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Friday, July 29, 2016

HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968)

Reuniting after the groundbreakingly violent & influential POINT BLANK/’67 (see below), Lee Marvin & director John Boorman had less luck working this two-for-one Robinson Crusoe story. The gimmick, and alas, it is a gimmick, finds a Pacific atoll supporting a pair of battle-hardened men in WWII: one Japanese (Toshirô Mifune)/one American (Marvin). They meet less than ten minutes in, but to continue the war in microcosm? Or to work together to get off the island? The suspense is . . . more or less nonexistent; not that what’s here isn’t well-handled, acted & shot (especially fine under Conrad L. Hall’s lens.) Unexpectedly, the film opens with what would normally be the end of the first act: discovering they’re not alone. Mifune, apparently there for a while, already has a functioning system for food, fresh water, fire & shelter up & running. Skipping the set-up should be an interesting dramatic choice, but the story needs those early survival struggles. What else is there to do on a deserted isle? And watching it come together before Marvin’s arrival would lend irony & misgivings about him horning in. Once detente sets in, there’s only a brief arc of hesitant character comedy and a raft to build before setting off to find a forced nihilistic ending. (Actually, a better, if still unsatisfying, alternate ending is included on this non-anamorphic WideScreen DVD.) Worth an indulgent look, mostly for the cinematography.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: If you turn on the subtitles, Mifune’s Japanese dialogue comes up in translation. But would Boorman have wanted it?

DOUBLE-BILL: Marvin got closer to making his nihilistic mark (against Ernest Borgnine) in Robert Aldrich’s EMPEROR OF THE NORTH /’73. (See below.)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Marvin does twice as much singing in this film as he does in next year’s musical PAINT YOUR WAGON/’69 . . . sounds better, too.

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