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Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) movie poster Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Theatrical Release: March 13, 1957 / Running Time: 106 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: John Huston / Writers: John Lee Mahin, John Huston (screenplay); Charles Shaw (novel)

Cast: Deborah Kerr (Sister Angela), Robert Mitchum (Corporal Allison, USMC)

Buy Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison on Blu-ray exclusively at Screen Archives

World War II ended in 1945, but it continued to fuel Hollywood's creative juices long after that. Bridge on the River Kwai, 1957's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, depicted life for British and American soldiers who found themselves Japan's prisoners of war. The same year, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison dramatizes a U.S. Marine
trying to avoid a similar fate while stranded on a small island in the South Pacific intermittently controlled by Japanese forces.

The film opens in 1944 with Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchum) alone occupying a small rubber raft, which eventually brings him to Tuasiva, a tropical atoll that is currently the exclusive home of Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr), an Irish nun who has recently buried a priest and missed a ride to safety in Fiji. Sister Angela is surprised by her exhausted new neighbor but relieved he's not one of the Japanese soldiers who have been rounding up residents of these remote islands.

We appear to be in for something of an island romantic comedy, as the two unlikely allies -- rough, masculine, faithless orphan marine Allison and the simple, pure-hearted Angela -- go hunting for a turtle together and consider the possibility that they'll have to survive on the island's ample natural resources for years to come until a rescue.

A Catholic nun (Deborah Kerr) and a U.S. Marine Corps corporal (Robert Mitchum) become unlikely companions and allies in "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison."

Their isolation and levity both prove to be short-lived, as the Japanese army soon arrives at Tuasiva and sets up a base there. Facing potential death or internment, the two instead choose to hide in a cave. Allison sneaks out to steal some canned foods, but his reconnaissance reveals there is no easy way out of this predicament. Until the Japanese suddenly leave, that is. But, just as Allison and Angela get their freedom back, the Japanese return, depressing both and endangering Sister Allison.

With a credited cast of just two, Heaven Knows is economical and fundamental in its storytelling. Bound by circumstance and a common enemy, these two disparate castaways come to enjoy each other's company while trying to survive.

Adapted from Charles Shaw's 1952 novel, Heaven goes nearly eight minutes before any dialogue is uttered and easily that long again later without any English spoken. It is a quiet, understated drama that nonetheless doesn't offer much to latch on to besides an impossible romance which sees the Marine, surprised to find a pretty nun who makes jokes, begging her not to take her final vows.

A darkened, stealthy Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchum) stays quiet while a giant rat crawls on his legs. Recovering out of her habit, Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr) reveals a head of short red hair.

In the right role (like the menacing ones of The Night of the Hunter and the original Cape Fear), Mitchum was a great actor. He makes for a kind of boring hero, though, as he seems to be doing a poor Frank Sinatra impression throughout. Kerr has never been an actress of great appeal to me,
but she does a pretty solid job here, earning her fourth of six losing Best Leading Actress Oscar nominations. While their chemistry together is adequate and not intended to be any better than that, the story gives them very little to work with. The peaks of their acting challenges may be Mitchum having a giant rat crawl on his legs while hiding in the same room as game-playing Japanese soldiers and Kerr enduring a swift, standard issue illness-recovery sequence.

The sparse screenplay, credited to both the film's director John Huston and veteran scribe John Lee Mahin, provided the film's other fruitless Academy Award nomination.

Not a terribly well-known or beloved film, Heaven recently made its Blu-ray debut from Twilight Time in a disc limited to the company's usual low run of 3,000 units and sold exclusively at ScreenArchives.com and .

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (English), 2.0 DTS-HD MA (Music and Effects)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: June 10, 2014
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($14.98 SRP; May 20, 2003) and on Amazon Instant Video


For several years now, Twilight Time has wowed many with its ability to treat less than A-list catalog titles to sterling restorations. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison appears to have received the company's usual solid efforts, though the results are not up to their impressive high standards. The dark 2.40:1 CinemaScope visuals are a bit washed out, sporting faded colors, light grain, some minor scratches, and a soft, unfocused look. Similarly, the 1.0 monaural DTS-HD master audio soundtrack cannot hide the film's age. The dialogue suffers from some hiss and distortion. I have no doubt that this 1080p transfer handily bests the standard definition presentation of Fox's 2003 DVD. But there's definite room for improvement unlikely to be filled anytime soon on this format.

A happy John Wayne looks on as Joanne Woodward accepts the Academy Award for Best Lead Actress in a Fox Movietone newsreel clip. While the trailer claims you'll forever love "Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison", a more realistic promise is that you'll think it's okay for nearly two hours.


As on Fox's DVD, Heaven is joined by two standard definition video bonus features.

First, Fox Movietone News (10:26) assembles clips from assorted relevant newsreels, on topics like a Fox-centric look at 1957 movie awards (Photoplay, Academy Awards, Golden Globes) as well as some World War II reports. The sound is spotty in these and even drops out at some point.

The other extra is Heaven's original theatrical trailer (3:14), which uses a lot of voiceover narration and ends with a little bit of text.

Also included is an alternate 2.0 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack isolating the music and effects. It's basically everything but the dialogue, which is kind of silly and unlikely to warrant a full viewing. But Twilight Time likes to include these and if it isn't hard for them (as it somehow is for every other studio these days), who can complain?

The final supplement is of the tangible variety: a staple-bound booklet devoting four of its eight pages to an admiring essay by film historian Julie Kirgo that celebrates the two actors that drive the picture, especially Mitchum.

The basic, static menu, silent save for navigation sound effects, adapts the cover art. As usual, a section is reserved for displaying the complete Twilight Time Blu-ray catalog through July 2014, with release dates, cover art, and availability supplied three titles per screen. The disc kindly lets you resume unfinished playback of the film.

Heaven knows why island castaways Mr. Allison (Robert Mitchum) and Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr) can't be more than just friends.


Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison should move us with its intimate, emotional story set against World War II, but the usually magnetic Robert Mitchum doesn't sizzle and the film lags with its repetitive, uneventful design of Japanese comings and goings.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray is a satisfactory release, though its picture and sound can't hide the film's age as well as you might hope. While the film is worth seeing, you'll probably have to be either a big fan of WWII dramas or one of the leads to dedicate some shelf space to this platter.

Buy Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison exclusively at screenarchives.com

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Deborah Kerr: From Here to Eternity An Affair to Remember | Robert Mitchum: Scrooged Dead Man
1950s: All That Heaven Allows The Man from Laramie Ace in the Hole Paths of Glory 3:10 to Yuma House of Wax
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Reviewed July 7, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1957 20th Century Fox Pictures and 2014 Twilight Time and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.