(director: Robert Wise; screenwriters: Robert Anderson/based on a story by James A. Michener; cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg; editor: Harold F. Kress; music: David Raksin; cast: ean Simmons (Barbara Leslie Forbes), Joan Fontaine (Anne Leslie), Paul Newman (Major Jack Harding), Piper Laurie (Delia Leslie), Charles Drake (Capt. Richard Bates), Sandra Dee (Evelyn Leslie), Wally Cassell (“Shiner” Phil Friskett), Adam Kennedy (Andy, Delia’s Lover), John Wilder (Tommy); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Schnee; MGM/UA Home Entertainment; 1957)

“It’s a soap opera love story that delves into questions about morality during wartime.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s a soap opera love story that delves into questions about morality during wartime. It’s set in New Zealand during World War II. Four New Zealand sisters are living in Christchurch on their own since their mom’s death and their father being lost to the war. They are the soon to be war widow, the warmhearted but proper Barbara Leslie Forbes (Jean Simmons), and her three younger sisters: the prudish Anne Leslie (Joan Fontaine), the man-crazy Delia Leslie (Piper Laurie) and the 14-year-old flirtatious youngest one named Evelyn Leslie (Sandra Dee, the 14-year-old model’s film debut). They all have wartime romances with American marines waiting to be shipped out to the war zone soon after Pearl Harbor, because they are lonely as all the local eligible men are already fighting in the war. Though Evelyn sees American soldiers, in the end she will marry local boy Tommy when he returns alive from the war front. The fate of the others ranges from tragic to some chance of hope that all will work out despite their affairs.

After all the locals go off fighting the war, Delia weds the only eligible local who remained behind, “Shiner” (Wally Cassell). He soon incurs the wrath of all the sisters because of his abusive behavior towards Delia. They are relieved when the army bags him. Later Shiner becomes a POW. In the meantime, Delia meets an American marine lieutenant named Andy in Wellington and wishes to marry him and divorce her husband. When Barbara intervenes, Andy introduces her to his handsome pal Major Jack Hardy (Paul Newman), a friend of Andy’s, who is a cynically divorced officer assigned to investigate the potential New Zealand brides of American soldiers. There’s an immediate attraction, and it’s more than hinted that the two have an intimate relationship that might continue back in the States. Spinster Anne meets the courteous Captain Richard Bates (Charles Drake) and is immediately attracted to the gentle American, who proposes and knocks her up; he later gets killed in the war before their marriage can be approved, and she has his baby.

It’s set around a trial for murder, where the victim was killed by a returning jealous soldier with a Japanese sword and Major Harding is called upon to testify at the trial about the female victim’s adultery during the war. The ensuing story unfolded from a flashback from its opening courtroom scene, at a time the war ended. It’s a film that goes a long way in advocating compassion for promiscuous women during the war, but one that went under because of its many contrivances and too few moments of genuineness and heartfelt emotions.

It’s based on a story by James A. Michener and scripted by Robert Anderson. The “woman’s pic” is capably directed by Robert Wise (“Somebody Up There Likes Me”/”The Set-Up”/”The Curse of the Cat People”) and the acting by Newman and Simmons is first-rate. I can’t say the same for the performances of Fontaine, Laurie or Dee, that left me doubting if they could really be sisters.

Until They Sail Poster