One Marine for Sister Angela
With just 2 stars and a limited location "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" is a great example of how keeping things simple can make for a good movie. Whilst there is action and drama this is very much a movie about how two people thrown together get on, how they grow to like each other, respect each other and learn to rely on each other. And as such "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" is very much a character driven movie as it focuses on rugged Marine Cpl. Allison and nun Sister Angela stranded on a desert island. In a way that may sound boring but it is far from it as there is sexual tension, drama as well as humour and plenty of charm as it explores how these two very different people grow close and see similarities in their chosen life styles.
The year is 1944 and after his submarine comes under attack Cpl. Allison (Robert Mitchum - River of No Return) is left floating aimlessly in a dingy till he eventually comes across a desert island where he meets its only resident sister Angela (Deborah Kerr - The King and I) a nun who became stranded there as people fled the islands. Despite being stranded they make the most of a bad deal as they enjoy the abundance of fresh fruit and fish that they can get. But all that comes to an end when the Japanese arrive and build a base forcing Cpl. Allison and Sister Angela to hide out in a cave where their feelings for each other become more complicated especially by Sister Angela being a woman of the cloth.
"Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" has a very simple set up as we watch Cpl. Allison aimlessly float towards this desert island and discovers Sister Angela is the only resident, stranded thanks to the war and the threat of Japanese attack. What we watch from there is how these two people, two very different characters grow to like each other going from Sister Angela being wary of the rugged Cpl. Allison through to caring for him. And it's the same the other way as the more time that Cpl. Allison spends with Sister Angela the more he grows to like her to the point that his feelings become stronger than just like. This leads into one of the nice angles which flows through out "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" because he is attracted to her but also respects her and her devotion to religion despite wishing it was different. It actually adds a surprising amount of sexual tension between them as deep down they know each others feelings but can't act upon them.
As such this relationship develops with Cpl. Allison risking his life for Sister Angela especially when the island becomes home to some Japanese soldiers and her fretting when she doesn't know where he is. There is a surprising tenderness to the way this relationship grows, with Cpl. Allison being very respectful towards her even when she makes it clear that she is dedicated her life to God. And you actually end up feeling for both of them as Cpl. Allison desperately in love with her controls his feelings as best as he can, apologetic when one night he gets drunk and blurts things out.
But whilst "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" is very much about how Cpl. Allison and Sister Angela bond there is also plenty of drama as well as a touch of comedy. Now this may not be the most amazing action but there is something surprisingly powerful about how Cpl. Allison sneaks into the Japanese camp to get food for Sister Angela. In that one scene you get a real insight into how fond he is of her as he is forced to stay motionless for hours to avoid detection. But there is also some humour to all of this and scenes which see them trying to capture fish or dance after the Japanese leave the island brings a huge smile with them. It is credit to director John Huston that he manages to bring in the element of humour without it every feeling too staged something which in the hands of another director such as John Ford probably would not have been the case.
A huge reason why "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" works is in the strength of the casting and Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr are perfectly cast. In a way you expect the strong performance you get from Deborah Kerr as Sister Angela as whilst she may be playing this Irish nun she is very much the prim and proper character which Kerr did so well. It is Robert Mitchum who is the revelation because not only does he get across the rugged Marine side of his character but he also gets across the sensitive, tender and protective side without it ever becoming a caricature. As such there is a charm to the way they interact as Cpl. Allison tries to control his manly behaviour, being courteous and caring whilst Sister Angela goes from wary to caring for him.
What this all boils down to is that "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison" is a wonderful movie and one which shows that you don't need big sets or a lot of stars just a good storyline and a good script. It also shows how wonderfully talented both Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr were and it is through there performances that you get drawn into there relationship and feel for them in such difficult circumstances.