“I never even lived before. Not really lived before, inside.”
During World War II, a Marine (Robert Mitchum) drifts ashore onto a seemingly deserted South Pacific island, where he encounters its lone inhabitant: a stranded nun (Deborah Kerr). As they struggle to survive and devise a plan for escape, they develop a deep fondness for one another — but will Mitchum respect Kerr’s spiritual vows?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Deborah Kerr Films
- John Huston Films
- Robert Mitchum Films
- World War II
The first of Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum’s on-screen pairings (in 1960, they also co-starred in both The Sundowners and The Grass is Greener) was this unusual “romance” about a Marine and a nun bonding during a time of crisis. Such a scenario (ripe for exploitation, which co-writer/director John Huston masterfully avoids) could easily go in any number of different directions — but what’s so refreshing about this story is its ultimate simplicity. It’s essentially a character-driven relationship piece, set within the chaotic arena of war; other than a few minutes showing a pair of Japanese soldiers interacting with one another (their dialogue isn’t translated), and a couple of solitary lines by soldiers much later in the film, Mitchum and Kerr remain the sole speaking actors in the movie — thus, it’s the evolution of their interactions, coupled with their struggle to survive a seemingly impossible situation, that keeps us glued to the screen.
Mitchum reportedly named this a personal favorite among the many roles he played, and his character here comes across as remarkably sympathetic. We ache for this rough-hewn man — an orphan who found a home with the Marines — as he opens up his heart for the first time to Kerr’s impossibly kind nun. Kerr’s character is a bit more enigmatic (I believe we’re meant to relate to Mitchum as the central protagonist, rather then Kerr), but she does a fine job exhibiting both her enduring spiritual resolve and her growing fondness for Mitchum. Much like in The Nun’s Story (1959) with Audrey Hepburn, we wonder what kind of a decision this beautiful, strong-willed young nun will ultimately make in the face of competing desires.
Note: I’m not especially fond of this film’s title, which makes it sound like a comedy rather than the somewhat serious drama it really is. I understand its deeper meaning (“heaven”, or God, will know what transpires between the nun and Mitchum, even in their seeming isolation), but one can’t help immediately “reading” the title as a whimsical British turn of phrase instead.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Robert Mitchum as Corporal Allison
- Deborah Kerr as Sister Angela (a.k.a. “Ma’am”) (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actresses of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
- Excellent use of a natural island setting
- A fine, unconventional “love” story
Yes, as an enjoyably character-driven film by a master director. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.
- Good Show
- Important Director