Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Movies I love: Heaven Knows, Mr Allison

Despite having the dvd I can always settle down and watch Johnv Huston's 1957 HEAVEN KNOWS, MR ALLISION whenever it appears on tv, so I did again this afternoon. It is simply an enduring pleasure and for me better than his previous THE AFRICAN QUEEN (of which is really a rethread, but somehow it works better), scripted as it is by veteran John Lee Mahin, and filmed in Tobago.

Ten years earlier Deborah Kerr had played Sister Clodagh when aged 26 in Michael Powell's enduring classic BLACK NARCISSUS - here she is Sister Angela, a much less complex novice Irish nun whom marine Robert Mitchum finds alone on the pacific island his boat drifts to - he being the only survivor from his ship. The war in the pacific rages around them, it is 1944. The interplay between the two characters is the story as they get used to each other and then as the Japanese get nearer and on to the island they do their bit to fight back, but just as they are on the point of being discovered in their cave ..... lovely moments along the way include the tough marine and not so gentle nun getting used to the island's hardships (eating raw fish etc) and its loneliness. The scene where they catch the turtle eches that similar scene with Mitch and Monroe catching the moose in RIVER OF NO RETURN. The marine develops feelings for Sister Angela but - they seem trapped by their respective roles. There is tension and excitement as he infiltrates the enemy camp for aid for the delirious nun who runs away into the rain resisting his drunken advances ... and the ending is just perfect. It is tough, it is gentle, it is perfect Huston the two stars shade their roles perfectly.

It is a two hander really and Kerr and Mitchum play it just right - the great rapport they have here is also evident in Zinnemann's 1960 THE SUNDOWNERS set in Australia and another enduring pleasure, Kerr really should have won the best actress that year (as indeed should have her friend Jean Simmons for ELMER GANTRY, it should have been a tie, as the culmination of their great years). Kerr and Mitch were also in the 1960 Donen souffle THE GRASS IS GREENER with Grant and Simmons making up the starry quartet - and they also did a later tv film REUNION AT FARNBOROUGH, which I caught a glimpse of once.

Beginning in the '40s the '50s was really Kerr's decade, averaging 2 films a year (3 in 1959) and she had some great roles in the '60s as well (THE INNOCENTS, Huston's NIGHT OF THE IGUANA) before her matronly era. I also saw her in a play (THE DAY AFTER THE FAIR from a Thomas Hardy story) in London 1972. Huston too had a good run in the late '50s and into the '60s, with this, his lean western THE UNFORGIVEN, THE MISFITS, and NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, classics all - and I still have to see his 1963 FREUD!

I caught up with Huston in 1972 [at the height of my obsession with THE MISFITS] at London's National Film Theatre when he was promoting his fascinating FAT CITY - it was marvellous just to watch and listen to this bigger than life character...


  1. I've never seen this one, but you make it sound well worth watching. I love them in "The Sundowners" and you're absolutely right about the Oscars that year. Liz is a force of nature, but let's face it: the only Oscar she deserved was for "Virginia Woolf"; the 1960 Award should have gone to Kerr. It was criminal also, that the always under-estimated Jean Simmons was not even nominated.

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  3. My views exactly. Kerr and Simmons were the two great British actresses of the '40s who went to Hollywood and were very big stars indeed in the '50s and continued well into the '60s - the 1960 best actress award would have been perfect for them. Jean was also lovely on the stage in the mid 70s as Desiree in the first London production of 'A Little Night Music' - she had began so young as a teenager in the mid-40s, that she was practically considered a has-been by the mid 60s while still in her 30s. So unfair she was not nominated for probably her best role in 'Elmer Gantry' when her co-stars Lancaster and Shirley Jones won their awards in it!

  4. I adored Jean Simmons. First of all, she was such a great beauty. I think her sheer reliability worked against her: she never gave a bad performance; she was always good, always professional. But she was always subtle and understated, not flashy, and therefore unappreciated. I envy you seeing her in that great musical, "A Little Night Music"...which, by the way, I understand Liz butchered onscreen - have never seen it.

  5. I remember Simmons having that just right wistful quality for "Send in the Clowns" ... Liz in the movie (which was a mess - why do theatre directors think they can direct movies too?) was just all wrong and badly directed. Jean, like Kerr, worked with all those male leads in the 50s - she is so perfect for instance with Peck in The Big Country.