Hell in the Pacific


1h 43m 1968

Brief Synopsis

Stranded soldiers from opposite sides fight a private version of World War II on a remote island.

Film Details

Also Known As
The Enemy, Two Soldiers--East and West
MPAA Rating
G
Genre
War
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 18 Dec 1968
Production Company
Selmur Pictures
Distribution Company
Cinerama Releasing Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System), Stereo
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In 1944, a U. S. Marine pilot and a Japanese naval officer are simultaneously separated from their units on an uninhabited Pacific atoll. After becoming aware of each other's presence, the men stalk and threaten but do not take advantage of opportunities to kill each other. Eventually, the Japanese overpowers the American during a struggle in the jungle, brings him back to camp, and ties his arms in a yoke-like harness. Before long, however, the American escapes, captures the Japanese, and imprisons him in a similar fashion. Like the Japanese before him, the American derives no satisfaction from holding a prisoner; he releases his opponent, and an unspoken truce gradually develops. When the Japanese attempts to build a small raft, the American is initially derisive but eventually aids in the construction. In time they set sail for a distant group of small islands and manage to reach one of them after a harrowing voyage. The island is uninhabited, but remnants from a bombed Japanese installation enable them to bathe, shave, change clothes, and get drunk on saké. Their relatively happy mood is shattered, however, when the Japanese becomes enraged by illustrations in a discarded copy of Life magazine showing his slain people; reverting to their hostile state, the two men go their separate ways. [Executive Producer Saperstein substituted an alternative ending on some prints in which an explosion occurs, suggesting that the two men are killed. Both versions were shown in the U. S.]

Film Details

Also Known As
The Enemy, Two Soldiers--East and West
MPAA Rating
G
Genre
War
Drama
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 18 Dec 1968
Production Company
Selmur Pictures
Distribution Company
Cinerama Releasing Corp.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System), Stereo
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Hell In the Pacific - Hell in the Pacific


Movie history is littered with films that were especially difficult to shoot, almost all of which were ambitious epics that eventually got out of hand- too many people, too many sets, and too many locations can do that to even the most prepared director. John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific (1968) is unique, however, in that it features only two actors, a minimal amount of locations, and still managed to be a nightmarish production. What, on the surface, appeared to be a relatively simple concept quickly turned into a cross-cultural standoff between Boorman and one of his testosterone-fueled stars. From Boorman's standpoint, anyway, the picture was aptly named.

Hell in the Pacific is a fascinating allegory starring Lee Marvin as an American pilot who's shot down over the Pacific during World War II, and Toshiro Mifune as a Japanese Naval Officer who's already occupying the island where Marvin's pilot washes up. Initially, the two men play a game of cat-and-mouse, in which they continue fighting World War II on a much smaller scale. But their relationship takes several unexpected turns before reaching a conclusion that can either be viewed as existential poetry or a total cop-out. (More on the ending – or, rather, the multiple endings - later so stop at the spoiler alert if you'd rather see the film before reading further.)

Boorman should have taken it as foreshadowing when, before filming began, he and Marvin nearly died in a Cessna that suddenly sputtered and took a nose-dive toward the mouth of an active volcano (the pilot pulled out of the dive at the last second). But Boorman stuck with the picture, only to endure the wrath of a volcano named Toshiro Mifune once the cameras started to roll.

Marvin, whose idea it was to cast Mifune in Hell in the Pacific, so admired the Japanese superstar, he would break into histrionic Samurai impersonations when he'd had too much to drink...which was far too often for comfort. Boorman, however, had already worked with Marvin on Point Blank (1967), so he was aware of the actor's idiosyncrasies. But he was hardly prepared for Mifune, who, it turned out, was utterly determined to do things his way or not do them at all, regardless of what Boorman had to say about it. Mifune spoke little English (and, it should be noted, speaks no English in the finished picture, which has no subtitles.) So Boorman was forced to direct the hot-headed actor through a cowering interpreter named Aki.

