Blu-ray Review: Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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The 1955 romance Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing was directed by Henry King quite late in his storied career. Boutique label Twilight Time has issued the Oscar-winning film on Blu-ray for the first time as part of their limited edition series. This is their third recent Henry King release, the others being the religious-themed The Song of Bernadette (1943) and the F. Scott Fitzgerald biopic Beloved Infidel (1959). Though far more recognizable than those two titles, largely due to its ubiquitous title song, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing has aged much more poorly. The “yellowface” performance by Jennifer Jones badly mars the film, which otherwise represented something of a step forward for Hollywood in terms of portraying Asian culture (and employing Asian actors, of which there are many in supporting roles).

Jones, who was somehow nominated for an Oscar here, portrays the Eurasian doctor Han Suyin. Dr. Suyin was, in fact, a real person who passed away only recently at age 95 in November, 2012. Her semi-autobiographical novel A Many-Splendoured Thing served as the basis for screenwriter John Patrick’s adaptation. Set in the late 1940s, Dr. Suyin’s mixed ethnicity (one Chinese parent, one parent of European descent) has ostracized her. Given the social attitudes of the time period, she is not fully accepted by either the Caucasian or Chinese communities. In Hong Kong, she begins a romantic relationship with American journalist Mark Elliott (William Holden).

Love is (153x200).jpgA drinking game where participants slam a shot every time someone in the film says “Eurasian” would leave everyone falling-down drunk. The soapy drama (so soapy that it led to an actual television soap opera of the same name, albeit without the hyphen, 12 years later) belabors the fact that society simply wasn’t ready to embrace a relationship between a white man and a minority woman. Mark even tells Dr. Suyin at one point that she’s too sensitive about being Eurasian, but how could anyone blame her? Whenever anyone, not limited to Suyin and Mark, can find the slightest reason to mention the doctor’s ethnicity, they do. It gets a little tiresome, as does Jones’ peculiar, halting line delivery. It seems that in order to make her more “Chinese,” her dialogue is largely free of contractions, as if Suyin isn’t quite comfortable speaking the English language. Neither Jones nor Holden are particularly endearing as these characters, making it hard to care too deeply about their problems. At least the memorable theme song, by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster, has become an evergreen classic.

Nothing at all to take issue with in this 1080p, AVC-encoded presentation of Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, framed at its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.55:1. A definite pleasure to look at, Leon Shamroy’s Oscar-nominated color cinematography really shines. Film grain hasn’t been scrubbed away, colors look vivid and natural, and fine detail is evident in nearly every shot. There’s a minor flaw in the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, one that occurs about 24 minutes in. The mix goes silent for a split second as two characters sit and talk in a diner. Otherwise, this is a solid audio presentation, especially in terms of Alfred Newman’s Oscar-winning score. Dialogue is rock solid as well, but it’s the music that is most attention-grabbing.

As is standard with Twilight Time releases, the music is available as a DTS-HD MA 2.0 isolated track, perfect for fans of Newman’s work. A few minutes of vintage newsreel footage and the film’s theatrical trailer are other minor extras. The main feature is the highly informative audio commentary by a trio of film historians, all of whom know this film inside and out. It’s a seriously helpful track for putting this dated film into historical context. Also quite useful in this regard is the booklet’s essay by Julie Kirgo, who impresses as usual with her insights and knowledge.

Fans of old Hollywood romances may very well want to add Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing to their collections. While supplies last, Twilight Time’s limited edition—only 3,000 copies issued—Blu-ray is available exclusively via its official distributor’s website. Visit Screen Archives for ordering information.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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