Blu-ray Review: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison - Twilight Time Limited Edition

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Directed by John Huston (who also co-scripted, with John Lee Mahin), the 1957 World War II picture Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison offers the chance to really focus on the acting of two classic Hollywood stars. Robert Mitchum plays U.S. Marine Corporal Allison and Deborah Kerr plays nun-with-a-past Sister Angela. Since they’re stuck together on a largely desolate island in the South Pacific, there’s really not much else happening aside from their interaction. Sure, when Japanese soldiers storm the island, there’s a modicum of suspense and action thrown into the otherwise subtle drama. But for the most part this is a quietly constructed character study.

Boutique label Twilight Time has made this overlooked minor gem available on Blu-ray for the first time. It’s part of their Limited Edition series and well worth the time for fans of either the stars or John Huston. Admittedly there isn’t a ton of mainstream appeal in this slow-moving, talky war film. And it’s quite arguable that this is story is tailor-made for a remake, one that could take things in directions the Production Code wouldn’t have allowed back then. But given the content limitations of the era, both Mitchum and Kerr portray their characters as realistically as possible.

Heaven Knows Mr Allison cover (214x280).jpgAllison, after a lengthy period of drifting in a life raft, washes up on the island. He makes the acquaintance of Sister Angela and the odd couple hit it off fairly immediately. The movie is about the relationship that grows out of their unavoidable living situation. They learn surprising things about each other and find they have more in common than their chosen life paths might’ve suggested. There’s a great deal of restraint in Huston’s writing and directing, as well as the leads’ performances. It’s hard to say whether a modern filmmaker would actually improve upon the film’s exploration of faith-versus-flesh themes. It would be easy to dismiss Mr. Allison as something of a shaggy dog story, but there’s a great depth of feeling residing below the surface of its rather uneventful plot.

Cinematographer Oswald Morris passed away only recently, on March 17, 2014, at the age of 98. Mr. Allison falls somewhere around the halfway point of his very long, very productive career. He was nominated for three Academy Awards, all post-dating this film: Oliver!, Fiddler on the Roof (for which he won), and The Wiz. His work on Mr. Allison isn’t as well-represented on Blu-ray as it probably could’ve been. The 1080p transfer (framed at 2.35:1) is by no means as eyesore, it simply doesn’t look consistently great. Some outdoor daylight shots are strikingly detailed and natural in appearance, while other darker scenes are sometimes lacking deep black levels. It’s decidedly a bit of a mixed bag, but mostly positive.

The audio is presented in DTS-HD MA mono (though the case lists 2.0). It’s a solid lossless mix that is fairly typical of its era. Dialogue is clean and intelligible, music and effects are well balanced. Georges Auric’s score is offered as an isolated DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track. Actually it’s an M&E mix (used for dubbing a film into a foreign language) but sufficient for fans of Auric who want to hear his work without dialogue.

The only other notable extra here is ten minutes of “Fox Movietone News” footage. It’s a mix of WWII footage and coverage of the ’57 awards season. There’s also the film’s original theatrical trailer. More useful is Julie Kirgo’s booklet essay, a thoughtful mix of background info and analysis. Keep in mind, as with all Twilight Time releases, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is limited to 3,000 copies and will not be available once the supply has been exhausted. For ordering information, visit Screen Archives.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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