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The least significant entry in Warners' 5-Disc "Burt Lancaster Signature Collection" is this obscure but harmless WWII action comedy that is sufficiently enjoyable without being remotely memorable. The film starts out with Lancaster refusing to defend himself in the court-martial he is facing and the events unfold in flashback as the various witnesses give their testimony: Lancaster is a U.S. marine who (together with his pal Chuck Connors and the latter's fiancée Virginia Mayo) 'deserts' to a tropical island on the eve of the Pearl Harbor sneak attack where they proceed to live it up over there for a while, in the company of local madame (Veola Vonn), her three nieces and assorted beachcombers (including Arthur Shields). However, when a Dutch captain visits the island on his yacht, Lancaster and Co. steal it to go "have a crack at those Japs" to borrow Errol Flynn's famous last words in Raoul Walsh's DESPERATE JOURNEY (1942); this leads to a rousing action climax in which the renegade band of islanders take on the Japanese fleet and manage to sink one of their ships with Connors sacrificing his life in the process and leaving the way open for the budding romance between Lancaster and Mayo (reunited here three years after their joint participation in Jacques Tourner's colorful adventure, THE FLAME AND THE ARROW) to bloom. Two final things worthy of note: a young Strother Martin is clearly recognizable sitting next to Mayo in the courtroom and the eventual fate of the seaside dive might well have inspired a similar incident in, of all things, PORKY'S (1982)!!
Sergeant James O'Hearn is standing on trial for a number of serious
misdemeanours, refusing to testify or even state his defence, the
outlook is very bleak. Much against his wishes, good time girl Ginger
Martin takes to the stand and the whole case against O'Hearn is going
to be seen in a very different light. A tale of loves, friendships,
rivalry's, bad luck, but most of all, heroism in the line of duty.
The genre police have tagged this picture as an action/comedy/romance set just prior to the Pacific hostilities in WWII. That it's a multi genre piece is a given, that it's also an odd bit of cinema is also very much understandable. That's the only real complaint with South Sea Woman, it's so jaunty and full of fun that when we get to the wonderful, bold and tough last quarter, you are not exactly sure how to feel. It's like entering a fancy dress party and winning first prize but then suddenly being told the prize is for worst costume of the night!
Anyway, the cast seem to be having a right laugh with it, Burt Lancaster (0'Hearn) and Chuck Connors (Davey White) are constantly at loggerheads about their participation in the conflict, and the direction they should be taking (humouressly so), because right in between them is Virginia Mayo (Ginger), sparklingly pretty she's all set to marry White, but O'Hearn is doing his hardest to ensure that that doesn't happen. This is the mainstay of the film, we (they) lurch from one fight to another, from one daft encounter to the next, bad luck and sheer bravado constantly zipping around with our protagonists, and then the shift to full blown drama. It ties up all the loose ends, and it in no way is a cop out ending, in fact far from it, but it does take some getting used to and even some time after the credits have rolled I personally was a bit bemused.
It's a recommended film, if only for the sparky cast it is worth it, but just go into it expecting a whisk in the blender and you will be OK. 6/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1942, Burt Lancaster, as Marine Sgt. James O'Hearn, is being
court-marshaled for various offenses, including desertion and sinking a
saloon. He stand firmly mute while various witnesses testify in such a
way that he looks bad. Finally, when his friend's honor (Chuck Connors)
is called into question, he decides to speak for himself at the trial.
"Foist," he explains, "we busted into that stinkin' Portagee dungeon and let them Free Frenchies go." The story is that he and his buddy, Connors, were left behind with Ginger, a saloon girl, (Virginia Mayo), when the Marines evacuated Shanghai. (I thought that was in 1939, not 1941, but let it go.) By a curious juxtaposition of events the trio wind up on a small, studio-bound South Sea Island called Namur, run by the Fascist-friendly Vichy French. They claim to be deserters in order to stay out of prison, and they are housed in the "hotel" run by a French woman and her "three lovely nieces." All of whom Lancaster seduces, while Connors is glued to Virginia Mayo, making goo-goo eyes at her and planning for a revolting event called "marriage." Lots of comedy as Lancaster and Connors -- in real life, both Irish athletes from New York City -- bop and deceive one another. Virginia Mayo's growing attraction to Lancaster only intensifies the rivalry.
