Cast & Crew
In 1942, during a court-martial trial at a Marine Corps base in San Diego, Sgt. James O'Hearn stands mute when charged with desertion, stealing a yacht, sinking a saloon, shanghaiing sailors and scandalous conduct. The first witness to testify is Orville H. Masterson, a Navy boatswain's mate who first spotted O'Hearn and a showgirl, Ginger Martin, floating on a raft near Guadalcanal. Masterson claims that O'Hearn, who was near death and delirious when found, raved that he and his buddy destroyed the Japanese Navy single-handedly. Over O'Hearn's mysterious objections, Ginger testifies next, detailing how she became stranded in Shanghai two weeks before Pearl Harbor was bombed: To earn passage money home, she takes a job in a waterfront saloon. When the Marines are suddenly ordered to pull out, her free-spirited friend, Pfc Davey White, offers to marry her so that she can be evacuated with the military families, but wanting her for himself, her boss Fatso fights Davey. Then the straitlaced O'Hearn shows up looking for Davey, and the three escape in a motorboat. However, they fail to untie the boat from a support beam and pull the saloon into the river. O'Hearn, who has been Davey's mentor, is anxious to drop off Ginger and rendezvous with the Marines, but Davey wants to get married first. They argue, fight and accidentally break the steering mechanism on the boat. As they drift helplessly out to sea, Wu Ching and his family rescue them. O'Hearn pays Ching to take his junk back to Shanghai, but they continue on course in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, Davey wants Ching, as ship's captain, to perform a marriage ceremony. Resenting how Davey has changed since meeting Ginger, O'Hearn maliciously teases her that real Marines like Davey are fickle, then bribes Ching to perform a burial rite instead. Davey fights O'Hearn again, and their pranks cause a ship fire. Ching banishes them at gunpoint, and they swim to the shore of the Vichy French island of Namou. There they sense anti-American sentiment and learn that Pearl Harbor has been bombed, so to avoid being imprisoned with Free Frenchmen in the dungeon, O'Hearn and Davey claim to be deserters. Back in the courtroom, the former governor of Namou, Pierre Marchand, testifies that he believed them to be deserters and introduced them to Mme. Lily Duval, owner of Namou's hotel. As further proof of O'Hearn's desertion, Lily is called to the stand and testifies that everyone on Namou is a deserter of either a wife or girl friend. The next day, Ginger is recalled and continues the story: While she and Davey wait for the island priest to marry them, a Dutch yacht unexpectedly docks. Its captain, Van Dorck, whom O'Hearn overhears speaking German to Marchand, refuses to take passengers. O'Hearn makes plans to steal the yacht with the help of an old sailor, Jimmylegs Donovan, but cannot enlist Davey's help, as he has decided to desert. In the courtroom, Ginger says that, if Davey were with them, he would be the one on trial. O'Hearn testifies just before closing arguments, as he wants to keep Davey's record unblemished: After realizing that Van Dorck is really a German delivering radar equipment to islands near Guadalcanal, O'Hearn and Jimmylegs liberate the island prisoners, steal arms and ammunition hidden in the dungeon and recruit a crew. O'Hearn kidnaps Davey during his tribal wedding ceremony and after "requisitioning" the yacht, the crew sails toward Guadalcanal, where, O'Hearn has learned, the Marines are fighting. At sea, O'Hearn discovers that Ginger has stowed away, but a Japanese fleet of landing barges and a destroyer captures his attention. Flying a Dutch flag, the yacht gets close enough to the destroyer to shoot out its steering mechanism, gunnery control and intercom. Most of the motley, but resourceful crew dies during the ensuing battle. When the destroyer is within a few feet of the yacht, Davey, having regained his fighting Marine spirit, jumps aboard and, after a final salute, drops dynamite into the smokestack. To conclude his testimony, O'Hearn explains that he and Ginger, the only survivors, abandoned ship and were later rescued by the Navy. O'Hearn adds that Marines are special and crazy, and pleads that they leave Davey on the honor roll. Later, O'Hearn, who has been cleared of all charges, tells Ginger that Davey has been awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor and then proposes to her.
