CRY FOR HAPPY, a 1961 comedy, mixes service farce (the US Navy, again) with culture clash humor, and is part of what amounted to a geisha subgenre that ran from roughly ’56 to ’62—The Teahouse Of The August Moon, Sayonara, The Barbarian And The Geisha, The Geisha Boy, My Geisha. Directed by George Marshall, the screenplay by Irving Brecher (Meet Me In St.Louis, The Life Of Riley, Bye Bye Birdie) was off a bittersweet, risqué novel written a few years earlier by George Campbell, an ex-Navy officer who presumably knew the territory.
Japan, 1952. Posted in Tokyo during the Korean War, a Navy photo unit connive with a local contact to occupy a geisha house, covering their off-limits jaunt by concocting a story that they’re running an orphanage. The sailors initially have the wrong idea about the girls, but attitudes are changed by association, and understanding bridges divides.
The men are played by Glenn Ford, Donald O’Connor, James Shigeta and Chet Douglas. This was the sixth of seven times Ford worked with Marshall, usually in comedies. O’Connor hadn’t made a film for four years after the ignominious flop of The Buster Keaton Story. The two old pros work the material proficiently, and newcomer James Shigeta—the Asian-American Sidney Poitier—was enjoying a banner year, starring in the musical hit Flower Drum Song and Bridge To The Sun (also set in Japan, a serious WW2 picture concerning intermarriage). Douglas, playing a hayseed, is the weak link: this was his debut in a career that never took purchase.
As in the script, the geisha’s make the movie work, charmed across by Miiko Taka and Miyoshi Umeki, both familiar from Sayonara (Umeki the first Asian actress to win an Academy Award), Tsuruko Kobayashi (Varan the Unbelievable) and Michi Kobi (later a tireless social activist). Though the script drops a lot of “naughty” double entendres (which ticked off critic twits at the time: how a couple of the jokes got past censors is a bit surprising) the tone mostly remains gentle, and doesn’t resort to insults or slapstick. The men are the butt of the jokes, not the gals, and there’s no crass offensive junk like pronunciation gags; instead, the men’s ignorance is ridiculed.
Several weeks of location work was done in Japan, in Tokyo, Kyoto and Yokusuka, with the bulk wrapped up back in Hollywood. George Duning gave it a pleasant score; Miss Umeki sings the sweet title tune. A stateside gross of $5,100,000 made it #46 on the earner list for the year; it probably did fairly well in Japan, even though there had been massive resistance there to the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty passed in 1960.
With Howard St. John, Joe Flynn, Harriet E. MacGibben (‘Mrs. Drysdale’ for those in the know), Robert Kino, Nancy Kovack, Ted Knight, Kam Fong, James Bacon. 110 minutes.