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|Index||32 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
At the center is Santa Marta, an imaginary small island in the British
Leading the story is David Boyeur (HarryBelafonte), a
homegrown revolutionary, whose skin is his country
But the issue here
is not just one of color
The issue here is who is really best fit to
represent the people in the colorful island? Who knows them the best?
Who feels for them the most? Who's really a part of them? On the other
hand, one of the other important fights, for Boyeur, is against
tradition as Santa Marta shackles with traditions
Sizzling around the edges is Mavis Norman (Joan Fontaine) who happens to be in love with this charismatic leader Mavis Norman feels that he is superior to most men
As a public figure, there is Maxwell Fleury (James Mason) who seeks the election to revenge himself upon the whites whom he now thinks despise him Fleury is ready to use the black people so that he can still rule in that world that he still belongs to
Delving into his personal life, we see him jealous of Hilary Carson (Michael Rennie), the gentlemanly English drifter Fleury envies him because he thinks that his wife (Patricia Owens) is attracted to him Blind by love, he thinks that his wife had fall in love with Carson who is better suited to her
There is also Euan Templeton (Stephen Boyd), the governor's son, who wants to be married before he goes back to England His fiancé, Jocelyn Fleury (Joan Collins), is the most difficult person to get a wedding ring on for some powerful reason Caught in a tangle of rumors, she comes out to her mother (Diana Wynyard) who placates her by revealing a secret of her own...
There's also the governor's aide Denis Archer (John Justin) who thinks that there's always a point at the beginning of a love affair where a man can draw back, where he's still safe His love interest Margot Seaton (Dorothy Dandridge) delivers some of the film's best moments
And let us not forget the police inspector John Williamsin a really outstanding performancewho easily identifies an unpremeditated murder Colonel Whittingham considers the murderer not strong enough to bear the burden of his guilt But to tell you more would be to reveal too much too soon
Robert Rossen manages a few winningly odd performances from Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, and John Williams whose presence give the film some strong dramatic qualities
While there are many other more "contemporary" films which examine race relations issues equally as competently if not more so - considering this one was produced back in 1957 it should be recognized as genuine breakthrough! Sure, you may have heard about some of its cop outs, but bear in mind that interracial relationships were political dynamite at the time - and yet some of the film's observations remain poignant even today. But the ultimate beauty of this film is that even if you could care less about the racial issues, it still excels as a mystery / "whodunit" with some intriguing plot twists, as a mini musical with Harry Belafonte performing at the top of his game, and even as a sort of Travel Channel feature-of-the-week, which might leave you booking reservations to your own tropical paradise. So tune out the naysayers for a moment and give this one a fair shot. It may not be technically perfect, but most will be entertained, one way or another.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was prompted to comment because of the previous reviewer's comments
about "the hissable whites" and that "what we really want from the
movie is some windswept romance and more of Belafonte." I was in my
preteens when this movie came out and I saw it in the segregated South.
It was the talk of the town because it was the first movie that dared
show an interracial couple. It was such a controversial topic, however,
that while the movie makers showed daring in matching Harry Belafonte
with Joan Fontaine, they allowed them to only hug and not actually
kiss. That's why there was no "windswept romance".
Here it is nearly 50 years later and I just watched part of the movie Alexander with Colin Farrell and read some reviews on the movie. Several reviewers commented that while Alexander was shown often with his gay lover, the two were only allowed to hug and not to kiss. So intolerance persists--albeit with a different set of protagonists.
Back to Island in the Sun: It was a ground-breaking movie and worth viewing by those who are willing to judge it by the standards of the time and not today's standards. And yes, Harry Belafonte was and still is gorgeous.
Island in the Sun is credited by others as the first movie to star an interracial couple. It was made in 1957 the same year as Sayonara in which Marlon Brando, Red Buttons, and James Garner are all involved in interracial romances with Japanese women. Also there is a Barbara Stanwyck film from I believe the 1930's where she is involved with a Chinese man so this is not the first interracial romance. Generally I would agree with what others have said about this movie. A beautiful looking dud, filled with beautiful people. Unlike others however I would blame the director and editor, rather than the script for the problem. In countless number of occasions the film dissolves to a slow fade just as the action is reaching it's dramatic peak. As in James Mason's attempted suicide, his wife comes into the room sees the gun and ..... dissolve to next scene. Terrible. The cat and mouse , Crime and Punishment murder subplot gives the film some vigor but then peters out in a very predictable way. A great cast , and great scenery photographed by Freddie Young ( Lawrence of Arabia) all of it wasted.
