THE TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON—-today, with p.c. run riot—leaving what-exactly? in its wake—Marlon Brando would be pilloried for donning makeup and playing someone not of his particular racial heritage. I have other things to wring my hands over.*
Brando, fit and energetic at 32, plays ‘Sakini’, a local interpreter and all around village go-to guy, in 1946 occupied Okinawa, a year after the US invasion and defeat of the Japanese defenders.** The culture-clash comic story sends up the flustered Yankee occupiers much more than it does the native Okinawan’s, and Brando, who spent months studying regional culture and manners of speech, posture and gesture, is great: Sakini is the heart of the piece, the most rational character in the script.
Playing opposite is Glenn Ford; like Brando, on a roll in 1956 after hitting successive homers with Blackboard Jungle, Trial and Ransom. Second-billed to the Method Man, Ford, 40, has the bigger part, as the nerve-shredded, eager-to-please officer in charge of bringing democracy (anyone remember that?) to the hamlet. We’ll see who wins out, and how. Ford amps it up (rather too much) and he was in a low-burn competition with Brando throughout the shoot, to Marlon’s devilish dick-with-everyone amusement.
Paul Ford recreates his stage role ( played 1,027 times on Broadway) as the dumbstruck ‘Col.Wainwright Purdy III’ and he’s a kick, ditto Eddie Albert, as the captain manically obsessed with organic farming. Directed by Daniel Mann, running 99 minutes, it may be dated, a product of its time, but it’s gentle and warm, with plaintive scoring of traditional music in the background.
Filmed in Nara, Japan, costing $3,926,000 to produce, hitting solid with audiences to the tally of $8,925,000, the sixth biggest haul of its year. Brando followed this up with another Japan-set story, a drama about culture clash, Sayonara, an even bigger hit (not as much fun, though).
With Machiko Kyo, Jun Nagami, Nijoko Kiyokama and Harry Morgan.
*To the Eternally Easily Offended: if I gave three popcorn farts in a hurricane about political correctness and tasking dead actors over role challenges maybe I’d have my statement tattoos in a tizzytwist, too, but that darned sense of humor keeps getting in the way of my bottomless Guilt. There’s an unusually large herd of High Horses trotting around these days (like we need more anxiety)…
**Vern Sneider was a captain in a military government team that came into the ruins of Okinawa after the horrific 1945 battle. He ‘commanded’ a village (Tobaru) of 5,000 souls, and wrote his 1951 book “The Teahouse Of The August Moon” about the experience. Two years later, John Patrick adapted it to Broadway, winning both a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony. He then tailored it into the film version. Both Patrick and Sneider lent themselves to further examinations of segments of the Far East; Patrick with the screenplay adaptation of The World Of Suzie Wong (a fave) and Sneider with a stinging novel, “A Pail Of Oysters” about the ‘White Terror’ on Taiwan, Chiang-Kai shek’s brutal persecution of perceived political enemies that lasted for thirty-eight years of martial law.