all of the potentially humorous situations, there are precious few laughs to be found. This is a film which begs for some witty dialogue, but there’s just no punch to any of it. What few zingers there are tend to come from Ogden’s not-yet-ex-wife (Tippi Hedren), and she only factors into the final act. There’s some attempt to add some humor with the one-track-mind of Ogden’s butler (Patrick Cargill), but it just comes off as being rather contrived.

It’s not that anything in the film is done poorly, there’s just not much to it for me. Somebody who likes classic romantic comedies would probably find it quite enjoyable. But for me, the romance was predictable, and the comedy just wasn’t all that strong.

Rating: 3 Stars

About Morgan R. Lewis

Fan of movies and other media
This entry was posted in Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s