racechange: Love is a Many Splendored Thing

The movie

In Love Is A Many Splendored Thing an American war correspondent is temporarily staying in Hong Kong during the Korean War. While there he meets and pursues the beautiful Eurasian Dr Han Suyin (Jennifer Jones). But when they begin to fall in love, their friends and families pressure them to stop the cross cultural relationship. The difficulties are resolved by killing off the war correspondent (played by William Holden): a few years previously death had ended another forbidden inter-racial movie romance for Jennifer – then in blackface playing Pearl Chavez in Duel in the Sun.

Today the movie is mainly interesting as a case study in the difficulty movie-makers had in handling the subject matter. Did they pick a white actress for the role because the studio was worried about how audiences might react to Holden seen kissing a real Asian? Even having made that choice the relationship is visually portrayed with much use of distancing (just how far apart can you get on a shared beach-towel) and sublimation (the cigarette lighting).

Apparently it was the original intention for Jennifer Jones to wear more-realistic Asian makeup but the makeup tests were reportedly horrendous. Maybe – or maybe the producers just had a problem with the possible audience reaction to William Holden kissing a woman who even looked Asian.

The makeup

Ben Nye was the makeup artist; he also worked with Jennifer Jones on Good Morning, Miss Dove.