Guy De Vestal
Wen Ti Chang
H. F. Koenekamp
William L. Kuehl
Maurice De Packh
Francis J. Scheid
Lt. R. A. Shelton U.s.n.
South Sea Woman
The director was Arthur Lubin, who was best known for his work with Abbott and Costello in the early Forties and who had recently launched a new series featuring Francis, the Talking Mule. Possibly Lubin was chosen for his track record with service comedies in both those series: Abbott and Costello's Buck Privates and In the Navy (both 1941), and Keep 'Em Flying (1941) and Francis Goes to West Point (1952). The choice of Lubin as director indicates the level of Warner Bros.'s ambitions for South Sea Woman, as does the decision to shoot it in black and white rather than color. Lubin accepted the assignment with some trepidation, having heard that Lancaster could be tough on directors, but found that "working with Burt was a cinch," as he told interviewer Ronald L. Davis. Probably Lancaster wanted to get through the film with as little fuss as possible before moving on to his next project, From Here to Eternity (1953).
The island of Namou was assembled on a Warner Bros. sound stage, Kate Buford recounts in Burt Lancaster: An American Life, while sea sequences were shot at Catalina Island. Wrapping in March 1953, the film was released in June to critical bemusement but popular success. Edwin Schallert reported in the Los Angeles Times that audiences at the local RKO Hill Street theater greeted South Sea Woman as "a he-man laugh riot... Hilarity reigned as [the cast] took over the screen in a weird, wild melange of comedy situations." Perhaps viewers appreciated what was, for the Hollywood of the period, a more-convincing-than-usual simulation of profanity (including Connors's "freezin' foxhole" and "stow it") and a few risqué suggestions (such as the line "All we need is a preacher and a motel").
Farce mixes uneasily with life-or-death seriousness throughout South Sea Woman. As a WW2 film, the movie is not free to deal in sheer irresponsible fun and games but must turn soberly and patriotically to matters of duty. The attack on Pearl Harbor finds Jim and Davey AWOL; and desertion in time of war, the script reminds us, is punishable by death. Nevertheless, Davey's desire to kiss off Uncle Sam and stay in his island paradise with the lovely Ginger is almost too fervent for the movie's own good. And any pretensions at making a serious war movie vanish with the scene in which, to elude capture by the Germans, Jim joins a line of wedding dancers wearing a basket and a grass skirt, only to give himself away by his Oxford shoes. At this moment, South Sea Woman is clearly in Abbott and Costello (or Hope and Crosby) territory. The film also finds room for Lancaster's trademark athletics: in the middle of the climactic sea battle, he hoists himself by his hands from a lower to an upper deck, a feat imitated by Connors a few moments later.
Under Lubin's light direction, the film reveals not so much an uncertainty of tone as an indifference to tone, as if everybody involved, aware of the contradictions of the project, had given up trying to make it into one thing or another and decided just to let it all happen. Lancaster seems in search of a performance, Connors is somewhat unsympathetic, and the supporting cast (including Arthur Shields as a retired sailor and Strother Martin in an early bit as a courtroom spectator) has few opportunities to shine. Though removed from her natural habitat (Technicolor), Mayo stands out as the brightest spot in South Sea Woman. The actress is heroic in her commitment to the frail plot and her character's flickering emotions. She contributes the most interesting moment in the film when, acknowledging the ménage-à-trois aspect of the plot, she tells Jim and Davey, "Nothing means anything to me unless I'm with the both of you," only to backtrack immediately by explaining that the remark "just slipped out." Though the relationships among the characters, for the most part, carry little weight, this line hints briefly at the possibility of taking seriously the subversive implications of the story.
