Until They Sail
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New York actor Paul Newman had arrived in Hollywood with a Warner Brothers contract, and had promptly bombed in his first film, a ludicrous biblical epic, The Silver Chalice (1954). Loaned out to MGM, Newman quickly made up for that disaster with highly-acclaimed performances as boxer Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), and as a brainwashed war veteran in The Rack (1956). His next film, Until They Sail (1957), reunited Newman with his Somebody Up There Likes Me director, Robert Wise. But although Newman liked Wise, he was less than enthusiastic about the film. Newman thought the film was a "woman's picture," and considered his role peripheral.
Based on a story by James Michener, Until They Sail follows the lives of four New Zealand sisters during World War II, and shows how they are affected by the arrival of the U.S. military. Newman plays a cynical, hard-drinking marine who falls in love with one of the sisters, a widow, played by Jean Simmons. Joan Fontaine plays the repressed and judgmental oldest sister, and Piper Laurie the promiscuous sister whose sexual adventures lead to tragedy. Newman and Laurie had few scenes together, but they would later co-star in The Hustler (1961), for which both would earn Academy Award nominations. Playing the teenaged youngest sister in Until They Sail was a 14-year old model named Sandra Dee, in her film debut.
By the time he made Until They Sail, Newman had become increasingly dissatisfied with the terms of his Warner Brothers contract which earned him only $1,000 per week, while the studio made $75,000 each time they loaned him to another studio. Another disappointment was the lack of an Academy Award® nomination for Somebody Up There Likes Me. According to Robert Wise, on Oscar® night 1957, friends presented Newman with a consolation prize: a statuette they dubbed "Noscar." Seven nominations and nearly 30 years later, Newman finally won the real thing, for The Color of Money (1986).
Newman's personal life was causing him a great deal of turmoil at this time as well. Married and the father of three children, Newman had fallen in love with a young actress named Joanne Woodward. His wife had refused to give him a divorce, but Newman was living with Woodward and their friend, writer Gore Vidal, at a Malibu beach house. Eventually, Newman's wife relented, and Newman and Woodward were married in January, 1958.
Newman and Woodward each had two films released in 1957. Woodward appeared in The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and No Down Payment (1957). Both were box-office hits, and The Three Faces of Eve won Woodward the Academy Award as best actress. Newman made The Helen Morgan Story (1957) right after Until They Sail. Both released in fall of 1957 and neither was commercially successful. But both were important to Newman's career, adding to his growing reputation as one of the screen's most exciting young actors.
Lawrence J. Quirk wrote in Hollywood Stars, "In Somebody Up There Likes Me, Paul Newman revealed himself as a solid character star. In The Rack, he showed he could handle the heavy dramatics with the best of them. And now, in Until They Sail, he gives every evidence of becoming a matinee idol par excellence." Films and Filming's Kay Collier was even more effusive: "He is gentler and less rugged than Brando, but his acting has the same arresting power." Newman and Simmons' chemistry and restraint also earned praise, along with the script's handling of the adult subject matter. The New York Herald Tribune's William K. Zinsser wrote that the film "has moments of genuine tenderness and truth. Robert Anderson's script ponders the trick that war plays on human emotions." For its time, Until They Sail was a surprisingly modern and unsentimental view of love during wartime.
Director: Robert Wise
Producer: Charles Schnee
Screenplay: Robert Anderson, based on a story by James A. Michener
Cinematography: Joseph Ruttenberg
Editor: Harold F. Kress
Art Direction: William A. Horning, Paul Groesse
Music: David Raksin
Principal Cast: Jean Simmons (Barbara Leslie Forbes), Joan Fontaine (Anne Leslie), Paul Newman (Capt. Jack Harding), Piper Laurie (Delia Leslie), Charles Drake (Capt. Richard Bates), Sandra Dee (Evelyn Leslie), Wally Cassell ("Shiner" Phil Friskett).
BW-95m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri