Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, The (1976)

Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, The (1976)

“Morality is nothing more than a set of rules that adults have invented to protect themselves.”

When his widowed mother (Sarah Miles) falls in love with a sailor (Kris Kristofferson), a troubled young boy (Jonathan Kahn) is pressured by the bullying leader (Earl Rhodes) of his clique to seek revenge.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Kris Kristofferson Films
  • Revenge
  • Sailors
  • Widows and Widowers

Based on a novel by Yukio Mishima (whose troubled life was so effectively captured in Paul Schrader’s highly unconventional biopic), this relentlessly pretentious adaptation by writer/director Lewis John Carlino — who transposed the story to a seaside village in England — is an unfortunate failure. Carlino clearly has lofty ideals, but the story’s provocative premise — with clear thematic parallels to Lord of the Flies and, to a certain degree, Frank Perry’s Last Summer (1969) — is so poorly executed that the entire affair comes across as merely exploitative and salacious. As DVD Savant sums it up so succinctly, “When The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea turns to ‘dangerous’ content, we get the feeling that it’s watered-down Mishima. It is as naive as a fairy story — schoolboys punish a man for not living up to their idealized image of the traditional values they’ve decided he represents — and numbingly literal.”

Of the lead actors, Miles is marginally compelling as a lonely, sexually frustrated widow who clearly misses her dearly departed husband on multiple levels — a fact which Carlino ensures that we “get” by cutting his camera back and forth between a photo of said husband and Miles’s forlorn expression as she masturbates, all in clear view of her teenage son Jonathan (who has somehow managed to maintain a creepy peephole from his bedroom into hers for 15-odd years without her finding out — until she finally does, in one of the film’s most melodramatically implausible moments). Meanwhile, the choice to cast stoic Kristofferson in the title role probably sounded good on paper, but was ultimately misguided; while he functions nicely as a buff presence in his notoriously soft core lovemaking scenes with Miles, he never emerges as a viable character (though this could be at least in part blamed on the script, which may have wanted him to come across as simply a sexual “predator” invading Jonathan’s private “affair” with his mother).

Kahn (who apparently never pursued an adult career in film) is serviceable as Miles’s brooding adolescent son, but Rhodes — in a critical supporting role as his domineering playmate — is simply insufferable. His character clearly isn’t meant to be sympathetic on any level, but, as played by Rhodes, he simply comes across as a shrewish caricature of a bully rather than someone we’re intrigued by on any level. Meanwhile, the entire storyline surrounding Jonathan’s involvement with Rhodes’s clique — with its perverse yet provocative philosophical groundings — is handled purely for sensationalism, rather than with any genuine desire to understand these kids and their goals. We get it that Rhodes is a (possibly psychopathic) control freak who has brainwashed his followers into believing that one must strive towards some form of purity in life — but without any additional information (i.e., for those who haven’t read Mishima’s source novel), one is tempted to interpret their actions, in DVD Savant’s words, as simply “pubescent boys expressing their hormonal hysteria in the wrong directions”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Douglas Slocombe’s beautiful cinematography

Must See?
No; despite its intriguing title and lofty literary origins, definitely feel free to skip this one. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, The (1976)

  1. Some films should simply never have been made. This is one of them. It’s dreck. A total waste of time. Ridiculous and pointless, it is mostly, and inexcusably, just plain dull. It also features some pretty awful acting (esp. by Rhodes). I had to start skipping through parts of it, this time round, once it got to the despicable depiction of the cat ‘experiment’ (which I had forgotten about it).

    My guess is the creators thought they had some kind of art house novelty item on their hands.


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