—Opening title card
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness is a 1958 Biopic about Gladys Aylward, a British missionary in China before and during World War II. It was adapted from Alan Burgess' biography The Small Woman, a title the film could not use due to statuesque Ingrid Bergman being cast in the lead role.
The film begins with Gladys trying to become a missionary in China, but the missionary society rejects her due to her lack of education. Eventually, she manages to get a job as an assistant to a veteran missionary working in a remote part of northern China. There, an old inn is being converted into a mission in the hopes that it will give them an opportunity to convert any travelers who stop by. Pursuing social reforms in addition to religious conversions, Gladys becomes popular with the villagers and is given the Chinese name "Jen-ai," meaning "the one who loves people." She receives support from the local Mandarin (Robert Donat) and wins the heart of mixed-race R.O.C. soldier Colonel Lin Nan (Curd Jürgens). But then comes the Japanese invasion of China...
This film provides examples of:
- All-Loving Hero: She didn't get the name "the one who loves people" for nothing.
- But Not Too Foreign: Don't worry, Lin is only half Chinese, so it's totally okay for him to have a romance with Gladys. (But where does that leave the romance of Lin's parents?)
- During the War: The film ends with the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War, which later became the Asian theater of World War II.
- The Great Depression: Set in the 1930s, from 1932 to 1938 if we go by the life of the real Gladys Aylward. In an early London scene, it's briefly mentioned that unemployment is high these days.
- Half-Breed Discrimination: The son of a Dutch father and a Chinese mother, Lin talks about enduring this when he lived in the Netherlands. Believing the Western world would never accept him, he decided to embrace his Chinese half and move to China.
- High Turnover Rate: The job of "foot inspector," who is supposed to enforce the unpopular law against foot binding. Believing in the cause, Gladys takes to the job with crusading vigor.
- Mission from God: From the beginning of the film, Gladys believes God chose her to go to China for some purpose.
- The Missionary: Gladys, of course. But she emphasizes that she's more concerned with her social reforms than achieving conversions.Gladys: To me, it's making each man know that he counts, whether he believes in Christ or Buddha or nothing, Colonel, like you.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The real Gladys Aylward spoke with a Cockney accent, but Ingrid Bergman doesn't bother to sound like anything other than her usual Swedish self.
- Promoted to Love Interest: Lin Nan was a real person, but he never had a romance with Gladys Aylward. (He wasn't really mixed-race either, of course.)
- Technical Pacifist: Gladys refuses to deliver an order telling the local people to prepare for war with the Japanese because it conflicts with her pacifist beliefs. As it happens, she is okay with Lin delivering the order while he just happens to be traveling with her.
- Translation Convention: In the early part of the film, Chinese characters only speak English in the presence of Gladys if they have been established to know English. Once Gladys has learned Chinese, everyone speaks English for the rest of the movie.
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Let's just say that the real Gladys Aylward was not happy with the liberties that were taken.
- Yellow Face: Lin Nan was made mixed-race, so it's somewhat excusable that he's played by Curd Jürgens. However, there's no excuse at all for Robert Donat being cast as the Mandarin. Oh, and before Jürgens was cast, the role of Lin was intended for Sean Connery of all people!