Producer: Sam Bischoff
Director: Arthur Lubin
Screenplay: Edwin Blum, based on an adaptation by Earl Baldwin and Stanley Shapiro of a play by William Rankin
Cinematography: Ted McCord
Film Editing: Clarence Kolster
Art Direction: Edward Carrere
Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Burt Lancaster (Sgt. James O'Hearn), Virginia Mayo (Ginger Martin), Chuck Connors (Pvt. Davey White), Arthur Shields (Donovan), Veola Vonn (Lillie Duval), Leon Askin (Marchand).
BW-99m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Chris Fujiwara
South Sea Woman
Leon Askin (1907-2005)
Born in Vienna, Austria as Leo Aschkenasy on September 18, 1907, Askin developed a taste for theater through his mother's love of cabaret, and as a youngster, often accompanied his mother to weekend productions.
He made a go of acting as a profession in 1925, when he took drama classes from Hans Thimig, a noted Austrian stage actor at the time. The following year, he made his Vienna stage debut in Rolf Lauckner's "Schrei aus der Strasse."
For the next six year (1927-33), he was a popular stage actor in both Vienna and Berlin before he was prevented to work on the stage by Hitler's SA for being a Jew. He left for Paris in 1935 to escape anti-semetic persecution, but returned to Vienna in 1935, to find work (albeit a much lower profile to escape scrutiny), but after a few years, the writing was on the wall, and he escaped to New York City in 1939, just at the outbreak of World War II. His luck in the Big Apple wasn't really happening, and in 1941, he relocated to Washington D.C. and briefly held the position of managing director of the Civic Theatre, a popular city venue of the day. Unfortunately, after the tragic events of Pearl Harbor in December of that year, the United States became involved in the war that had already engulfed Europe for two years, and seeing a possibility to expediate his application for American citizenship, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
After the war, Leon indeed became a U.S. citizen and changed his name from Leon Aschkenasy to Leon Askin. He returned to New York and found work as a drama teacher, and more importantly, landed his first gig on Broadway, as director and actor in Goethe's Faust in 1947, which starred Askin in the title character opposite the legendary Albert Bassermann who played Mephisto. The production was a huge success. Askin followed this up with another director/actor stint with Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and co-starred with Jose Ferrer in Ben Hecht's 20th Century. They were all Broadway hits, and Askin had finally achieved the success he had worked so hard to seek and merit.
It wasn't long before Hollywood came calling, and soon Askin, with his rich German accent and massive physical presence, made a very effective villian in a number of Hollywood films: the Hope-Crosby comedy Road to Bali (1952); Richard Burton's first hit film The Robe; and the Danny Kaye vehicle Knock on Wood (1954).
Askin's roles throughout the 50's were pretty much in this "menacing figure" vein, so little did anyone suspect that around the corner, Billy Wilder would be offering him his most memorable screen role - that of the Russian commissar Peripetschikof who gleefully embraces Amercian Capitalism in the scintillating politcal satire, One, Two, Three (1961). Who can forget this wonderfully exchange between Peripetschikof and Coca Cola executive C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney):
Peripetschikof: I have a great idea to make money. I have a storage full of saurkraut and I'll sell it as Christmas tree tinsil!
MacNamara: You're a cinch!
His performance for Wilder was wonderfully comedic and wholly memorable, and after One, Two, Three the film roles for Askin got noticable better, especially in Lulu and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (both 1962); but he began to find prominent guest shots on hit television shows too: My Favorite Martian and The Outer Limits to name a few; yet his big break came in 1965, when for six seasons he played General Albert Burkhalter, the Nazi general who was forever taking Col. Kilink's ineptitude to task in Hogan's Heroes (1965-71).
