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Movie Natters: April 3, 2006 Archive

Revisiting "Hell in the Pacific"

Posted at 2:12 AM on April 3, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Coincidence dumped a copy of John Boorman's "Hell in the Pacific" in my lap shortly after seeing "Joyeux Noel." Both films examine the difficulties of men at war when they have to suddenly face one another in different circumstances.

Released in 1968 "Hell" tells the story of two men, one a US pilot, the other a Japanese soldier, stranded on a tiny Pacific atoll during World War II.

It stars Toshiro Mifune and Lee Marvin, in fact they are the only actors in the entire film. That is remarkable enough, but neither speaks the others language, so dialog is kept at a minimum, other than when the two mutter to themselves.

Despite these apparent handicaps, this is a powerful film. Both men are terrified of each other, and they clearly feel deep down they should really be fighting. Even when it's clear they aren't going to kill one another, they both try to humiliate the other man. In time they reach an uneasy truce, and work together to get off the island. From then on the story gets more complicated.

Boorman doesn't go down the road of gooey sentimentality. These are two difficult men in a wretched situation, and while they develop a grudging respect they clearly don't like one another. Apparently Boorman and the rest of the crew had problems working out how to end the story, and they shot two very different ends to the film. You can watch them both on the DVD. I think they made the right choice, but it's clear from net chatter that not everyone agrees.

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