DVD Movie Guide @ dvdmg.com
Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main


Henry King
William Holden, Jennifer Jones, Torin Thatcher, Isobel Elson, Murray Matheson
Writing Credits:
John Patrick, based on the novel by Han Suyin

Not Rated.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Costume Design; Best Score-Alfred Newman; Best Song-"Love Is a Many Splendored Thing."
Nominated for Best Picture; Best Actress-Jennifer Jones; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Cinematography; Best Sound.

Widescreen 2.55:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 4.0
French Dolby Digital 4.0
Spanish Digital Mono
English, Spanish

Runtime: 101 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 5/6/2003

• Audio Commentary with Cinematographer Michael Lonzo and Film Historians Sylvia Stoddard and John Burlingame
• A&E Biography “William Holden: An Untamed Spirit”
• Movietone Newsreels
• Trailer
• Restoration Comparison
• Movie Classics

Search Titles:

Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 11, 2003)

While I don’t know if others of my generation share my feelings, I can state this: when I hear the title Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, my first thoughts don’t turn toward the 1955 movie of that title. Instead, I immediately think of Grease, as the 1978 movie opened with the strains of the song “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing”.

This meant that I went into Many-Splendored with absolutely no foreknowledge of its story. I was aware of the song and that was about it. I wish I’d known something about the flick before I watched the DVD, for then I would have skipped this dull and vapid romantic piffle.

Set in Hong Kong circa 1949, the film quickly introduces us to Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones), a sexy Eurasian doctor who works at a local hospital. Stressed and overworked, Dr. John Keith (Murray Matheson) takes her to a social gathering. At this party we hear of the Communist takeover of China and learn the worries of the wealthy Hong Kong white folks.

While at this get-together, Suyin meets news correspondent Mark Elliott (William Holden). He asks her to dinner; she initially rebuffs him but decides she might go out with him. He’s married but he pursues her anyway. She agrees to a Wednesday dinner. They go out and have a great time and plan to do it again.

From there they begin a torrid love affair, at least on paper. The movie follows their romance and the problems they encounter related to her Chinese ancestry and his marriage. At one point, Suyin returns to visit her family in Chungking, but Mark comes to get her. They try to stay together despite all of the societal and other pressures to keep them apart.

All that makes if sound like Many-Splendored actually offers a plot. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. How in the world this dull chick flick became regarded as a “classic” seems a mystery to me. I recently watched An Affair to Remember and felt that it offered a pretty bland “chick flick”. At least it remembered to include a plot, however.

Immediately I found it tough to get involved in Many-Splendored due to the casting of Jones. A lovely woman and a solid actor, she seems badly miscast as an Asian for she doesn’t look the part at all. The script constantly has her remind us that she’s EURasian, as though this will excuse her total absence of Asian features. Suyin often states how she thinks of herself as Chinese and we’re supposed to believe that she’d fit in with that culture, but this never occurs, as I could never accept Jones as even remotely Asian. Her attempt at an Asian doesn’t seem quite as painful as Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice, but it’s not much of an improvement. Hey, at least Bond was acknowledged as a white man made up to look Asian; it remained preposterous, but it’s easier to accept in a fantasy flick than here.

With a more involving tale, perhaps Jones’ casting wouldn’t have bothered me so much. Unfortunately, I felt so bored that I couldn’t ignore that factor. The Communist takeover of China remained far in the background throughout the film. Unlike flicks such as Gone With the Wind or Doctor Zhivago, Many-Splendored didn’t attempt to play its love story against the historical backdrop. Instead, we simply heard vague references to those actions, but they never offered any intrigue or drama. The movie lived and died on its romance alone.

Too bad it flopped in that regard. Both Holden and Jones were more than competent performers, but they failed to create engaging or compelling characters, and their chemistry together seemed minimal. The script repeatedly told us how much they loved each other, but I never felt it.

That was one of the movie’s biggest flaws. In lieu of an actual story, it simply told us ad infinitum that the leads adored each other. Why did they fall for each other? I couldn’t tell you; though the movie came based on a true story, the pair never demonstrated any reason for their mutual affection. The two just talked about how much they loved each other and how they worried that matters would keep them apart. That was about it; otherwise nothing much happened in this slow and pointless affair.

At least Many-Splendored offered some attractive photography and other positive technical elements. It presented a very cool edit at one point as well; the flick went from a falling bomb to a spilled bowl in a clever and concise manner. However, when the best thing I have to say about a movie relates to one neat edit, I know there’s a problem. Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing offered a bland and lackluster film. It told a dull and uneventful romance that never seemed convincing or provocative. How this boring romantic claptrap attracted a significant audience mystifies me.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B / Bonus B

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.55:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the age of the film, the picture looked very strong.

Sharpness appeared a little erratic but usually remained quite good. The occasional wide shot displayed a slight amount of softness. However, those instances remained minor, and the majority of the movie seemed nicely crisp and well defined. I noticed no concerns related to jagged edges or moiré effects, and only a smidgen of edge enhancement became apparent. Print flaws seemed wonderfully absent. I saw the occasional speck here or there, but otherwise the movie came across very clean and free of defects.