But that's nothing compared to the fight they initiate against the "Krauts" and the "Japs". They manage to sink a fleet of Japanese barges on their way to Guadalcanal, and even a Japanese destroyer, at the cost of Connors' life.
Not much sense in going on about the plot. It's mostly comedic. The two tough Marines have to dress in frilly nighties while their uniforms are being pressed, for instance. As a comedy, this is pretty basic, and the absence of subtlety is notable but not necessarily regretted. There's plenty of action too, which I won't bother to spell out.
Lancaster grins and shows off his mouthful of chicklets. Connors seems made of some iron alloy. (The two men couldn't be more different in their political attitudes off the screen.) Virginia Mayo is stuck in the role of a perambulating floozy, and yet it may be her most animated performance on screen. One can imagine the director yelling at her, "More, MORE!" And she delivers.
It was made by the Warner Brothers. It could have been made by the Warner Brothers in 1939 instead of 1951, with Jimmy Cagney in the Lancaster role and some nobody in Connors' role. Man -- it moves FAST.
What a lot of fun.
I found my way to this film after seeing Veola Vonn playing "Arlette" a
voluptuous painter's model in "Le Fantome de la rue Morgue" (1954)
which is loosely based on an Edgar Allan Poe novel.On looking at
Veola's film career she seemed to specialise in acting roles playing
French ladies of easy virtue and the subject film is typical when she
plays Lillie Duval a madame of a brothel on a remote French
island.Although she was born in NYK.(1918-1995), I wondered whether she
had French parents/relatives or connections to give substance to these
Virginia Mayo first came to my attention in "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946) playing the initially good-time wife of Dana Andrews a returning bombardier officer from the U.S.A.F. being demobbed at the end of WWII.In this film Virginia as "Ginger Martin" shows off her very feminine figure to its best advantage and soon gets Chuck (The Rifleman) Connors (Pvt.Davey White) & Burt Lancaster (Sgt. O'Hearn) squabbling over her and how best to get back into WWII on the side of Uncle Sam.For Burt it must have made a change doing this knockabout comedy after filming the heavy dramatic acting required playing another sergeant in "From Here To Eternity (1953)" in the same year.Coincidentally both films have the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour as a theme.Another face I spotted was Paul Burke (The Naked City - 1960s TV series) playing an ensign at Sgt.O'Hearn's court marshal.
Obviously the plot outlined in other user comments above is comedic and Hollywood stereotypes abound which include (from an American perspective,) all foreigners who cannot speak English but we must remember that these films were produced by Americans for average Americans.I would place the growing international maturity of U.S. film producers from 1962 with "The Longest Day".One obvious editing device used in "South Sea Woman" is to utilise B&W war newsreels of the real WWII U.S./Japanese conflict and splice them into the subject B&W film. Also used were back-projection screens with "real" studio action by the actors.Oh well, c'est la guerre.I rated it 6/10 on purely on an entertainment level.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Marines have landed! "Rhubarb" director Arthur Lubin's wartime comic escapade "South Sea Woman" with Burt Lancaster and Chuck Connors unfolds ostensibly as a military court-martial melodrama interspersed with flashbacks as two agile Jarheads vye for the affections of beautiful Virginia Mayo. This 1953, black & white, 99-minute, Warner Brothers' theatrical release teems with action galore in those flashback sequences as our heroes tangle with the Japanese Navy during the Guadalcanal campaign in the South Pacific. Lubin doesn't waste a second of those 99-minutes and "Stalag 17" scenarist Edwin Blum doesn't like the exposition get in the way of the action in Earl Baldwin and Stanley Shapiro's adaptation of William Rankin's stage play. Actually, it appears as if this patriotic World War II actioneer was lensed by three-time Oscar nominee Ted McCord of "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" fame.
