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It's always interesting to hear what movie directors think of their own
work, and John Huston once made a very insightful comment about this
1957 film which he made for 20th Century Fox:- "Allison is seldom
referred to. But I think it was one of the best things I ever made".
Huston has hit the nail squarely on the head with this comment. It is -
just as he states - a film that has faded into obscurity as the years
have passed. It is also paradoxically one of his great works. Perhaps
The African Queen, The Red Badge Of Courage, The Asphalt Jungle and
Treasure Of The Sierra Madre rank in the director's very top tier of
work, but Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is definitely among the
front-runners in the second tier.
The story is extremely simple, but absorbing. American marine Allison (Robert Mitchum) is washed ashore on a Pacific island during WWII. The only other person on the island is a nun named Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr). Although they are totally different types of people - and in other circumstances might well have looked down their noses at each other - they find that their mutual plight draws them together and creates a very close friendship. Their situations worsens, however, when a Japanese force arrives and stations a garrison on the island. Allison and Sister Angela find themselves in genuinely grave danger now. Initially, they were merely shipwrecked.... but the arrival of the Japanese soldiers places them in the very midst of the enemy, with nowhere to run and almost nowhere to hide.
As it was made in 1957, the filming was fraught with difficulties, because at that time the Catholic church imposed strict censorship laws on films dealing with religious situations or characters. In the original Charles Shaw book which provided the inspiration for the film, the marine and the nun fell in love.... but it would have been deemed offensive if that were to happen in a 1957 film, so Huston had to create a revised resolution in which the marine and nun gain strength, hope and determination from each other without ever physically consummating their relationship. The performances are meticulous, with Mitchum showing what depth and sensitivity he could bring to a part when asked to do more than his usual man-of-action thing. Kerr is, if anything, even better and earned a thoroughly worthy Oscar nomination (she was eventually beaten - probably undeservedly - by Joanne Woodward). Oswald Morris shoots the film splendidly, ensuring that it is always pleasing to the eye, while Huston expertly juggles the suspense and the sensitivity. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is a really first-rate film and how sad it is that such a likable motion picture has become virtually forgotten.
First off, Bob Mitchum is the most under-rated actor of all time. He put everything he had into every role and made it look natural. This movie was no exception. He became "Mr. Allison" and made us believe he had been ship wrecked like this before. Having been a combat Marine myself there were so many details I noticed that he was able to incorporate naturally into his part. This allowed viewers of any knowledge level to enjoy the most authentic portrayal of this character. This is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is a real treasure and a good indicator of Bob Mitchum's work.
One of Huston's buried treasures,this offbeat tale of a nun and a
marine stuck on an island.They say it was to be directed by Wyler,but
he turned it down and went to make "desperate hours".
Deborah Kerr had already played a nun in Powell-Pressburger's excellent "Black narcissus",and the part was tailor-made for her.The same goes for Robert Mitchum as a crude,simple,but with a golden heart marine.People cannot help but be struck with the analogies between "heaven" and "African queen" :both feature an odd couple,in jeopardy;that's why the former is overlooked today which is totally unfair.
The two characters are extremely endearing and,when the movie is over,it seems we've always known Sister Angela and Corporal Allison.I dig the line:"it's a gourmet's dish" when the nun is eating turtle soup.I love the way the scenarists show the analogies between a nun's and a marine's lives.The Garden of Eden metaphor is obvious,but the story subtly progresses,and the Snake's temptation happens late in the movie.