Colors mostly looked bright and vivid. Skin tones appeared slightly heavy on occasion, but the movie generally displayed fresh and dynamic tones that came across very well. Black levels looked deep and intense, and shadows mostly were appropriately opaque and not too thick. A few interior shots came across as somewhat too dense, but most of the movie demonstrated clean low-light images. While the smattering of issues caused some slight concerns, I mostly felt very impressed with the image of Many-Splendored. It displayed some absolutely glorious visuals at times, such as during the first date boat ride sequence.

Audio also seemed good for its age, though it didn’t keep up with the picture. The Dolby Digital 4.0 demonstrated a fairly broad soundfield. One interesting aspect of the mix related to speech, which used very wide directional dialogue. This often placed lines far to the right or left side of the spectrum. While I liked this idea in concept and commend Fox for not mucking with the original mix, I thought the directional dialogue created distractions. At times the material bled across the speakers and the speech didn’t tend to blend together especially well.

Otherwise the soundfield seemed pretty effective. Effects appeared appropriately placed across the front. The elements moved reasonably naturally and came together nicely. Music also demonstrated nice stereo imaging for the most part. The surrounds mostly bolstered the material from the front and added a good level of reinforcement to the package.

Given the vintage of the recordings, the audio appeared acceptable. Dialogue varied. Some lines sounded natural and concise, but other times the speech was thin and hollow. Edginess and intelligibility were fine. Effects displayed similar qualities in that they remained clear but lacked much heft. Music was reasonably distinct and lively; the score didn’t come across as exceptionally vibrant, but it worked well and showed some moderate bass at times. The only mild distraction came from somewhat heavier than normal hiss at times. Nonetheless, given the spectrum and age of the material, the audio of Many-Splendored offered a positive audio presentation.

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing first showed up on DVD in March 2000. I never saw that version, but apparently it featured a non-anamorphic image with 2.0 audio and almost no extras. The new release provides an expanded roster of supplements. We start with an audio commentary from film historian Sylvia Stoddard, movie score historian John Burlingame, and director of photography Michael Lonzo. As with the other “Fox Studio Classics” DVDs, all of the participants sat separately and their responses were edited together, though their remarks were screen-specific.

Overall, the track offered a good look at the film. Burlingame mostly focused on the work of composer Alfred Newman. He discussed Newman’s material for the film specifically and went over his career in general. Burlingame also chatted about the creation of the famous title song and its initial reception. Lonzo went over notes related to Many-Splendored’s cinematographer Leon Shamroy plus Hong Kong cameraman Charles S. Clarke. He mostly stuck with technical details about the production, though he added some information about both men’s careers too.

Stoddard dominated the track and offered the strongest material. She gave us a good history of the era and the reality of the story. Stoddard related the social situations dominant in the era and provided tidbits about the real Han Suyin, her life, and her book. The comments helped flesh out my understanding of the flick and placed it in perspective. I didn’t agree with Stoddard’s positive appraisal of the movie, but I appreciated her attempts to detail the flick, and the other men also contributed to this useful commentary.

Next we get an episode of A&E’s Biography series entitled William Holden: An Untamed Spirit. During this 44-minute program, we get clips from various Holden movies along with archival materials and contemporary interviews from son Scott Holden, Paramount executive A.C. Lyles, journalist James Bacon, and actors Patricia Morison, Nancy Olson-Livingston, Cliff Robertson, Ernest Borgnine, Stefanie Powers, and Rick Schroder.

“Spirit” covers Holden’s life and career in a fairly solid manner. We get details of his early years and his path to Hollywood as well as his rise to fame. We follow his personal life as well, with a particular emphasis on his drinking problems and romantic relationships. The program doesn’t present a thorough examination of Holden, but it offers a decent overview that lets us get a better understanding of his career.

The Movietone News area includes two clips. The 60-second “Audience Awards Presentations” shows a ceremony at which Jones won Best Performance By an Actress. In the 78-second “Photoplay Awards a Hollywood Highlight”, we watch producer Buddy Adler, Holden and Jones take home prizes, Deborah Kerr collects the one for Jones. Neither of these clips seems particularly compelling, but they’re a nice little slice of history.

After this we find a Restoration Demonstration. This four-minute and three-second piece provides text that covers the work done for this DVD and then shows splitscreen images of a mix of different versions of the film. I don’t normally find these to offer much practical value, and the same goes for this one. The demonstrations always come across as a bit self-congratulatory.

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we find ads for a few other Fox Movie Classics releases. We get promos for An Affair to Remember, All About Eve, Gentleman’s Agreement, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, How Green Was My Valley and the upcoming The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.

Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing offered one of the least interesting cinematic experiences I’ve witnessed in quite a while. It lacked a significant plot, interesting characters, or much substance. Despite a significant historic background, it maintained a limp focus on it relationships and seemed to go nowhere. The DVD provides very strong picture quality plus erratic but generally positive audio and a nice set of informative supplements. Because I didn’t like the film at all, I can’t recommend Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing to anyone who doesn’t already know they enjoy it. However, those fans should embrace this fine DVD release; even those who already own the original disc will want to pick up this solid reissue.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2363 Stars Number of Votes: 55
3 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.