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During World War II, Marine Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchum) is washed ashore a deserted Pacific island after an attack on his unit. Taking refuge within a seemingly abandoned village, he comes across Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr), a nun who has also been marooned. Convinced they will not be found, they plan to escape from the island to Fiji, but when the Japanese military find the location and set up a communications outpost, they are forced to hide out in a cave. Battling hunger, sickness and their own personal anxieties, they develop a close bond and are soon questioning their ideals, philosophies and their own places in life.

Review by Craig Miller
On face value, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, looks to be a pretty average 1950s-styled attempt at combining a standard romance story with a typical war-themed drama. Two star-crossed lovers, trapped, with only themselves to comfort while a war rages on around them is the stuff clichés are made of. Instead, however, co-writer/director John Huston has created a wonderfully compelling story, which mostly avoids cliché pitfalls, and delivers an all too different kind of love story.

Although there is little time spent setting up back story - most of Robert Mitchum's and Deborah Kerr's character history is explained away in a few minutes through a couple of short speeches and the occasional suggestive expression - Huston doesn't skimp on the conflict, and with such strong characters in a war-torn world that lends itself to powerful drama, this is where Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison really takes off.

The relationship between Mitchum's Allison, a hard-nosed marine, and Kerr's lady of the cloth, Sister Angela, is standoffish at first, but before long the similarities between them begin to reveal a compatibility. Huston is always careful never to fall into nun exploitation territory, but without the titillating fine line of a man tempting a nun from her faith, this film would have been nowhere near as effective.

Essentially, this is a character study, and not a bad one at that. Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr (who earned an Oscar nomination for her efforts) are called upon to do the majority of the work - there is little screen time given to anyone or anything else - and they use the time well. Both are extremely talented leads, their performances here are strong and personable, and they do well to develop believable characters through some tricky, sometimes rocky, script terrain.

Huston and Mahin's screenplay continually explores the parallel commitments between a woman of love and her commitment to her faith and church, and a man of war and his own commitment to the Marine Corp, which gives their characters an important understanding of each other's position and outlook on life. Occasionally the film gets a little lost in this, but mostly it's effective, easily carrying the film through, while the odd war scene delivers some relief to those who don't find watching an explorative, suspenseful drama without an action supplement worthy entertainment.

Published September 30, 2004

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(US, 1957)

CAST: Robert Mitchum, Deborah Kerr

DIRECTOR: John Huston

SCRIPT: John Huston & John Lee Mahin

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

PRESENTATION: Widescreen 2.45:1, Dolby 2.0


DVD DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: August 25, 2004

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