In a recent biography of Burt Lancaster the only two things that were
mentioned about South Sea Woman was that it enabled him to fulfill a
commitment to Warner Brothers on a three picture deal and that he was
instrumental in getting Chuck Connors the part of his fellow Marine in
hijinks. Other than that this one is strictly minor league Lancaster.
The title role of South Sea Woman is played by Virginia Mayo who the two have a rivalry over. The story is narrated from several perspectives at a court martial that Lancaster is undergoing. These two manage to miss the withdrawal of Marines from Shanghai which occurred a few weeks before Pearl Harbor. Lancaster wants to get back to the outfit especially when they get news of the Japanese attack, but Connors has Mayo on his mind, he wants to get married.
Not since the Errol Flynn film Desperate Journey also by Warner Brothers was there ever a more lighthearted approach to war. These two guys also manage to liberate a Vichy governed French colony and turn it over to the Free French and from said island recruit a crew to get to Guadalcanal where they do distinguish themselves in their own private action. All this related to a rather incredulous court martial board.
What was interesting was that Burt Lancaster did two films at once. While this was shooting Lancaster went over to the set of Three Sailors And A Girl and did a small walk-on role in his Marine uniform costume in that musical. With that he fulfilled a three picture commitment the other being The Flame And The Arrow in which he also co-starred with Virginia Mayo.
The comedy was kind of forced and while it had a few laughs in it South Sea Woman is clearly a film that Lancaster wanted to get off his plate and move on. That year of 1953 he also did From Here To Eternity a much better film about the start of the Pacific War.
In 1944 U.S. Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant James O'Hearn is facing a
court martial for desertion, theft, scandalous conduct and destruction
of property, charges which in time of war carry the death penalty.
("Scandalous conduct" in this context means sex outside marriage; if
that were to be regarded as a capital offence under military law I
suspect that the fighting strength of most of the world's armies would
be drastically reduced overnight).
The above might suggest that this is a serious courtroom drama along the lines of "The Caine Mutiny". Admittedly, the film starts off in serious vein, but as soon as Ginger Martin (she with whom O'Hearn allegedly conducted himself scandalously) takes the stand seriousness goes out of the window and it descends into ridiculous comedy.
Ginger is presumably the "South Sea Woman" of the title, but she is actually a white American rather than a Polynesian and only finds herself in the South Seas by chance. When O'Hearn first meets her she is working as a showgirl at a nightclub in Shanghai, where his regiment is stationed, and is the girlfriend of his friend Private Davy White. An attempt by White to slip away to marry Ginger leads to the three finding themselves adrift at sea on a small motor boat. In a series of increasingly farcical misadventures, in the course of which they inadvertently commit the acts which will form the basis of the charges against O'Hearn, they are rescued by a Chinese junk and eventually cast away on the French-ruled island of Namou. As the Governor of Namou is pro-Vichy, and as the attack on Pearl Harbor has now brought America into the war, the two Marines have to pretend to be deserters in order to avoid being interned. White and Ginger attempt to marry several times, but are always frustrated.
It is at this point that the film changes direction again, largely abandoning comedy and turning into a patriotic wartime adventure as O'Hearn and White discover a fiendish Nazi plot and decide to take action to thwart it, to seize a boat and to rejoin the Marines who are fighting the Japanese at Guadalcanal.
Mixing genres in this way is often a risky business, the risk being that the resulting film can end up as neither fish nor flesh nor fowl nor good red herring, or in this case neither drama nor comedy nor action. I don't think there was ever any possibility of this film being a sort of "Caine Mutiny Court Martial", but it could certainly have been made either as a comedy about the adventures of a pair of bungling Marines and a girl or as a standard gung-ho action war film about two heroic Marines with a sub-plot about their love-interest.
The attempt to make the film as a combination of these two approaches simply results in a misbegotten dog's breakfast, a film which is not very amusing when it tries to be a comedy and not very exciting when it tries to be a wartime adventure. About all one can say for it is that Virginia Mayo looks lovely, as she normally did.
