HBO’s “The Pacific premieres on the West coast as I write this, and it’s time to take a look at two acclaimed films that take a sidelong look, even comic, look at the hardships and danger of war. Both of them, for whatever reason, have “Mister” or “Mr.” in the title.
Our first film is suggested by master cartoonist and my personal consultant on matters relating to World War II, Randy Reynaldo. Directed and co-written by John Huston, “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” stars Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr as a Marine and an Irish nun who are forced to live under the noose of enemy Japanese soldiers when they become marooned on a remote island. Though a hit on its release, it’s become a somewhat obscure film today, despite being one of Huston’s personal favorites and despite the enormous talent and appeal of its two stars. (Kerr was nominated for an Oscar; Mitchum was not, though many feel he was robbed.) I confess to having not seen it myself, but after looking at the trailer below, I really want to. Something tells me I might like it even better than the not-completely-dissimilar, “The African Queen.”
I’ve seen the second film so many times since childhood, it’s kind of fused with my subconscious, though I didn’t think of including it here until almost the last minute. Directed by two of the greatest classic-era directors, John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy, and featuring four of the greatest stars of three different Hollywood eras, “Mister Roberts” doesn’t break any cinematic ground but that doesn’t matter.
Starring Henry Fonda as an intelligent and humane officer desperate to get off the cargo ship he’s been stationed on and away from its small-minded, tyrannical captain (James Cagney) in order to see real action against the Japanese, it’s easily one of the funniest and most captivating tales of wartime life ever made, right through to its devastating conclusion. There isn’t a single battle shown, but no film I’ve even seen more powerfully conveys the grim seriousness of war in quite the same way. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s still a classic.