While filming the first confrontation between Marvin and Mifune, Boorman quickly realized that he was in for a long ride. "Mifune was ready," he wrote in his autobiography, Adventures of a Suburban Boy. "We rehearsed. He played the scene like his character in The Seven Samurai [1954], a boastful clown. I was horrified. I took him to one side and told him how I wanted it: serious, fearful, dignified. He nodded. We did the take. He played it exactly the same. I told him again. He listened imperviously. Aki was getting nervous. In the next take (Mifune) made no adjustment, no concession to my directions. I asked Aki, 'Are you telling him what I said?' Aki said he couldn't translate exactly because Mifune would lose face in front of the Japanese crew if he was corrected by me. 'Tell him precisely what I said.' He did so with many apologies and much bowing of his head. Mifune's response was to shout abuse at Aki, who fell abjectly to his knees. I called for another take. Mifune did not alter his performance one iota."

Later that evening, an enraged, stinking drunk Mifune burst into the dining room where Marvin and Boorman were eating, and tried to load a .22 rifle with a large packet of Wrigley's chewing gum! This didn't help Boorman's digestion. Several difficult days later, Mifune finally ordered Boorman to use his stunt double during rehearsals, then the specifics would be relayed to Mifune just before filming. This experiment was halted, however, when, according to Boorman, Mifune began having trouble delivering the scenes as skillfully as his stunt double.

Later during the shoot, Boorman bashed his knee against some coral and had to have surgery to relieve a terrible infection that could have caused him to lose his leg. At that point, the producers tried to dump Boorman from the floundering project. At first Marvin resisted, then agreed to the move, but Mifune refused. The same sense of honor that wouldn't allow him to take direction from Boorman kept him from dismissing the person he had agreed to work with!

Marvin was badly injured in the battle of Saipan during World War II, so his return to the islands while filming Hell in the Pacific was an emotional one (you can read his harrowing, first-person account of the battle in Pam Marvin's book about her husband, Lee.) Boorman felt that Marvin belatedly finished his healing process while shooting the picture: "Reliving that period of his life provoked a kind of crisis in him. The producers wanted him to kill Mifune in the end. And perhaps that's also what the public wanted. But I refused. Everything that Lee was – his violence, his killer instinct – made him want to kill Mifune. The fact that we were able to film (a non-violent) ending was a kind of catharsis for Marvin. He said to me: 'I'm sick of killing people to gratify millions of spectators. From now on they can kill each other.'"

SPOILER ALERT: Boorman originally intended to end the film by having Mifune's character kill two Japanese soldiers who stumble upon Marvin and decapitate him. But that idea was discarded, and Boorman shot an ending in which Marvin and Mifune drop their truce and return to fighting a pointless battle. But that wasn't good enough for executive producer Henry G. Saperstein, who later tacked another ending onto some of the prints without Boorman's consent. In that one, there's an explosion during a rather unlikely air raid, and both soldiers are apparently killed. But, then again, maybe they aren't.

Marvin always said Hell in the Pacific was "about two men who can't kill each other," so you might as well think what you want, and just enjoy a rich character study that sports a truly ambiguous conclusion.

Director: John Boorman
Executive Producer: Selig J. Seligman, Henry G. Saperstein
Producer: Reuben Bercovitch
Screenplay: Alexander Jacobs, Eric Bercovici (based on a story by Bercovitch)
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Editing: Thomas Stanford
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Art Design: Anthony Pratt, Masao Yamakazi
Special Effects: Joe Zomar, Kunishige Tanaka
Set Design: Makoto Kikuchi
Makeup: Shigeo Kobayashi
Cast: Lee Marvin (American Soldier), Toshiro Mifune (Japanese Soldier).
C-103m.

