Combustible Celluloid
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With: Lee Marvin, Toshiro Mifune
Written by: Alexander Jacobs, Eric Bercovici, based on a story by Reuben Bercovitch
Directed by: John Boorman
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 103
Date: 12/18/1968

Hell in the Pacific (1968)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Enemy Lines

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Following up his amazing Point Blank, director John Boorman re-teamed with Lee Marvin for this simple, highly effective tale of WWII. The only other actor is Japanese star Toshiro Mifune, known to U.S. audiences for his roles in Akira Kurosawa's samurai films (Rashomon, Seven Samurai, etc.).

They are both stranded on an island. The resourceful Japanese soldier has already rigged up a gizmo to collect fresh rainwater and traps to catch fish. The American wants the water, and they fight over it. They hide from one another and plan various attacks. Eventually they decide to work together to build a boat, and even become something like friends, even though they can't understand one another's language.

Though it doesn't quite have the masterful use of space that Point Blank had, Boorman uses the spare island settings well, from lush jungle to empty beach, from high places to nooks and crannies below. (It makes striking use of the widescreen frame.) The movie takes its time, building characters slowly and earning the eventually friendship.

English-speaking viewers seeing this in 1968 could only understand Marvin, while Japanense-speaking viewers could only understand Mifune; they were not translated. Now, of course, viewers can turn on subtitles and catch both sides of the conversation. Though, to be clear, dialogue is hardly the point. The characters' physical performances are far more revealing.

The studio did not like Boorman's ambiguous ending and they hurriedly included an almost comically bad one to wrap things up quickly. Fortunately, Boorman's cut exists and both are presented on Kino Lorber's fine new Blu-ray. There are also interviews with Boorman and art director Anthony Pratt, trailers, and a commentary track by film historians Travis Crawford and Bill Ackerman.

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