Monday, March 13, 2017

A Truly Offbeat Love Story

I have never read Charles Shaw's novel on which John Huston's "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison," which premiered on this day in 1957, was based.

But if the movie was true to the book, I think I would like to read it sometime.

I guess it would be called an "offbeat love story." But I've never really liked that phrase because it suggests that it is an atypical love story. But what, pray tell, is a typical love story? Aren't all love stories unique? A love story may share certain characteristics with other love stories, but it seems to me that every love story is unique because the people involved in them are unique, and their circumstances are unique to them.

When the movie began, the audience saw an inflatable life raft floating somewhere in the south Pacific in 1944. Stretched out in the raft was Robert Mitchum. The audience later learned that he was a Marine aboard a submarine who had managed to escape after being fired on by the Japanese.

Mitchum didn't speak for the first eight or nine minutes of the movie. In fact, there was no dialogue at all for the first eight or nine minutes. It was during that time that Mitchum's life raft floated near an apparently uninhabited island, and he made his way to it. As Mitchum explored the island, he saw structures in which others had lived at one time, but there was no one to be seen.

And the audience could more or less imagine the questions that were going through his mind. Who had lived there? Was anyone still around? Were they friendly or hostile?

Then he came upon a building that was clearly a church, but there was no human activity around it and no sound coming from it — until a nun (Deborah Kerr) emerged with a broom.

Kerr told Mitchum she had only been on the island a few days. She came with a priest to evacuate another priest, but they discovered that the Japanese beat them to it. The natives who brought them to the island were scared and left abruptly. The priest, who was elderly, died a short time after, and the nun had been left alone on the island. At least until Mitchum arrived.

For awhile the two were alone on the island — until some Japanese landed with the intention of setting up a meteorological camp — a place to monitor weather conditions and provide up–to–the–minute data for Japanese forces. Mr. Allison and the nun retreated to a cave and kept out of sight. For food Mr. Allison would go out spearfishing after dark when he figured the Japanese weren't watching, but they couldn't risk a fire so they had to eat whatever he caught raw. The nun found it hard to digest so Mr. Allison crept to the camp and stole some canned goods.

While he was doing that he could see flashes on the horizon and concluded there was some kind of naval battle between American and Japanese forces. The Japanese who were on the island soon left, which led to all sorts of speculation on Mr. Allison's part about who had won the battle, whether anyone would be coming to their island and what that would mean for them. Partly out of frustration and partly out of jubilation, I suppose, Allison got drunk on some sake that had been left behind.

That was when he confessed to the nun his true feelings for her. He told her he loved her and he thought it was pointless for her to remain dedicated to her vows — she had not yet taken her final vows — since they were stranded on the island with little hope of being saved.

The nun ran out into the night and a tropical rain, becoming ill in the process. After Mr. Allison sobered up he found her shivering and carried her back to the camp. Meanwhile the Japanese had returned, and Mr. Allison took the nun back to the cave.

Mr. Allison tried to care for her, but she needed blankets, and the only blankets to be found were in the Japanese camp. He went back there to get some and was discovered, forcing him to kill a Japanese soldier. Consequently the Japanese realized they were not alone and started setting fires in the jungle to force the pair out into the open.

They remained in the cave, though, and expected a grenade to be thrown in with them — until they heard an explosion that Mitchum realized was not a grenade. It was a bomb. The Americans were attacking the island ahead of their landing.

Mitchum also knew that, when they returned to the island, the Japanese brought four big artillery guns that were well concealed — and he knew where they were. When the Americans tried to land, Mitchum mused, the Japanese would come out of their bunkers and open fire with those guns. It would be a messy landing.

Then he had the inspiration to disable the weapons before the landing began, and that is what he did. He was injured in doing so, but he still managed to disable them, and the Americans easily overpowered the Japanese.

As the movie ended, the nun told Mitchum, in what the audience presumed would be the last time they would see each other, that they would always be close companions, and the Americans were puzzled by how the Japanese weapons had been disabled.

Mr. Allison never said a word. It was a time when movies and movie audiences still believed that virtue was its own reward.

"Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" received two Oscar nominations. Kerr was nominated for Best Actress but lost to Joanne Woodward in "The Three Faces of Eve." And Huston was nominated with John Lee Mahin for Best Adapted Screenplay but lost to Michael Wilson, Carl Foreman and Pierre Boulle for "The Bridge on the River Kwai."