by Paul Tatara

Hell In The Pacific - Hell In The Pacific

Hell In the Pacific - Hell in the Pacific

Movie history is littered with films that were especially difficult to shoot, almost all of which were ambitious epics that eventually got out of hand- too many people, too many sets, and too many locations can do that to even the most prepared director. John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific (1968) is unique, however, in that it features only two actors, a minimal amount of locations, and still managed to be a nightmarish production. What, on the surface, appeared to be a relatively simple concept quickly turned into a cross-cultural standoff between Boorman and one of his testosterone-fueled stars. From Boorman's standpoint, anyway, the picture was aptly named. Hell in the Pacific is a fascinating allegory starring Lee Marvin as an American pilot who's shot down over the Pacific during World War II, and Toshiro Mifune as a Japanese Naval Officer who's already occupying the island where Marvin's pilot washes up. Initially, the two men play a game of cat-and-mouse, in which they continue fighting World War II on a much smaller scale. But their relationship takes several unexpected turns before reaching a conclusion that can either be viewed as existential poetry or a total cop-out. (More on the ending – or, rather, the multiple endings - later so stop at the spoiler alert if you'd rather see the film before reading further.) Boorman should have taken it as foreshadowing when, before filming began, he and Marvin nearly died in a Cessna that suddenly sputtered and took a nose-dive toward the mouth of an active volcano (the pilot pulled out of the dive at the last second). But Boorman stuck with the picture, only to endure the wrath of a volcano named Toshiro Mifune once the cameras started to roll. Marvin, whose idea it was to cast Mifune in Hell in the Pacific, so admired the Japanese superstar, he would break into histrionic Samurai impersonations when he'd had too much to drink...which was far too often for comfort. Boorman, however, had already worked with Marvin on Point Blank (1967), so he was aware of the actor's idiosyncrasies. But he was hardly prepared for Mifune, who, it turned out, was utterly determined to do things his way or not do them at all, regardless of what Boorman had to say about it. Mifune spoke little English (and, it should be noted, speaks no English in the finished picture, which has no subtitles.) So Boorman was forced to direct the hot-headed actor through a cowering interpreter named Aki. While filming the first confrontation between Marvin and Mifune, Boorman quickly realized that he was in for a long ride. "Mifune was ready," he wrote in his autobiography, Adventures of a Suburban Boy. "We rehearsed. He played the scene like his character in The Seven Samurai [1954], a boastful clown. I was horrified. I took him to one side and told him how I wanted it: serious, fearful, dignified. He nodded. We did the take. He played it exactly the same. I told him again. He listened imperviously. Aki was getting nervous. In the next take (Mifune) made no adjustment, no concession to my directions. I asked Aki, 'Are you telling him what I said?' Aki said he couldn't translate exactly because Mifune would lose face in front of the Japanese crew if he was corrected by me. 'Tell him precisely what I said.' He did so with many apologies and much bowing of his head. Mifune's response was to shout abuse at Aki, who fell abjectly to his knees. I called for another take. Mifune did not alter his performance one iota." Later that evening, an enraged, stinking drunk Mifune burst into the dining room where Marvin and Boorman were eating, and tried to load a .22 rifle with a large packet of Wrigley's chewing gum! This didn't help Boorman's digestion. Several difficult days later, Mifune finally ordered Boorman to use his stunt double during rehearsals, then the specifics would be relayed to Mifune just before filming. This experiment was halted, however, when, according to Boorman, Mifune began having trouble delivering the scenes as skillfully as his stunt double. Later during the shoot, Boorman bashed his knee against some coral and had to have surgery to relieve a terrible infection that could have caused him to lose his leg. At that point, the producers tried to dump Boorman from the floundering project. At first Marvin resisted, then agreed to the move, but Mifune refused. The same sense of honor that wouldn't allow him to take direction from Boorman kept him from dismissing the person he had agreed to work with! Marvin was badly injured in the battle of Saipan during World War II, so his return to the islands while filming Hell in the Pacific was an emotional one (you can read his harrowing, first-person account of the battle in Pam Marvin's book about her husband, Lee.) Boorman felt that Marvin belatedly finished his healing process while shooting the picture: "Reliving that period of his life provoked a kind of crisis in him. The producers wanted him to kill Mifune in the end. And perhaps that's also what the public wanted. But I refused. Everything that Lee was – his violence, his killer instinct – made him want to kill Mifune. The fact that we were able to film (a non-violent) ending was a kind of catharsis for Marvin. He said to me: 'I'm sick of killing people to gratify millions of spectators. From now on they can kill each other.'" SPOILER ALERT: Boorman originally intended to end the film by having Mifune's character kill two Japanese soldiers who stumble upon Marvin and decapitate him. But that idea was discarded, and Boorman shot an ending in which Marvin and Mifune drop their truce and return to fighting a pointless battle. But that wasn't good enough for executive producer Henry G. Saperstein, who later tacked another ending onto some of the prints without Boorman's consent. In that one, there's an explosion during a rather unlikely air raid, and both soldiers are apparently killed. But, then again, maybe they aren't. Marvin always said Hell in the Pacific was "about two men who can't kill each other," so you might as well think what you want, and just enjoy a rich character study that sports a truly ambiguous conclusion. Director: John Boorman Executive Producer: Selig J. Seligman, Henry G. Saperstein Producer: Reuben Bercovitch Screenplay: Alexander Jacobs, Eric Bercovici (based on a story by Bercovitch) Cinematography: Conrad Hall Editing: Thomas Stanford Music: Lalo Schifrin Art Design: Anthony Pratt, Masao Yamakazi Special Effects: Joe Zomar, Kunishige Tanaka Set Design: Makoto Kikuchi Makeup: Shigeo Kobayashi Cast: Lee Marvin (American Soldier), Toshiro Mifune (Japanese Soldier). C-103m. by Paul Tatara