This was a very unique movie for Hollywood in the 1950s because it
explored interracial relationships from both a political as well as
romantic perspective. No doubt, it made audiences extremely
The cast is very strong (with Dorothy Dandridge, Joan Fontaine, John Williams and James Mason--who never disappoints,) and the storyline both intriguing and unpredictable. Harry Belafonte portrays a proud, outspoken labor leader who fights racial injustice on a British Caribbean island, but this is only a secondary plot line. The "forbidden fruit" of interracial relationships is explored from several different perspectives giving this movie an important place in the history of American Cinema. Although racism and class-ism are common elements, the characters are empathetically portrayed. This movie was released in Jim Crow America and, younger viewers may not fully appreciate its' unique portrayal of Blacks in non-subservient roles. Blacks were typically cast as inarticulate maids and butlers, but Dorothy Dandridge (nominated as Best Actress for Carmen Jones in 1954) and Harry Belafonte (a top ten pop singer) were particularly stunning and sophisticated, an anomaly for Black actors in films roles at the time. Nevertheless, Belafonte's acting is often stilted, revealing that this was an early role while Dandridge's character lacks depth--though her acting superb, given that she has been given so little with which to work.
An important side note is that Harry Belafonte was a top-selling West Indian Calyso singer (Day-0-The Banana Boat Song) at the time that this movie was released and performed the title song. In addition to making a strong political statement about the need for racial justice--via his character in this film--he also was a high-profile figure within the Civil Rights Movement, marching with the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King.
Because this movie was made at a time when there was still a Hays Code and that much of America was segregated, you won't get much passion out of the interracial teamings of either Dorothy Dandridge/John Justin (though there's some close embraces) nor Harry Belafonte/Joan Fontaine (he's too intense, she's too reserved). Also, the romance between Joan Collins and Stephan Boyd isn't much to write about either (though they do share a kiss). Anyway, this is mainly about James Mason's plantation character and his debates with Belafonte's labor leader character, his jealousy of his wife's (Patricia Owens) supposed affair with a counsel diplomat (Michael Rennie), and his and sister Collins' reaction to a family secret revealed from a reporter and confirmed by their parents (Diana Wynyard and Basil Sydney). Along the way, there's an officer (John Williams) cracking a murder case...With what I just mentioned, there should have been some fireworks but-other than some exciting close calls staged by director Robert Rossen-it's mostly dull with droning dialogue provided by Alfred Hayes as adapted from Alec Waugh's novel. Still, there are a couple of good songs written and performed by Belafonte and a nice dance by Dandridge and also a compelling confrontation between Mason and Belafonte at a speech rally. So on that note, Island in the Sun is at the least worth a look. P.S. The DVD has excellent commentary by historian John Stanley.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I actually liked this movie. It doesn't seem to get as much credit as it should, seeing that it is the first movie to ever star an interracial couple (between the beautiful Dorothy Dandridge and the cute John Justin. Also, would've been between much older, but good actress Joan Fontaine and handsome Harry Belafonte). The scenery is beautiful and the plot is very good, but I think it's the storyline and script that make it so bad. It really doesn't count for a romance seeing that Ms. Dandridge and Mr. Justin were hardly aloud to touch each other and another character got pregnant out of wedlock, who was white. But this if you want a great movie with a beautiful tropical set (filmed on location in the Caribbean), interracial romance, suspense, mystery, a little singing, race relations, and politics, I suggest this movie.
Hollywood was clearly not ready for this type of drama, which is full of compromise. Screen lovers Dorothy Dandridge and John Justin are clearly not allowed to kiss. Ditto for Joan Fontaine and Harry Belafonte (incidentally, Fontaine's comment about the two of them being children together should have been left out; she looks good, but it's still obvious that she's a good ten years older than he.)
The main reason and pleasure of reviewing this film today, is to enjoy the very good cast in a beautiful setting. Here are some stars in their physical prime: James Mason, Harry Belafonte, Joan Fontaine, Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd, and last but certainly not least, the gorgeous Dorothy Dandridge. All in a lovely tropical setting. Ignore the script (which is admittedly a dud) and just enjoy the beautiful scenery.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Island in the Sun" was made in 1957, a date at which Britain still
retained its colonial possessions in Africa and the West Indies,
although it was clear that they were moving towards independence,
following the example of India and Pakistan which had become
independent in 1947. The film traces this process on the fictitious
Caribbean island of Santa Marta. One of the main characters is David
Boyeur, a rising young black trade union leader and politician whose
radical views and popularity among the common people make him a threat
to the island's traditional white ruling class.
