HELL IN THE PACIFIC
(director: John Boorman; screenwriters: Alexander Jacobs/Eric Bercovici/based on a story by Reuben Bercovitch; cinematographer: Conrad Hall; editor: Thomas Stanford; music: Lalo Schifrin; cast: Lee Marvin (American Soldier), Toshiro Mifune (Japanese Soldier); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Reuben Bercovitch/Henry Saperstein/Selig J. Seligman; Cinerama Releasing Corp.; 1968)
“More like a silent than a talkie.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
John Boorman (“Deliverance”/”Point Blank”) directs this experimental WWII allegorical drama about survival on a remote Pacific island (filmed on Koror Island in the Palau group) among two enemies who can’t kill each other despite wanting to; it’s a concept film consisting of two performers, unnamed American marine pilot Lee Marvin and unnamed Japanese naval officer Toshiro Mifune, who in real-life both participated on opposite sides in the war (Marvin was wounded in the battle of Saipan). The actors speak in their own language and there are no subtitles. Since Mifune can’t speak English, Boorman directed him through a Japanese interpreter–which led to a few misunderstandings. There are a lot of grunts and growls (but, believe it or not, the acting still works); it’s more like a silent than a talkie. Aside from the novelty factor and curiosity where it would lead, I found it a bit of a drag, pretentious and ultimately disappointing. It’s based on a story by Reuben Bercovitch and written by Eric Bercovici and Alexander Jacobs.
The two enemy servicemen, in 1944, are concurrently separated from their units and find themselves on an uninhabited Pacific atoll. Their instincts are to kill each other and they fight, play cat-and-mouse games and the wisecracking American is taken prisoner as they replay the war on a personal scale until they slowly realize they need each other to survive and therefore stop short of killing each other and collaborate on a raft experience to escape the island.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
There are alternate endings. In the original version, the men are drunk and stumble upon an abandoned army camp and then go their separate ways after shaking hands. In the other version, the one I saw that was added on because of the insistence of one of the producers without the director’s approval in order to improve the poor box office (which it didn’t improve), an explosion occurs from an air raid and it ambiguously leaves us with the possibility that both men might have been killed. Neither ending did much for me.
It’s directed without a sure hand (the producers during the filming wanted to fire Boorman, but Mifune wouldn’t have it even though the director chewed him out for his performance in certain scenes). It’s easy on the eyes (the visuals are National Geographic pretty, especially those blue lagoons and the lush greens of the island) and its heart seems to be in the right place, but as first-class drama it’s just not effective.
REVIEWED ON 1/12/2007 GRADE: C+ https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/