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  Countess from Hong Kong, A A Strife On The Ocean Wave
Year: 1967
Director: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Sydney Chaplin, Tippi Hedren, Patrick Cargill, Michael Medwin, Oliver Johnston, John Paul, Angela Scoular, Margaret Rutherford, Peter Bartlett, Bill Nagy, Dilys Laye, Angela Pringle, Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: They say in Hong Kong there is a nightclub where you can dance with a Countess for a small amount of money - something to tell the boys back home. But on this ship that has docked at the city's harbour, American diplomat Ogden (Marlon Brando) is about to take up a position as an ambassador for his country and is looking forward to a quiet voyage back there. However, what he has not counted on is one of those Countesses, a Russian called Natascha (Sophia Loren), who he is introduced to the last night he is in Hong Kong. She is a lot keener to be in the United States than she is elsewhere, and as she has lost her fortune, she cannot afford to buy a ticket on the trip...

A Countess from Hong Kong was Charlie Chaplin's final film, it was not intended to be, it was simply such a colossal flop that he could not secure funds for his next project, The Freak, which went uncompleted. Over the years, some have piped up that this was nowhere near as bad as its reputation, and as early as the nineteen-seventies it was gaining traction as a cult movie, how could it not with this combination of talent? Yet none of them emerged with any dignity, and even supporting actor Patrick Cargill, usually singled out as the only bright spot, was landed with a tiresome and embarrassing bedroom scene with Loren that resolutely failed to take off and fly.

Mind you, around half the film took place in the bedroom as the whole affair was leadenly setbound from start to finish, the character mostly moving between Ogden's rooms in his quarters and slamming the doors as often as they possibly could: if you were playing a drinking game as to how many times they slammed, you would be paralytic before the first act was over. That may have been a product of the choice of location - Chaplin could not find many places to go on a ship, not ones that matched his purposes anyway - but very quickly the impression of watching a repertory theatre production of an outdated farce settled in, and never lifted for the whole two hours.

Albeit a regional farce that somehow managed to cast two of the most famous stars in the world at that time, not that they had much chemistry. Brando and Chaplin did not get on, possibly because the former simply did not have the latter's flair for comedy, but Chaplin was a perfectionist while Brando was more improvisational (which could develop into laziness), and those styles just did not mesh. Loren had a better time acting for her director, but she fell out with Marlon early on as well, so it was not the happiest of shoots, and Brando in particular was disgusted at how Chaplin would order his son around, Sydney Chaplin who played Ogden's right hand man Harvey, though Sydney did not appear to bear any ill will towards the eclipsing celebrity of his father, and forged a successful career largely on the stage.

Other members of the Chaplin clan also appeared, not in major roles, but Tippi Hedren was probably the third biggest star in the cast, and she only showed up for the last twenty minutes, which did nothing for her career. But while the film was accused of being outdated, it was Chaplin's attempts to drag his material (written originally for ex-wife Paulette Goddard decades before) into the sixties that were most offputting. Within the first five minutes there is a jokey rape reference, Brando burps, everyone vomits through seasickness, and Loren wears an evening gown (and later, a skimpy sarong) about as low cut as they could get away with; it was a bit like hearing your grandparent trying to talk down to you with crude remarks. Not to mention the relish that the script took in the depiction of once-rich Countesses effectively reduced to prostitution, a mark of the director's supposed communist sympathies, maybe. It was no delight to see Chaplin grow past it, but it happens to many great talents, this was strictly for the curious. He wrote the music as well, and had a hit record with theme This is My Song (sung by Petula Clark).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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