WWII tale from James Michener centers on four lonely sisters in Christchurch, New Zealand, where the local men have all gone to war and the Yanks are here to play . . . until they sail. In Robert Anderson’s smart, economical script, it’s a superior soaper with a big black mark against it, a Scandal-Sheet worthy trial that bookends what’s otherwise an unusually grown-up look at love & sex in the pressure-cooker environment of wartime. (And now, the film also serves as a living scrapbook to the city & Cathedral before the recent earthquake.) At first meeting, the sisters function like the Three Bears: eldest Joan Fontaine is Too Cold; Piper Laurie is Too Hot; Jean Simmons is Just Right; and Sandra Dee, a previously unknown Fourth Bear, is the kid. (She’s sweet, but too American-teen to pass for Kiwi.) They each have their own rite-of-romantic-passage, but the emphasis is largely on Simmons, a recent war-widow, and Paul Newman, cold & cynical from a quickie divorce (and still showing a touch of baby-fat in his face). Robert Wise, who groomed Newman’s screen acting chops in SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME/’56, keeps things from turning sticky. And under Joseph Ruttenberg’s glamorizing WideScreen b&w lensing, 40 yr-old Fontaine easily passes as sister to 15 yr-old Dee.
CONTEST: Ruttenberg got Oscar’d the year before & the year after this one. Without looking it up, name the two films and the likely reason this one was ignored to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of a NetFlix DVD.