The Teahouse of the August Moon

"Good"

The Teahouse of the August Moon Review


When Marlon Brando is first encountered in The Teahouse of the August Moon, Daniel Mann's 1956 film version on John Patrick's Pulitzer Prize winning comedy of 1953, you want to fight back. Here is Brando in comic Asian stereotype mode, playing Okinawan interpreter Sakini -- Brando hunched over obsequiously, his eyes jury-rigged Oriental style and speaking in an Okinawan accent, and you think, "Brando, you should be ashamed of yourself." But then movie memory kicks in and you recall nasty and virulent racial debauches like Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Brando's downplaying doesn't look so bad after all. Although watching a tall American white guy play a short translator from Okinawa is still discomforting, at least you don't feel compelled to rise up and heave your boots through the TV.

Sakini is the audience's guide and master of ceremonies (he beckons the audience into the film by way of a direct address to the camera) in this sharp and funny comedy about American imperialism after the end of World War II. Sakini is the interpreter for the pompous American commander Colonel Purdy (played by Paul Ford, recreating his Broadway performance, a role he would later hone to perfection as the iconic Colonel Hall in Sgt. Bilko), a windbag idiot who makes declarations like, "I'm going to teach these natives the meaning of democracy if I have to shoot every one of them" (Donald Rumsfeld couldn't have said it better). Purdy orders the bumbling Captain Fisby (Glenn Ford, in a fine comic turn, channeling Charlie Ruggles) to lord it over a small Okinawan village and give the villagers a taste of benevolent American democratic dictatorship by making the villagers build a school and organize a "Ladies League For Democratic Action." Sakini goes along with him.

Like Stepin Fetchit at his best, Sakini, while always bowing and scraping to American authority figures, is clearly the one calling the shots (along with his fellow villagers). Fisby doesn't stand a chance. As Sakini remarks, "August moon. August moon is good. But August moon is a little older and a little wiser." Soon the film demonstrates that the naive cultural group is the Americans and the Okinawans are the ones who are one step ahead, despite all of the Americans' believed racial superiority.

When geisha girl Lotus Blossom (the great Japanese actress Machiko Kyo) arrives on the scene, Fisby abandons the schoolhouse idea for the construction of a "teahouse" and organizes the local population into manufacturing home grown potato brandy.

Mann turns his Cinemascope frame into a stage set and the directorial style mostly involves the actors hitting their marks and delivering their lines. Luckily, Patrick's screenplay is witty and fun and the performers make the most of it all (the highlight is a slapstick routine with Lotus Blossom trying to remove Fisby's clothes while Fisby is gamely attempting with increasing failure to hold a calm and cool conversation with Purdy on the telephone). The legendary film noir cinematographer John Alton leaves his style at the sliding screens with the exception of a few atmospheric shots of the teahouse a sunset.

Time has actually been kind to The Teahouse of the August Moon. Here a native population that would normally be held up for ridicule is actually smarter than the powers that be. In current fish-out-of-water films -- let New in Town stand for them all -- the small town cultural group is mocked and demeaned and the self-serving elite comes in and saves the day. With that staring us in the face, give me a Brando stereotype anytime. That way when Sakini signs off with the benediction "May August moon bring gentle sleep," we can all fall off comfortably to dream land without guilt or fear.

The DVD also features a Marlon Brando film trailer gallery and a vintage making of short, "Operation Teahouse," featuring the stentorian narration of George Fenneman.



The Teahouse of the August Moon

Facts and Figures

Run time: 123 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 1st December 1956

Distributed by: MGM

Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 6 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Daniel Mann

Producer:

Starring: as Sakini, as Capt. Fisby, as Capt. McLean, as Col. Wainwright Purdy III, as Lotus Blossom

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