Another main character, Maxwell Fleury, is a member of that class, or would be if he were wholly white rather than of mixed race. In the course of the action Maxwell, who has always believed himself to be white, learns that he also has black ancestry. At one time a Caribbean plantation owner's son would have been horrified by such a revelation, but Maxwell, who is trying to make a career in politics, welcomes it, believing that he will be able to use his black blood as an electoral asset. His younger sister Jocelyn, however, is troubled by the news, fearing that it will ruin her budding romance with Euan Templeton, the son and heir of the island's aristocratic Governor.
The film combines several interconnected plot lines. One deals with the political rivalry between David and Maxwell, another with the love of Euan and Jocelyn. Two, controversially for the fifties, deal with interracial romance. David is having an affair with Mavis Norman, the daughter of another elite white family, and Denis Archer, a young British official on the Governor's staff, has fallen in love with Margot, a local black girl. The romance between Denis and Margot ends happily, but David eventually sacrifices Mavis for the sake of his political career, breaking off the affair when he realises that marriage to a white woman, especially a woman from the island's ruling class, would prove an electoral liability and lose him votes from a predominantly black electorate.
The most important plot line concerns Maxwell's private life. His marriage is an unhappy one, and he is tormented by suspicions that his wife Sylvia is having an affair. He is probably mistaken, but his jealousy becomes an obsession, leading him to confront Hilary Carson, the man whom he believes to be his wife's lover, killing him in the course of their quarrel. Much of the film deals with the police investigation of the murder.
In one respect, that of age, James Mason was the wrong choice to play Maxwell. It is difficult to accept him as the brother of Joan Collins, in reality twenty-five years his junior, especially as we learn that Maxwell was not the oldest child. (He had an elder brother). It might have been better if the script had been rewritten to make Jocelyn Maxwell's niece rather than his sister. In every other respect, however, he was the right choice. Maxwell is a psychological mess. At the root of many of his problems is an inferiority complex arising from the fact that, as a boy, he was overshadowed by his brilliant older brother Arthur, and has been unable to emerge from that shadow even after Arthur's death in the war. His decision to run for office has less to do with any firm political beliefs (unlike his rival David, who has strong convictions) than with the boost to his ego that electoral success will bring him. His unfounded suspicions of Sylvia appear to derive from a lack of belief in his own manhood. Mason is excellent in portraying this complicated, troubled individual and gives a fine performance.
Another good performance comes from John Williams, an actor I had not previously come across, as Colonel Whittingham, the head of the island's police force. He knows that Maxwell was responsible for killing Carson, but has no evidence to prove it, so plays complex mind-games with Maxwell in a bid to get him to confess. Dorothy Dandridge is also good as Margot, although hers is a relatively small role. This was her first film since her success in "Carmen Jones", in which she played the lead, three years earlier. Hollywood's institutionalised racism seems to have prevented this beautiful and gifted actress from achieving her full potential.
Not all the acting is so good. Stephen Boyd, later to rise to fame as Charlton Heston's enemy Messala in "Ben-Hur", is particularly wooden as Euan. Harry Belafonte, who plays David, was perhaps more gifted as a singer than as an actor, and here gives an excellent rendition of the film's famous theme song. As an actor, however, he is not as good here as he was in "Carmen Jones", in which he also starred alongside Dandridge.
The film's title is partly literal and partly ironic. The islands of the Caribbean are often seen by outsiders as a carefree, sunny tropical paradise, and the colour photography, concentrating on the island's natural beauty, has something of the look of a tourist travelogue. To local people, however, the islands can often seem far from paradise. Their economy was, after all, originally based on slavery, and even after its abolition many class-based and race-based tensions and inequalities remained. Meteorologically, the Caribbean may be sunny; politically and socially it can be as stormy as anywhere else on earth.
It is therefore to the film's credit that it attempts to reflect some of these tensions in its storyline. Despite his shabby treatment of Mavis, the portrayal of David is generally a sympathetic one at a time when left-wing politicians were often depicted in the cinema as Communist rabble-rousers. "Island in the Sun" is interesting not only as a psychological drama but also for the picture it gives of life in a British colony in the years leading up to independence, a subject (India apart) not often treated in the mainstream cinema. 8/10
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