Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (DVD)

“There is no one on the island but me.”

Situations in which two strikingly different people, either of the same or opposite sex, are thrown together in some isolated location or unique circumstance and must come to some sort of accommodation in order to survive have been common subjects for films. Katharine Hepburn’s prim missionary and Humphrey Bogart’s dissolute boat skipper provided one good example in The African Queen. Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis as black and white prisoners on the run provided another in The Defiant Ones. Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune played competing American and Japanese soldiers on a deserted Pacific island in Hell in the Pacific. In 1957, the best-selling novel “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” by Charles Shaw provided the source material for a film of the same title. In this case, the two people thrown together are an Irish nun (Sister Angela) who is working on a Pacific island during World War II before taking her final vows and an American marine (Corporal Allison) who has floated ashore on a life raft. The two gradually come to appreciate each other’s strengths as they deal with survival in the face of first invading Japanese troops and then American forces intent on wresting control of the island from the Japanese.

Much of the storyline of the film is predictable (although there are some neat sequences such as Bob Mitchum being towed by a large turtle when he tries to capture it), so the main pleasure of this film is watching two top-notch acting talents interacting — the often under-rated Robert Mitchum and the nearly always impressive Deborah Kerr. The late 1950s was prime time for Mitchum with such stellar efforts as The Night of the Hunter, Foreign Intrigue, Fire Down Below, The Wonderful Country, and Home from the Hill. He gives a beautifully restrained yet thoroughly earnest and believable portrait of a soldier both respectful of the nature of his companion’s way of life, yet drawn to her as a woman. Similarly, Deborah Kerr had a mainly memorable decade with roles in From Here to Eternity, The End of the Affair, The King and I, Tea and Sympathy, Separate Tables, and Bonjour Tristesse. Despite the gentility that often characterized her performances, she would not have been one’s obvious choice for Sister Angela, yet in the event, she conveys the correct sort of reverence as well as a sense of pragmatism that makes the character seem real. Her eventual attraction to Mr. Allison is well-handled and she makes one believe in the ambivalence that their mutual attraction has brought about concerning about her own chosen path in life. The story of a nun and a marine could have easily become a cliché, but in Kerr’s and Mitchum’s hands, it comes across with sensitivity and delicacy. The attraction they eventually generate is powerfully conveyed without the occurrence of any sort of physical embrace.

Although of a similar theme to his previous The African Queen, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison was somewhat of a departure from the sort of story that usually appealed to director John Huston. There was no suggestion of a failed quest here, a theme that dominated many of his best films. In fact, the original story seemed like too much of a potboiler to Huston, and it was only after he saw a script version that he felt offered promise that he agreed to direct the film. Huston was involved in a further rewrite of the script and he concentrated on the relationship between the two principals, only injecting short action scenes here and there to provide variety. Huston handles both aspects of the script with skill, enhancing the former with thoughtful camera placements and shot selection, and developing some real suspense at times in the latter. Shooting was carried out in Tobago as part of a joint U.S.(Fox)/U.K. production using an English crew. The completed film was well received both critically and at the box office. Deborah Kerr was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, but lost out to Joanne Woodward for The Three Faces of Eve.

Fox’s DVD release is part of its Fox War Classics line, and like the others in the most recent wave of such releases, provides a fine transfer indeed. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is colourful and bright for the most part. The variety of greens in the jungle are particularly well rendered. Edge effects are minimal. The source material is in fine shape with only the occasional speckle in evidence.

The sound is fine whether you choose the English stereo or mono track. There’s a little more strength to the stereo one, particularly during the action sequences, but both provide clear, undistorted sound. Spanish and French mono tracks are also provided, as are English and Spanish subtitles.

The supplements include four Movietone newsreels including three of footage of actual Pacific battlegrounds. The film’s theatrical trailer plus trailers for the other titles in the recent wave of Fox War Classics are also on the disc.




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