TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON, THE(director: Daniel Mann; screenwriters: from the play The Teahouse of the August Moon by John Patrick/from the book The Teahouse of the August Moon by Vern J. Sneider/Mr. Patrick; cinematographer: John Alton; editor: Harold Kress; music: Saul Chaplin; cast: Marlon Brando (Sakini), Glenn Ford (Capt. Fisby), Machiko Kyo (Lotus Blossom), Eddie Albert (Captain McLean), Paul Ford (Colonel Purdy), Jun Negami (Mr. Seiko), Harry Morgan (Sgt. Gregovich), Mitsuko Sawamura (Little Girl); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Jack Cummings; MGM; 1956)
“The soft comedy was too much like TV sitcom fare to create much of a fuss.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Daniel Mann directs this genial but dated satire that is adapted from the popular hit Broadway play by John Patrick and the book by Vern J. Sneider. The soft comedy was too much like TV sitcom fare to create much of a fuss. The film suffers because of its staginess, verbosity, many dull spots, unfunny one-liners and overall inanity. Though that’s not to say there weren’t some mildly amusing moments derived out of a clash between cultural worlds — American know-how and efficiency versus Japanese lethargy and cunning.
“Teahouse” is set during the post-WW11 period, where the American GI occupation attempts the Americanization of Okinawa. Marlon Brando goes Oriental (bad Japanese accent and heavy yellowface makeup make the star seem out of place). Brando plays Okinawan interpreter Sakima, a sly fox who in a remote tiny village assists American Captain Fisby (Glenn Ford) to build a schoolhouse in the shape of a pentagon, to teach the locals about democracy and to organize the Women’s League for Democratic Action. Colonel Purdy (Paul Ford-played the same role on Broadway and will later on make his mark in the same type of role on the TV Sergeant Bilko series) is the doofus head of this operation, whose command post is far from Fisby’s village. When the colonel suspects that Fisby might be going native and cracking up, he sends army shrink Captain McLean (Eddie Albert) to check him out. McLean finds Fisby dressed in gators (sandals), a kimono and wearing a straw hat. Fisby also has a geisha girl (Machiko Kyo) attending to his household needs and teaching the village women how to be geishas. The bumbling captain bowed to the will of the majority by building a teahouse instead of a school, and tried at first to raise money to build both by selling handmade souvenirs crafted by the locals such as a cricket cage. When that doesn’t work, Fisby sells homemade brandy to the GIs. McLean turns out to be just as daffy as Fisby and becomes obsessed over organic gardening. This is the love of his life, and staying in this village gives McLean the opportunity to plant his dream garden. The colonel is convinced the shrink needs a therapist when over the phone McLean enthusiastically talks about the advantages of organic gardening, saying “When you kill a worm, you are killing a friend.” This prompts the colonel and his sergent (Harry Morgan) to visit the village. The colonel is shocked to find a brewery and the teahouse instead of the school. He immediately orders the teahouse and brewery torn down. The finale involves the ambitious colonel worrying that his career will be over if what happened is discovered, but instead a congressional committee when it hears about the enterprising work in the village through the newspapers applauds the effort as a success story in the Americanization of the Japanese. The problem for the colonel is that the committee is visiting the village that night and the teahouse and brewery were torn down.
REVIEWED ON 7/30/2004 GRADE: C –
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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