Hell in the Pacific


"Of all the movies of Lee's career, Hell in the Pacific was undoubtedly the most important to him on a personal level. In it he was reliving, exploring and resolving his feelings about his war, and putting the results on the screen." So wrote Pamela Marvin in her biography of her husband, Lee Marvin, who considered the movie his personal favorite of his entire career.

Now out on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment, Hell in the Pacific (1968) is a fascinating and unique picture. The story of an American flyer and a Japanese flyer who are stranded alone on a tiny Pacific island during WWII, it's a two-actor show all the way through and is essentially a silent film. All the dialogue put together takes up maybe 15 minutes of screen time, if that - and half of it is in Japanese. Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune try to kill each other, then capture each other, steal each other's possessions, and taunt each other out of boredom, until eventually they realize they need each other to survive and to try to escape.

A movie with a premise like this can't help but be somewhat predictable. There are only so many variations of plotting one can come up with for such a situation, and sure enough, the film does drag a bit in its first half. But it is so beautifully filmed in widescreen (by Conrad Hall) and so impeccably acted, that it's certainly worth sticking with till the end. And when a major plot turn comes two-thirds of the way through, it becomes gripping.

Toshiro Mifune was at the time the most famous and beloved movie actor in Japan, having appeared in The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo, and Throne of Blood, to name a few, and both he and Marvin are best remembered for their tough, gutsy screen roles in action movies. But both men also scored in their careers as serious, sensitive individualists, and the combination of the two in Hell in the Pacific make for an acting tour de force. They clearly respected each other, with Marvin calling Mifune "just about the most gutsy, honorable chunk of talent in the whole frigging world."

On a more personal level, both had also served in WWII, in the Pacific theater, Marvin in the Marines and Mifune in the Japanese Army. Making this movie was a way for both of them to come to terms somewhat with their war experiences. At one point during production, they went to the nearby site of a bloody WWII battle and together placed floral wreaths at a memorial, which helped establish their bond of mutual respect.

Still, Mifune was obsessed with not stereotyping his portrayal. Director John Boorman said, "Every scene we did, we never agreed on anything. Mifune came determined to defend the honor of Japan and he bitterly resisted any scene in which his character showed brutality or cruelty." Be that as it may, the end result is a beautifully modulated performance that is on an equal par with Marvin's and just as commanding of the audience's sympathy.

