Monday, February 9, 2009

Good Heavens: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

John Huston's Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) stars Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. And that's it. It's just Mitchum and Kerr through the whole movie, with the exception of some "Japanese" and American extras. Mitchum plays Mr. Allison, a marine who finds himself on a deserted island. He's spent days at sea and is exhausted but happy to be on land. He comes across Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr), a nun left behind by others and the sole inhabitant of the island. They stick together and battle to survive. So much time alone together leads to romantic feelings which Sister Angela must supress as she is about to take her vows. They contemplate whether they will be saved by the Americans, killed by the Japanese who keep returning to and abandoning the island, or if they will live for years and years, alone on the island.

The movie is filmed on location and not in a studio. Both actors are really in the elements and had to be very physical in their roles, especially Robert Mitchum. It doesn't surprise me that Mitchum and Kerr were chosen for this movie. I have always had the impression that neither of them were scared to get their hands dirty; no matter how elegant they might have appeared otherwise.

Lee Server's biography Robert Mitchum: "Baby, I Don't Care" has some really interesting behind-the-scenes information on this movie. Mitchum had been filming in Tobago for four months on the set of Fire Down Below (1957). He was relieved to be back home in America when his agent told him he had that he had to go back to Tobago to film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison with John Huston. Initially he was thrilled to get such a good part, until he found out he was second pick after Marlon Brando, who had turned it down. Things weren't off to a good start.

The opening scene of the movie shows Mitchum in a raft. He's dirty, exhausted and sunburnt. The morning they shot that scene Mitchum had gotten drunk and din't want to come out of his tent. Director John Huston was not having it and to get back at Mitchum he put him on that raft for nearly 2 hours in the harsh sun. So any delirium you see on Mitchum's part in that scene, is authentic. Despite the initial feud, Huston and Mitchum got along very well after that.

Mitchum and Kerr hit it off too, although not romantically. Mitchum had much respect for Kerr, who could hold her own on set. Both had gotten sick with dengue and Mitchum had gotten hurt numerous times, putting his life in danger. Kerr was put in horrid conditions but never complained. Nothing like mutual suffering to bring two people closer together.

Also, because there was a Catholic nun in the story, the Legion of Decency had sent an inspector to Tobago to monitor shooting and to approve or disapprove of anything that went on with the storyline. At one point, Huston, Kerr and Mitchum had gotten so fed up with the inspector that they decided to pull a prank on him. They set up a fake scene in which Kerr and Mitchum grope each other and kiss passionately, all the while Kerr dressed in a nun's habit. Of course the inspector had a fit, much to everyone's amusement.


  1. I like this film a lot, probably for Bob Mitchum. Although Deborah Kerr is always lovely, too. I laughed at that prank in the bottom of your post. You can see how annoying it would be to have some busybody looking over your shoulder while trying to be creative and serious. Great job!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Haha! Mitchum groping a nun! Brilliant!
    I haven't seen the film but I'm familiar to both a half sober Mitchum and Deborah Kerr as a nun from previous experiences. :)

    Now I want to see that made up groping scene! Imagine if they actually shot it and threw it in as a bonus on the DVD. Classic!

  4. I love Kerr and Mitchum together, their chemistry is excellent. They were wonderful together in The Grass is Always Greener along with Cary Grant.

  5. This is one I haven't seen in many years. I've borrowed my Dad's DVD but haven't caught up with it yet.

    I loved Mitchum & Kerr in THE SUNDOWNERS. I found the movie too slow-moving, but their relationship is very real and affectionate. Mitchum in particular was good as an Australian.

    Best wishes,

  6. I haven't seen this yet (I hurried over to netflix to make sure it's on DVD-- yay! it is! And now it's at the top of my queue!) and your post really made me want to!

    I adore Deborah Kerr, she was so darn talented! I love her in Night of the Iguana.

  7. Lisa - fo sho!

    Casey - It really is Bob's film. Thank you!

    Jonas - The DVD distributor needs to get on that. We demand that clip!

    Jennchez - I didn't realize that Robert Mitchum was in The Grass is always Greener. Must watch now!

    Laura - Thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out.

    Kate Gabrielle (I love your name)- Please be sure to report back once you've seen it!

  8. Oh no, not Marlon Brando! I love Brando, but I can't imagine him in this movie... And Robert Mitchum is my hero. How could he not be, after Night of the Hunter and Cape Fear?

    Great post, I also laughed out loud when I read about the prank! Can't imagine that the Legion of Decency would care to send an inspector to a shooting nowadays? I bet sometimes it wasn't better in the old days!

    Keep up the good work!


  9. Raquelle, you're sure right when you say that Mitchum and Kerr are the whole show in this movie--but for me that's more than enough! Awards-wise, Kerr got all the attention, but I thought Mitchum was even better (maybe because his role is so much more varied). For me this is one of his most interesting and likable performances--no hard edges, no menace, just strength tempered with sensitivity. And who knew that Kerr had freckles? This is the only movie I've ever noticed them in.

  10. Two of my favorite actors; I need to bump this up the queue. Thanks for reminding me about it.


Leave me a comment! If it is a long one, make sure you save a draft of it elsewhere just in case Google gobbles it up and spits it out.

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook