Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) – A Review


A review of the 1957 war drama Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, starring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr as a mismatched pair of castaways, directed by John Huston


It’s WWII and a U.S. Marine (Robert Mitchum) washes up on a remote Pacific island where the only occupant is nun (Deborah Kerr). Hopes of getting rescued are none, so the pair determine to try to make a raft. However, their plan gets interrupted when the Japanese arrive and set up camp. 

Now the two have to hide salvage and try to survive. Spending all this time together a growing affection grows between the hardened marine and the saintly nun. Eventually their presence is detected and they have to fight and pray and rely on each other to survive.

In Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison you get familiar echos of The African Queen. It has a similar story and also features a mismatched couple. One is a tough and gruff man and the other a saintly, proper woman. The characters played by Mitchum and Kerr aren’t too dissimilar from Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.

Heaven-Knows-Mr-Allison-1957-war-drama-Robert-Mitchum-Deborah-Kerr-John-Huston-directorThe comparison between the two films makes sense, since both were made by writer/director John Huston. While there are alike in a lot of instances and one could just criticize Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison as Huston simply repeating himself. However, despite the easy comparisons you can make, the film stands on its own as a well done engaging tale with Mitchum and Kerr, both giving excellent performances, creating a mismatched pair of characters who find a loving relationship.

What’s so refreshing about the relationship between the two is the subtle way the two begin to bond. It’s a gradual natural progression of getting to know and trusting one another. There’s always a respectable manner between the two as well. She calls him ‘Mr. Allison’ and he always refer to her as ‘Ma’am’. She gradually begins to understand his slang phrases, while he begins to try to act much more civil and respectable.

There’s no clichéd scene of Kerr dropping her nun’s habit and they embrace in the crashing ocean waves. It’s not that kind of romance. 

It’s a beautiful looking film with the island the main stage. There are tender scenes and humorous ones as the two begin to form a bond and work together to make a raft and sail out to the sea together. 

When the Japanese arrive things shift to a much more tense situation. They’re forced to hide in a cave and every moment are concerned of being found.

Deborah-Kerr-Robert-Mitchum=Heaven-Knows-Mr-Allison-1957-war-drama-John-HustonOf course, there are differences between the two and how they want to handle the situation. Kerr wants to surrender, believing the enemy will send her to a prison camp, which would ultimately be better living conditions than what they have at the moment. However, after experiencing firsthand interaction with the Japanese, Mitchum is adamant that they do anything they can to stay out of their hands.

When food runs low Mitchum has to attempt to get supplies from the unwitting enemy. There is genuine tension during an extended sequences as he tries to sneak into the enemies camp and avoid detection. Kerr becomes increasingly worried awaiting to see if he’ll ever come back her.

It’s an extremely simple story. It’s the two that hold the screen and make the story work. It’s really impressive to watch how a film about two lone figures, by themselves can be such a compelling story in the right hands. It’s an excellent film.

In a way, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is somewhat underrated. In Huston’s filmography it would get trumped by The African Queen. Mitchum was better known for his roles in film noir. Kerr associated with more popular mainstream romance dramas. But all three of them really complimented well with each other with this film. 

Here’s the original trailer – with Huston narrating the beginning of it

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