John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific is a curious WW2 film involving just two actors, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune, playing respectively marooned soldiers on a deserted island in the Pacific. It is an extremely intense film, heightened by the language barrier that naturally exists between the two characters. Initially antagonistic towards one another the two characters find common ground in their mutual battle for survival. The rather abrupt ending is a bit disconcerting but it does leave one contemplating how it could end other than tragically. It is war that drove these two characters apart, it is the struggle for life that brings them together, and it is the return of war that finally destroys them.
John Boorman made this film in 1968, following his previous film with Lee Marvin, the excellent crime drama, Point Blank (1967), and four years before his masterwork Deliverance (1972). The film was shot in Rock Islands near Paulu, in the Philippine Sea. Unfortunately, the film did not do well at the box-office, but it is a film that I would recommend one to see. I like John Boorman’s films – they are not always absolutely perfect but they are always imaginative, intense and provocative, and invariably involve characters out of their so-called ‘comfort-zones’, in hostile worlds in which the battle for survival is paramount – such is the case with Hell in the Pacific. Furthermore, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune are absolutely terrific.
Toshiro Mifune is one of my favourite actors of the twentieth century cinema. He did not make many ‘Western’ films, but as has been acknowledged Hell in the Pacific perhaps comes the closest in capturing Toshiro Mifune’s extraordinary screen presence, power and charisma that is so easily seen in the many masterpieces he did in Japan, especially with Akiro Kurosawa. I also recently watched Kurosawa’s film Scandal (1950), which stars Toshiro Mifune – and it is fantastic! I may be sounding like a obsessive fan but that old cliche that ‘he could make reading a telephone book interesting’ is one that I would certainly give to Toshiro Mifune.