30 user 15 critic

A Town Like Alice (1956)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance, War | 1 June 1956 (Ireland)
A newly wealthy English woman returns to Malaya to build a well for the villagers who helped her during war. Thinking back, she recalls the Australian man who made a great sacrifice to aid her and her fellow prisoners of war.


Jack Lee


Nevil Shute (novel), W.P. Lipscomb (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
Won 2 BAFTA Film Awards. Another 5 nominations. See more awards »




Cast overview, first billed only:
Virginia McKenna ... Jean Paget
Peter Finch ... Joe Harman
Kenji Takaki Kenji Takaki ... Japanese Sergeant (as Takagi)
Tran Van Khe Tran Van Khe ... Captain Sugaya
Jean Anderson ... Miss Horsefall
Marie Lohr ... Mrs. Dudley Frost
Maureen Swanson ... Ellen
Renee Houston ... Ebbey
Nora Nicholson ... Mrs. Frith
Eileen Moore ... Mrs. Holland
John Fabian John Fabian ... Mr. Holland
Vincent Ball Vincent Ball ... Ben
Tim Turner ... British Sergeant
Vu Ngoc Tuan Vu Ngoc Tuan ... Captain Yanata
Munesato Yamada Munesato Yamada ... Captain Takata (as Yamada)


In 1941, the advancing Japanese army captures a lot of British territory very quickly. The men are sent off to labor camps, but they have no plan on what to do with the women and children of the British. A group is sent on a forced march from place to place searching for a Women's Camp. Told from the point of view of one of the women, she meets an Australian soldier who sneaks food for them from his labor camp. After the war, she goes to Australia to see the town he was from and hopefully reunite with the soldier. Written by John Vogel <jlvogel@comcast.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


From Nevil Shute's Brilliant Novel Comes a Film of Rare and Compelling Sincerity See more »


Drama | Romance | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


According to a January 16, 1955 article in the Sunday Times of Perth, Australia, Olivia de Havilland was in negotiations with the Rank Organization to play the lead in this film. See more »


All the women's hair styles and clothes in the 1941 sequences are strictly 1956. See more »


Jack Burns: This is Miss Paget - she wants to get into Willstown.
Australian Driver: That's new - most people wanna get out of it!
See more »

Crazy Credits

Opening credits prologue: The characters in this story are fictitious. The story itself however is based upon true fact. See more »


Referenced in Chicken Run (2000) See more »


Traditional Malay dance
Arranged by Matyas Seiber
See more »

User Reviews

World War Two experience from a different perspective...
8 October 2006 | by RJBurke1942See all my reviews

Soon after the end of real hostilities in 1945, Hollywood produced the first of many subsequent films from the perspective of prisoners of war held by the Japanese: that film was Three Came Home (1950) with Claudette Colbert. I recall seeing that one a long time ago and recall the dark nature of that narrative (I have yet to submit a review here, but I will, in time).

A Town Like Alice is a different kettle of fish, so to speak: instead of a single family, it's a mix of various women and children caught up in the retreat to Singapore in 1941, and follows their seemingly unending trek across Malaya, from camp to camp, seeking admission and a final resting place to wait out the war.

The black and white photography is superb as the downtrodden party weaves its way through swamp, dirt roads, wet and dry season, very little food or water, malaria, dysentery and all other manner of tropical diseases. Little wonder that, as they walk, they also die, one at a time, from malnutrition and sickness, and all the while, their guard, an old-timer, gradually comes to admire their perseverance just as the women come to respect the old man's quiet determination to keep helping them to survive. That's the main story.

The big sub-plot is how Jean Paget (Virginia McKenna) meets Joe Harmon (Peter Finch), also a prisoner of war, and how they both come to fall in love – on the run, if you know what I mean: they keep meeting (he is pressed into service as a driver for the Japanese) at different parts of Malaya as the women keep wandering around, looking for a place to stay. So, there is a bit of comedy from the irrepressible Aussie soldiers, mixed with moments of real tension as the two lovers try to keep a relationship going under such conditions. And, it's during one of those meetings that Jean learns that Joe comes from Alice Springs.

Never boring, and with stand-out scenes, such as one of the little boys running in between the advancing Japanese soldiers with his toy gun, shouting "bang, bang" (reminiscent of Brandon de Wilde in Shane [1953], doing the same thing, and annoying Jean Arthur, inside the farm house); the joy of the women when they come across an abandoned house with hot running water; and, Jean's bargaining with a Malay shop-keeper for tinned milk for a baby.

If this period in history is of interest, you could do worse to spend two hours of your time. And, as for how the romance turns out, well, you'll just have to see the movie, won't you?

45 of 49 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 30 user reviews »

Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ is empty. Add the first question.





English | Japanese

Release Date:

1 June 1956 (Ireland) See more »

Also Known As:

The Rape of Malaya See more »

Filming Locations:

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Vic Films Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See full technical specs »

Contribute to This Page

We've Got Your Streaming Picks Covered

Looking for some great streaming picks? Check out some of the IMDb editors' favorites movies and shows to round out your Watchlist.

Visit our What to Watch page

Recently Viewed