PURPLE PLAIN, THE
(director: Robert Parrish; screenwriter: Eric Ambler/based on the novel by H.E. Bates; cinematographer: Geoffrey Unsworth; editor: Clive Donner; music: John Veale; cast: Gregory Peck (Forrester), Win Min Than (Anna), Bernard Lee (Dr. Harris), Maurice Denham (Blore), Ram Gopal (Mr. Phang), Brenda De Banzie (Miss McNab), Lyndon Brook (Carrington), Anthony Bushell (Colonel Aldridge), Jack McNaughton (Sgt. Brown), Harold Siddons (Navigator Williams), Mya Mya Spencer (Dorothy), Josephine Griffin (Forrester’s Bride); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Bryan; United Arists; 1954-UK)
“An intelligently presented World War II drama.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
H.E. Bates’s novel is used as a source for this suspenseful psychological drama directed by Robert Parrish (“Cry Danger”/”The Mob”/”The Wonderful Country”). The film was shot on location (with Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, subbing for Burma) and the female star was the unknown Win Min Than, who was half-German and half-Burmese (this was her only American film, as she was not a very good actress). Ms. Than was chosen in an audition over 200 other applicants. The film was made abroad so star Gregory Peck could take advantage of a tax break law and beat his high American taxes. Peck signed a deal with British producer John Bryan to make two films over there, and in 1953 made Man with a Million.
Gregory Peck plays ace squadron leader Captain Forrester of the Canadian Royal Air Force, who is a tortured soul suffering from nightmares ever since his bride died in a London air raid bombing. The men under him and even his colonel commander (Anthony Bushell) think the loner is dangerous to fly with because he takes too many risks and seems to have a death wish, but no one questions his flying skills or courage. In the opening scene, Forrester’s navigator (Harold Siddons) gets winged in the arm and he’s ordered to discontinue his mission and return to base. Instead Forrester disobeys orders and destroys an enemy gun battery in his fighter bomber. His commander wants him grounded, but decides first to have the wise man Dr. Harris (Bernard Lee) have a chat with Forrester to see if he’s indeed sane. Doc takes the intense and cranky flyer to visit a nearby Burmese Christian mission in order to relax and humanize him, where he introduces him to Dorothy and her pretty but shy younger sister Anna (Win Min Than). The ladies trekked here from Rangoon to provide medical assistance to the natives. Forrester and Anna seem to have an attraction for each other and before he departs she gives him a precious gem to remember her by and so hopefully he will return to visit her. The head of the mission is the gritty, chatty and devout Scottish native Miss McNab (Brenda De Banzie), who led her flock from Rangoon to get away from the Japanese occupiers.
When Forrester’s bomber is not fully repaired because the mechanics received their discharge, Forrester is asked by the commander to fly with his new navigator Carrington (Lyndon Brook) to try out a new plane and take one of the medical staff, Blore (Maurice Denham), to his new base, a short distance away. The plane develops engine problems over Japanese territory and Forrester expertly crash-lands in the jungle before the plane fully explodes. But Carrington can’t walk and with only a three-day supply of water, Forrester orders that a stretcher be built to carry Carrington 100 or so miles to a river in British controlled territory. But the cynical Blore, a bore if there ever was one, ignorantly resists and insists that the rescuers will soon find them if they stay put. Forrester tries to clue the blockhead into the fact that the dense jungle makes it impossible for a plane to spot them and if they remain they will all die. The remainder of the film shows the difficulty in reaching the water, and Forrester’s new found love giving him something to live for again.
It’s an intelligently presented World War II drama, that’s scripted by Eric Ambler. Though it did poorly at the box office those who saw it raved about it, and Peck’s performance is superb as is underrated director Parrish’s helmsmanship—a B-film director who unjustly never got a crack at making A-films.
REVIEWED ON 5/13/2008 GRADE: B