This is not quite Burt Lancaster's worst movie; he normally saved his worst for those occasions, mostly in the sixties and seventies, when he allowed his political judgement to overcome his artistic judgement and ended up playing a villainous right-wing fanatic in turgid, paranoid left-wing thrillers like "Executive Action" or "The Cassandra Crossing". It is not, however, one of his better ones, and is one that is probably best forgotten by all but the most obsessive Lancaster fans. 4/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Not very funny for a movie labeled as a comedy. Sergeant Major O'Hearn is being court martialed for desertion. After all he was AWOL for nine months.Chuck Connors plays a PFC hero. He has the Silver Star and the Navy Cross before the film even starts. He dies when he climbs a Jap ship's stack and throws some TNT down it. This blows up the ship and Connors. Burt Lancaster is O'Hearn. He refuses to testify until the he must to clear the record about Connors being a deserter. Then everything comes out in the open. It is still not very funny. Virginia Mayo is the love interest, first of Connors and then of Lancaster. Her testimony starts things in motion which leads to O'Hearns deciding to testify. This movie is well acted and well written but it is not comedy by any stretch of the imagination.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the type of film that James Cagney and Ann Sheridan would have done 10 years before, and got away with. (Actually, they did a similar one, called "Torrid Zone"). Burt Lancaster, having dealt with Pearl Harbor invasions the same year in "From Here to Eternity", finds himself as another marine, this time in danger of being court-marshaled for a variety of crimes, including being AWOL during wartime. As each crime is addressed, we are witnesses to flashbacks of what actually took place. In scenes that cry out for color, Lancaster's adventures of his love/hate relationship with photo gal Virginia Mayo are presented. The court martial set up is very serious, then all of a sudden as the flashbacks occur, the flow of the film switches to a cartoon like pace. Lancaster, in court, refuses to defend himself, even not even plead "not guilty", and this sets up questions as to why. There is also the absent character of Mayo's fiancée, whom we later see in the flashbacks as played by Chuck Conners. If anything, Lancaster's silence is probably because he knows that the so-called facts are so ridiculous that nobody would believe them. But as each of the "facts" are revealed, Lancaster has no choice but to testify, and when he does, we still never figure out really why he would choose not to cop a plea in the first place. He looks so uncomfortable here. It appears that the writers took all of their loony tune scripts and put them into live action format. It all starts with the sinking of a saloon, then goes into the theft of a yacht and ends on a battle with the Japanese that probably had Marine officers squirming with disbelief that an American film company could present such tripe with a straight face. Mayo, as the titled "South Sea Woman", is Ginger (not Mary Ann), and isn't even shipwrecked. The film really isn't even about her, or the other South Sea Woman who has four nieces that Lancaster makes out with simultaneously. The only reason I gave this a rating as high as 4 was I had so much fun laughing at what was wrong with it. Between this and "His Majesty O'Keefe" (also adrift in the Pacific), Lancaster must have really been desperate for dry land.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a definite turn off your brain film. If you can, you'll have a
nice time--if you can't, then your eyes will roll--especially at the
The film begins with a court martial. For some reason, Burt Lancaster's character is being tried for desertion and several other charges. At first he refuses to testify--and so those who admired and knew him came to his defense. What follows is a story about how Lancaster and his fellow Marine friend (Chuck Conners) got separated from their unit and had a rousing adventure--culminating with a battle between Lancaster and 10 of his friends and an entire Japanese invasion--of Guadalcanal even!! The story is fun and the interplay between Lancaster and Virginia Mayo was nice. Unfortunately, the film ends with one cliché after another and one of the most ridiculous battle scenes ever. In fact, I might consider it THE most ridiculous battle scene! My wife sat there--fuming at the stupidity of the last 10 minutes of the movie (and she was right) and my mother-in-law liked it--saying it was enjoyable nonetheless and had a nice happy ending. I think my opinion is a little of both (plus, I don't want to side with either one!).
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