Hell in the Pacific (1968)
I was going to review another of Lee Marvin film that I watched at the weekend – Point Blank (1967) sadly I couldn’t find anything extra to really bring to a Revisited review so I passed on the opportunity. Moving on from there I had another Marvin film that I wanted to watch more out of interest for whom he’s paired opposite – Toshiro Mifune in Hell in the Pacific (1968) here we have two strong leading actors from countries that during WWII were fighting on opposite sides, brought together in the guise of a war film of that period. It doesn’t take us long to lose the setting of the war to reveal something far deeper than Yank vs. Jap.
Almost immediately I was drawn to the lack of dialogue between these two men, something that you rarely find in a film of this genre or even period, a very brave move by the director. Of course the silence can’t last for long, they have to and will communicate as the first test each other as they fight for their very survival. Our American pilot (Marvin) can plainly see that his enemy Captain Tsuruhiko Kuroda (Mifune) fight over the limited water that the Japanese Captain has captured, its like gold to both of them, protected and fought over more so before it is all washed away.
What follows is a period of mind games between the two men who are both clearly not at their best pushing each other to the brink and personal limits both physically and mentally. There were times that I wished there were subtitles for Mifune who can be lost by the language barrier. I’m surprised that the channel that aired the film didn’t take that into consideration. Until you realise that you don’t really need them as you can easily gauge from how the film develops how he feels. Helped by Marvin who is in just the same boat, a language barrier that could easily have worked against him. Instead we see him work through it as much as the audience forgets that and just engages with the emotions between these two tactical and now survival minded men.
I’m glad the film progresses from one fight to another, first those against each other which prove interesting to watch. The staring from Marvin is both playful and dangerous, he knows the game he is playing. We see the American lose his side to fight this one lone man, he is the only opposition he’s up against so puts all his energy into it. Driving the Captain to breaking point, even the audience starts to question what is happening, surrounded by the noises of the jungle that join in on the act.
It all comes to a head when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of their situation, they are both alone on this Pacific island that holds them both captive. Looking out for a passing ship, then at least they would be safe and alive, even if one becomes a P.O.W. the other would be indebted to them for saving their lives. As I mentioned earlier the language barrier melt away after finding a wooden draw that is out a few metres from the island. The moment when they decide to work together, the idea of being enemies and foreign falls away, it’s about survival at any cost. Constructing a raft from bamboo they soon set sail, we move into a different kind of film that leaves the island behind, hopes of being found alive.
We lose the dialogue once more as they work to navigate the Pacific ocean where anything could happen, anyone could intercept them now they are in the open. Out there they becomes good friends, words are not needed for their mutual co-operation, sailing together requires not just strength and quick thinking it needs trust to run a tight ship or even raft that combines Japanese and American design.
Landing later on an island that we learn is deserted, looking like it was once occupied by both sides. It’s a time for reflection, to scrub up like you only in a Hollywood film, our once dishevelled men become polished again, ready to carry on their journey, hopefully in better condition. Not long after minutes if suspense as nobody knows which side we are entering into. It’s a confused wilderness of objects from both sides, what can we believe, even the two men are confused before making it their own.
We stay on this once inhabited island for the ending that I was considering for sometime, would it fade to black? would they be picked up by one of their sides, a tearful handshake as the other is lead off to a camp to see out the war? I just couldn’t decided. The director clear could, to conclude this film for both audiences, that have seen a two veterans of WWII on-screen together, opposing sides wanting different outcomes. The best thing to do is to end it all before it goes any further an explosion draws this fiction, this possible truth to an abrupt end, leaving us with our questions that will be forever left unanswered. It stands out as a war film on a number of levels, a minimal cast and dialogue that allow for a film that could go anywhere. Two classic enemies are pitted against each other with only a few pieces to survive on, war becomes survival and in time friendship and respect.