A Countess from Hong Kong

I watched the chef who visited the CBS This Morning program. Some of Richard Sandoval’s signature dishes are shrimp a la veracruzana, al pastor tacos, bacon guacamole, mahi mahi ceviche, chiles relleno, seafood chile relleno, pastel de elote, and a mojito cuzco. I stopped at the coffee shop for some hot chocolate, and I looked up the playlist for this weekend’s American Top 40 radio program. The Top 10 songs on March 9, 1974 were “Sunshine on My Shoulder,” “Until You Come Back to Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do),” “Mockingbird,” “Spiders and Snakes,” “Dark Lady,” “Rock On,” “Jungle Boogie,” “The Way We Were,” “Boogie Down,” and “Seasons in the Sun.” I went to work for five hours. One of the girls commented on my bomber jacket. After I was done with my shift, I went to the record store and bought the mono CD edition of The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night,” the remastered edition of “Beatles for Sale,” and the Everly Brothers’ “Stories We Could Tell” on vinyl. I took the bus out to see the Chinese New Year Parade. I got a pretty good spot a block away from the starting point, but I missed the Coca-Cola polar bear because he was facing the other side of the street. The parade ended at 7:43, and I rushed back to the bus station to take the ride back home. I made it back just in time to catch the Star Trek episode “The Devil in the Dark.” A group of miners encountered trouble with a deadly creature. Spock did his mind meld thing with the creature to communicate with it. I watched “A Countess from Hong Kong,” which was Charlie Chaplin’s last film in 1967. It had Sophia Loren as the Russian woman Natascha and Marlon Brando as the wealthy Ogden. Natascha is a stowaway on a ship from Hong Kong to Honolulu, hiding in Ogden’s closet. The story is a throwback to one of those women in distress stories like “A Woman in Paris.” I could picture Paulette Goddard as Natascha. Ogden’s character would have been played by Chaplin himself decades earlier, but he was too old in the 1960s for this part. Brando didn’t seem like a good fit. If he hadn’t been in “The Freshman,” I would say that he couldn’t do comedy at all. The movie struggles to be funny. The bits with the characters going through doors were rather stale. I felt that the scene that tried to make seasickness humorous was really weak, and it made me wince. It probably wasn’t a good idea to enclose so much of the action in a limited space, almost as if this was a play. I kept wondering if budget and production limitations hampered Chaplin. In the past, he would take a lot of time to get each scene and shot just right. This was Chaplin’s only movie in color, but he doesn’t make much use of color in the visual scheme, outside of a couple of Natascha’s dresses. Tippi Hedren shows up towards the end, although her presence reminded me of another Hitchcock film, “Torn Curtain” because that was also a film in color featuring a famous director and two big movie stars with less than optimal results. The interesting parts happened when Natascha danced with some men, which created some tension about whether she’d be discovered. There was a funny scene with Margaret Rutherford. Geraldine Chaplin was in a scene. I kept wondering if I’d see other stars in cameo appearance for this type of movie. Chaplin himself was in a couple of shots, reminding us of his age. I thought the funniest moments came late in the picture, when it seemed like Natascha was married to two different men when she was supposed to be Ogden’s love interest. There were no amusing props in the movie, and the sense of beauty was missing from the picture. It seemed that Sophia could have been photographed to better advantage. She had such a beautiful face, but she’s such a goofball in this movie. The cleverest thought she had was in getting off the boat unnoticed. I guess in today’s world with tight security, this would not have been possible. In the middle of a lot of problems in the movie, there is something that is still moving, and that is the fact that it is a love story. Ogden doesn’t simply turn in Natascha to the authorities. He wants a better life for her, although not quite in the same way as Richard Gere in “Pretty Woman.” I think there has to be more to the attraction than just helplessness. What Natascha has going for her is that she can play chess. She appears to have a voracious appetite, though, and it was surprising that Ogden didn’t fear that she would balloon into a huge, heavy woman of immense weight. Reportedly, people like Francois Truffaut and Jack Nicholson liked this movie. It’s hard to be coldly critical of a director who created “The Kid,” “The Gold Rush,” “City Lights,” and “Modern Times.” The old magic was faint in this movie, like it was for Billy Wilder in “Buddy Buddy.” I don’t know how Chaplin dealt with Brando during the filming, but Chaplin couldn’t have gotten what he wanted. I rather liked looking at the ship. It took me back to part of “The Gold Rush” and “The Immigrants.” Watching this movie, I wondered if I could continue working into my seventies. You’d think that given ten years since his previous movie, Chaplin would be overflowing with ideas for his next one. He showed that he was human, though. It’s too tough dealing with your emotions over the years, and maintain the drive of a great artist. I wondered what the last movie that Chaplin saw was. Did he see “Annie Hall” or “Star Wars” or “The Goodbye Girl”? Some of the people who died on March 8 include Hector Berlioz (1869), William Howard Taft (1930), Harold Lloyd (1971), George Stevens (1975), William Walton (1983), Billy Eckstine (1993), and Joe DiMaggio (1999). Today is a birthday for Lester Holt (56), Aidan Quinn (56), Gary Numan (57), and Micky Dolenz (70).

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