Heaven can't help you now, Judge Patrick Naugle.
Our review of Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, published July 2nd, 2003, is also available.
The marine who had been through hell and a nun with a supreme faith in God.
It's 1944 in the South Pacific and U.S. Marine Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchum, Night of the Hunter) has found himself adrift in the ocean after the submarine he was disembarking was attacked by Japanese soldiers and forced to dive, leaving men behind in the chilly ocean. Corporal Allison was able to find a rubber life raft and drifted for days until finally coming to shore on a small deserted island. The only inhabitant is Sister Angela, a nun who had come to the island a few days prior to evacuate a fellow clergyman and found herself stranded when the natives who guided them fled and the priest she was with died suddenly. As Allison and Sister Angela scout the island they find bunkers and huts, but their safety is soon in jeopardy when Japanese soldiers land on the island, forcing the twosome into a hidden cave. The days tick away as hope for a rescue becomes less and less likely. Can a man of war and a woman of God get out of paradise alive?
I'm sort of a sucker for movies about people being stranded in a remote location, with only a few scant supplies and their wits to save them. From the Lee Marvin film Hell in the Pacific to the Brooke Shield's nookie-fest The Blue Lagoon to Tom Hanks's diminishing frame in Cast Away, Hollywood has churned out some fascinating stories about being lost in paradise with only coconuts and crabs to keep you company. Add to that list John Huston's World War II film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, featuring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr as a Marine and a nun attempting to survive the elements, starvation, Japanese soldiers, and—at times—each other. In a way Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison can be seen as a companion piece to Huston's classic The African Queen: a rough man, a gentle woman, and a single setting colliding together to show what people can do despite their differences.
I've slowly become a fan of Hollywood icon Robert Mitchum. Mitchum had a long and successful career in Hollywood, acting in many film noirs and war films well into the 1990s (he passed away in 1997). I know Mitchum best from his turn as a murderous preacher in Charles Laughton's fantastic 1955 film Night of the Hunter. I feel like I had the chance to see another side of Mitchum in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Mitchum sheds his tough guy persona even as he's playing a hardened solider (who grew up in an orphanage, which give his character a bit of added weight). Allison is a tough-as-nails military man who shows his softer side because of Deborah Kerr's holy Sister Angela. The Scottish born Kerr (who uses her accent to great effect here) is wonderful as the sensitive, Godly nun who finds herself drawn to Allison. Mitchum and Kerr make for a likable and engaging screen couple, each drawn to the other even as their life choices—military service and the convent—pull them away.
In between character driven moments on the beach and inside the cave, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison flexes its muscles with tense war moments. The ever looming presence of the Japanese army gives the film an extra added layer of suspense; one sequence in particular—as Allison sneaks into a Japanese barracks to steal food toe at in the cave—is as tense as any other movies released that year. By the end of the film the war is fully raging with dropped bombs and intense explosions, culminating in the island nearly being blown to bits. Yet, it's still the character driven moments that are the central core and what truly give the film its heart. As Allison and Sister Angela get to know each other's stories inside the dank cave and on the beach, it's clear that each is starting to develop feelings for the other. The screenplay by director John Huston and John Lee Mahin (based on the novel by Charles Shaw) is essentially a two character play; aside of a few very bit players, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison keeps the focus solely on the two lead actors. This offers viewers a much more intimate connection with Allison and Angela, and the movie is all the better for it.
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition (filmed in Cinemascope). This Fox title—licensed to Twilight Time in a limited issue of only 3,000 copies—sports a good looking transfer, but certainly not great. The image features solid colors and dark black levels, although some scenes are rougher than others. At times the image is truly sharp and impressive and at others it's muddled and out of focus. The majority of the transfer is in very good shape, which should make fans happy. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono in English. This audio mix, while effective and appropriate, isn't very exciting. There are no directional effects or surround sounds to be found here. This mono mix is very front heavy with easily distinguishable dialogue, music, and effects. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Bonus features include a vintage Movietone newsreel, an isolated score track (in 2.0 Stereo), and the theatrical trailer.
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison may not be one of John Huston's most popular films, but it certainly deserves to be high up on that list. Mitchum and Kerr give superior performances in a movie that could have easily become trapped in cliché, but instead is a moving account of two people's lives colliding during one of our nation's darkest periods. Twilight Time's work on this disc is good; the video and audio is decent with only a few extra features. With only 3,000 copies available, better get yours before they're gone.
Two of my least favorite genres—or the genres which contain the fewest number of movies I've enjoyed—are westerns and war films. I love it when I run into the exception to the rule, and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison certainly feels like a big exception. It's as intimate as it is big, a movie that doesn't lag or feel stuffed with filler. The performances by Mitchum and Kerr are both wonderful and affecting, and the scenery (filmed in Trinidad and Tobago by The Dark Crystal's cinematographer Oswald Morris) is breathtaking. Some war movies stand the test of time and some don't. This one is as fresh today as it was nearly half a century ago.
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