Any movie starring William Holden is worth viewing immediately (if you haven’t read my reprint of my Lusty Men in Classic Film article, it details why). The bonus incentive for me watching Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing is that movie poster (I’m a girl with man’s brain I think) which showcases Holden in a little bathing suit. Ultimately, the movie is a product of its time and therefore doesn’t age as well as other films. The film’s a bit too melodramatic, overlong, and tries to deal with far too many subjects including war and miscegenation.
Dr. Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones) is a widow who meets and falls in love with American journalist Mark Elliott (William Holden). Problems arise because Dr. Han is a Eurasian with deep Chinese roots who dreams of returning to her country one day, despite the goings-on of the Chinese Revolution.
I’ve done nothing but sing the hugely successful theme song to this movie! If you watch it, do so knowing that the song is an earworm. Anyway, Love is a Many-Splendored Thing was a hugely popular film in 1950, one of the most successful of the decade and gave Jennifer Jones another Best Actress nomination. The story of a Eurasian doctor falling in love with an American can easily be applied to today and definitely had to have held similar themes into the 60s and 70s with interracial couples. In watching past classic films the views of Asians were usually hugely stereotypical (go back to read my reviews on Red Dust and China Seas) so it was nice to see an Asian character depicted realistically (there’s a HUGE caveat to this statement I’ll get to in a second).
Also, for 1955 you have the story of a woman, Asian at that, struggling to decide whether to have a career or a husband. Dr. Han is a popular doctor, extremely intelligent, and when she falls in love with Mark, not only do the racial implications come to the fore but also what that would mean for her career? A male doctor friend tells her numerous times to go back to China and find a husband. The film also shows a cousin of hers who is living with a man, propelling the theme of ostracism that would come if Suyin married Mark.
The film is definitely a romance and succeeds at that because of William Holden. This guy could sell diseases and have people sign up! Every line is delivered with a genuine smile and he makes romance seem effortless. Sure there were some racy moments, the swimming scene especially, but it never feels like Mark is being sexual with Suyin…until they actually start canoodling on said beach. And can I just say Holden makes a bathing suit look like the epitome of masculine?!
The film is a bit melodramatic and since the film focuses so much on why their romance wouldn’t work it’s obvious how the film is ultimately going to end (I’ve never read the real Dr. Han’s book so I was completely unaware). I mentioned before how this movie tries to portray Asians in a realistic light yet it’s filled with Americans in Asian-face (not sure if that’s a legit term but I’m going with it). There’s several Eurasian characters that are Suyin’s friends who all look extremely American except around the eye area where it’s obvious makeup is being used. With that it’s laughable how much they try to make Jennifer Jones look Asian, especially considering her friend is a blonde American!
The film tries to not rely on close-ups because it is pretty laughable but seriously?! Some heavily made-up eyebrows and black hair is meant to convey she’s Asian…Jennifer Jones was born in Oklahoma!
I know this was done a lot but you can play a drinking game with how many people say Eurasian and that she’s half-American, but she looks like an American disguising herself as an Asian, especially when she stands next to aforementioned friends!
The movie wasn’t terrible and William Holden makes up for a lot but Love is a Many-Splendored Thing has not aged well.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.