The Ugly American

ugly

Internet Movie Database          Movie Review

From the novel of the same name by William Lederer and Eugene Burdick.

Mr. Otter brought this home, and we watched it. He had read the book, which I hadn’t, and I knew nothing about it except the current usage of the phrase, which is Americans going to other countries and behaving like complete assholes.

So this is about a fictitious Southeast Asian country named Sarkan, that has a northern half that has become Communist, and they and the Chinese are trying to take over the rest of the country…sound familiar? Yup, it’s Vietnam; I figured that out after about ten minutes, it’s really obvious. Brando is the new ambassador, sent there to make sure the new road through the country that the Americans are building (“Freedom Road”) goes through, after some sabotage halts construction.

Brando’s character has a close Sarkanese friend who is being led astray by those darn Communists, so that’s a huge plot point with much political talk, and he is also friends with two Americans who run a hospital for children that is much needed and appreciated.

Eventually it all goes pear-shaped, mostly due to misunderstandings and the machinations of those doggone Communists, and the Americans have to leave. Not really a spoiler, it’s obvious where the plot is going.

This was pretty heavy-handed, but since it was made in 1963 about current political events, that’s not surprising. I was surprised, though, when I was talking to Mr. Otter a few days later- he used the phrase Ugly American, and I said, I assume that movie is where the phrase came from, but Brando wasn’t what the phrase means now, he really appreciated the country, tried to follow the customs and respect the people, but was misinformed.

Mr. Otter said no, the eponymous Ugly American was the American doctor, who the local people considered to be ugly although they loved him anyway. Huh? Really, said Mr. Otter, I read the book, it was him.

O-kaaaay. So there you have it.

If you like heavy-handed political drama, or seeing history from the contemporaneous point of view, this is your movie. But be warned, Brando is already in mumble-mode in 1963, it was sometimes very hard to understand him.

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