Roles dried up for Askin after the run of Hogan's Heroes, save for the occassional guest spot on television: Diff'rent Strokes, Three's Company, Happy Days; and parts in forgettable comedies: Going Ape! (1981), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982). After years of seclusion, Askin relocated to his birthplace of Vienna in 1994, and he began taking parts in numerous stage productions almost to his death. In 2002, he received the highest national award for an Austrian citizen when he was bestowed with the Austrian Cross of Honor, First Class, for Science and Art. He is survived by his third wife of three years, Anita Wicher.
by Michael T. Toole
Leon Askin (1907-2005)
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
She was born Virginia Clara Jones in St. Louis, Missouri on November 30, 1920, and got her show business start at the age of six by enrolling in her aunt's School of Dramatic Expression. While still in her teens, she joined the nightclub circuit, and after paying her dues for a few years traveling across the country, she eventually caught the eye of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. He gave her a small role in her first film, starring future husband, Michael O'Shea, in Jack London (1943). She then received minor billing as a "Goldwyn Girl," in the Danny Kaye farce, Up In Arms (1944). Almost immediately, Goldwyn saw her natural movement, comfort and ease in front of the camera, and in just her fourth film, she landed a plumb lead opposite Bob Hope in The Princess and the Pirate (1944). She proved a hit with moviegoers, and her next two films would be with her most frequent leading man, Danny Kaye: Wonder Man (1945), and The Kid from Brooklyn (1946). Both films were big hits, and the chemistry between Mayo and Kaye - the classy, reserved blonde beauty clashing with the hyperactive clown - was surprisingly successful.
Mayo did make a brief break from light comedy, and gave a good performance as Dana Andrews' unfaithful wife, Marie, in the popular post-war drama, The Best Years of Their Lives (1946); but despite the good reviews, she was back with Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947), and A Song Is Born (1948).
It wasn't until the following year that Mayo got the chance to sink her teeth into a meaty role. That film, White Heat (1949), and her role, as Cody Jarrett's (James Cagney) sluttish, conniving wife, Verna, is memorable for the sheer ruthlessness of her performance. Remember, it was Verna who shot Cody¿s mother in the back, and yet when Cody confronts her after he escapes from prison to exact revenge for her death, Verna effectively places the blame on Big Ed (Steve Cochran):
Verna: I can't tell you Cody!
Cody: Tell me!
Verna: Ed...he shot her in the back!!!
Critics and fans purred over the newfound versatility, yet strangely, she never found a part as juicy as Verna again. Her next film, with Cagney, The West Point Story (1950), was a pleasant enough musical; but her role as Lady Wellesley in Captain Horatio Hornblower R.N. (1951), co-starring Gregory Peck, was merely decorative; that of a burlesque queen attempting to earn a university degree in the gormless comedy, She¿s Working Her Way Through College (1952); and worst of all, the Biblical bomb, The Silver Chalice (1954) which was, incidentally, Paul Newman's film debut, and is a film he still derides as the worst of his career.
Realizing that her future in movies was slowing down, she turned to the supper club circuit in the 60s with her husband, Michael O'Shea, touring the country in such productions as No, No Nanette, Barefoot in the Park, Hello Dolly, and Butterflies Are Free. Like most performers who had outdistanced their glory days with the film industry, Mayo turned to television for the next two decades, appearing in such shows as Night Gallery, Police Story, Murder She Wrote, and Remington Steele. She even earned a recurring role in the short-lived NBC soap opera, Santa Barbara (1984-85), playing an aging hoofer named "Peaches DeLight." Mayo was married to O'Shea from 1947 until his death in 1973. She is survived by their daughter, Mary Johnston; and three grandsons.
by Michael T. Toole
Virginia Mayo (1920-2005)
Began shooting in January 1953.
The working titles of the film were Sulu Sea, The Marines Have a Word for It and South Sea Paradise. According to a December 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, director Arthur Lubin scouted Los Angeles harbor facilities and the Southern California coastline for filming locations. Although his appearance in the film has not been confirmed, a December 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that Russell Gaige was tested for a role in the film. Although her appearance in the film has not been confirmed, a January 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item adds French actress Ninon Straty to the cast. The Los Angeles Daily News review described the dialogue in South Sea Woman as "a bit blue...even rough" and criticized the Breen office for passing the film.