The cinematography is splendid,with a superb use of cinemascope,and Georges Delerue's score deserves admiration.Yes "heaven knows..." is certainly one of Huston's sleepers.But I wonder what Luis Bunuel would have done with such a screenplay.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Heaven knows Mr. Allison" is a story of love and war on a South
Pacific island swarming with Japanese troops in the second World War
A man and a woman, the only ones to live through a storm, find each other at a deserted church
There were few words when such people met; there was sympathy, but the sympathy was not expressed in words
Together, they share many dangers Out of their trials grows a love which bring to each a new closeness to God
Robert Mitchum plays a United States Marine in serious trouble With an ordinary girl or woman, he would have just taken charge of her and he would have begun at once to do what he could for both of them But a woman in holy orders was a great mystery to him A nun was something outside his experience
He had believed that nuns were delicate creatures, living far from the roughness of the world Nuns were strange, mysterious beings, behind the walls of secret, quiet, holy places But here he was one of them alone in the jungle, in the middle of war and danger And she apparently believed that he, Private Henry Allison had been brought here by God's hand just for the purpose of helping her
Deborah Kerr plays Sister Angela, the nun who was expecting someone when Mr. Allison came Her face, almost hidden by the white head-dress, looked surprising young There were shadows of worry under her eyes, but the eyes themselves were almost like a child's
To her, there was no importance in the fact that Allison was a man Her faith, her years of religious training, the high purposes of her life, all placed her above and beyond the things of the earth
To Allison she appeared sexless in the sense that she was beyond her sex To him she was a being who ate and drank and slept and had to be protected In other ways, she was a complete mystery
The adventure, beautifully filmed in the West Indies, is a touching story of unrequited love and an expert acting duet by two legendary stars
This film is among the best of my collection, when I like to see a good film, this is always in the first line. Robert Mitchum acted here extremely well as a marine with a very poor, not to say vulgar, background in his life. He confessed he was born orphan, he never knew who were his parents, and after 14 years old he escaped from the orphanage and was put in jail several times. His life changed once he was recruited by the US Marine. The always brilliant Deborah Kerr is here a nun with a very character and humor, always able to understand the behavior of Mr. Allison (Mitchum). It is normal that when two persons of opposite sex are together some strange feelings may appear, the mariner obviously may some hints in his favor, but the nun politely said no. In conclusion, excellent film with an interesting plot and wonderful acting, a real good film forever.
This movie stands out as my favorite WW2 film. It not only explores the nature of honor, but also male female relations and faith in such things. I give it my highest marks with the caveat that it is NOT an action film. This is primarily a drama.
In 1944, in South Pacific, the castaway Marine Corporal Allison (Robert
Mitchum) drifts in a raft to the Tuasiva Island, where he meets Sister
Angela (Deborah Kerr). She tells him that she is the only person in the
island and was left behind by the runaway boat to Fiji Island while
seeking the local priest. Stranded in the island, but with water, fish
and fruits, their paradisiacal life ends when the Japanese arrive to
build a base, forcing Allison and the nun to hide in a cave. The crude
marine provides the necessary supply for their survival and falls in
love for the nun.
"Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" is not a masterpiece, but it is one of my favorite movies ever. The beautiful story is a kind of Robison Crusoe in times of World War II, without Friday, cannibals or pirates, but a hardened marine, a gorgeous nun and Japanese. The story has war, adventure, romance and drama, and is supported by the awesome direction of John Huston and the stunning performances of Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in the roles of endearing characters. Deborah Kerr deserved her nomination to the Oscar, but Robert Mitchum was forgotten by the Academy in spite of having a top-notch performance. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "O Céu Por Testemunha" ("The Heaven as Witness")
This film shows the depth of feeling that John Huston was capable of as a director. It also shows how wonderfully he handled actors, eliciting great performances from both Mitchum and Kerr. Though it doesn't have the humor of The African Queen, it shows a similar since of dignity to the characters. It also shows respect for the audience in that it doesn't feel the need to resort to romantic over-indulgences or tear-jerking death scenes to win us over. Both characters remain intact physically and spiritually at the end. Also worth mentioning is Oswald Morris's beautiful location photography on the island of Tobago. Fox did a wonderful job on the DVD transfer.
Walter Huston loved to film on location; all his great movies reflect this
predilection. It helps too, that Mr. Huston and John Lee Mahin produced a
great screen play and the bonus was the casting of the two stars. Since it's
a two character film, the director couldn't gamble with any light weight
actors and it pays tremendously by the incredible performances Mr. Huston
got from them.
The story of the nun who is left behind in a Pacific island and the arrival of the shipwrecked Capt. Allison, brings two people together from such different backgrounds, that under another direction wouldn't have played so well as it does in this movie. There aren't any false moments in the film.
It is a credit to Mr. Huston the pairing of Deborah Kerr with Robert Mitchum, who are amazing in their roles. There's an aura of sex between both of the actors without it being obvious, or on your face. It's the subtlety that makes this film work they way it does. Both Ms. Kerr and Mr. Mitchum would appear not to be ideal for these two characters, but they have the right chemistry to make us care for these two people stranded in the Pacific.
This movie, having been filmed in the mid fifties, does not include the
blood and violence, nor sexual content and gratuitous language that many
now accustomed to. If you are looking for that kind of movie, look
elsewhere. If you are looking for a movie with heart and real content,
could be perfect. The acting is top-notch, as is the cinematography. The
plot flows beautifully and holds your attention to the very end. "Heaven
Knows, Mr. Allison" is a classic, although it never received the attention
This is one of my all-time favorite movies; I have loved it since I was a child. It is a movie parents can feel comfortable watching with their children (not the very young, of course!), but is a good "date movie" as well. Not a "chick flick", it is a war movie, but one which women will enjoy as much as men do.
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