John Boorman has always been strong at depicting man's struggles with the forces of nature, in films like Deliverance (1972), Excalibur (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985), and Beyond Rangoon (1995). In Hell in the Pacific, he used the ruggedness, beauty and danger of the ocean, rocks, forest, sun and rain to immerse the audience completely into the story. You feel as if you are stranded on that island, and at the same time, you marvel at the logistics and difficulties that must have been involved for cast and crew shooting in the tiny Pacific islands of Palau. Boorman and Marvin had also just collaborated on the tough and metaphorical neo-noir Point Blank (1967), another career highlight for both men.

MGM Home Entertainment's DVD looks and sounds quite good, though not spectacular. It features an option for subtitles, but I recommend not using it. The original release did not use subtitles, and it would change the audience's relationship to the movie to have them utilize it. Without the subtitles, neither Lee Marvin nor we know exactly what Mifune is saying, though we have a pretty good idea from the context, and that's the way it should be.

The only extras are a trailer and an alternate ending, but the alternate ending is a must-see. The ending was the cause of some consternation in late 1968. When Hell in the Pacific premiered in Tokyo and played for a one-week Oscar®-qualifying run in L.A., the ending was the one Boorman wanted. Subsequent test screenings, however, led executive producer Henry Saperstein to insert a new ending without Boorman's approval, one which does make a point about the absurdity and futility of war but which is also gimmicky and completely unsatisfying dramatically. That's the ending most people saw, and that's the ending on this DVD. The alternate ending is Boorman's original one - also not ideal (could any ending to this story be?) but much better, more poignant and more realistic.

The title also caused some squabbling. Neither Boorman nor Marvin liked the title "Hell in the Pacific," feeling it would mislead audiences into expecting a traditional shoot 'em up combat film. But that's exactly what the distributor did want. They were afraid Lee Marvin fans would be scared away if they knew this was a slower, "arty" film. Boorman wanted to call it "The Enemy," but executive producer Selig Seligman said that according to his research, that title "would have kept women away." As if "Hell in the Pacific" wouldn't! Other rejected titles were "Two," "Two Soldiers," and "50-50."

To order Hell in the Pacific, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold

Hell in the Pacific

"Of all the movies of Lee's career, Hell in the Pacific was undoubtedly the most important to him on a personal level. In it he was reliving, exploring and resolving his feelings about his war, and putting the results on the screen." So wrote Pamela Marvin in her biography of her husband, Lee Marvin, who considered the movie his personal favorite of his entire career. Now out on DVD from MGM Home Entertainment, Hell in the Pacific (1968) is a fascinating and unique picture. The story of an American flyer and a Japanese flyer who are stranded alone on a tiny Pacific island during WWII, it's a two-actor show all the way through and is essentially a silent film. All the dialogue put together takes up maybe 15 minutes of screen time, if that - and half of it is in Japanese. Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune try to kill each other, then capture each other, steal each other's possessions, and taunt each other out of boredom, until eventually they realize they need each other to survive and to try to escape. A movie with a premise like this can't help but be somewhat predictable. There are only so many variations of plotting one can come up with for such a situation, and sure enough, the film does drag a bit in its first half. But it is so beautifully filmed in widescreen (by Conrad Hall) and so impeccably acted, that it's certainly worth sticking with till the end. And when a major plot turn comes two-thirds of the way through, it becomes gripping. Toshiro Mifune was at the time the most famous and beloved movie actor in Japan, having appeared in The Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo, and Throne of Blood, to name a few, and both he and Marvin are best remembered for their tough, gutsy screen roles in action movies. But both men also scored in their careers as serious, sensitive individualists, and the combination of the two in Hell in the Pacific make for an acting tour de force. They clearly respected each other, with Marvin calling Mifune "just about the most gutsy, honorable chunk of talent in the whole frigging world." On a more personal level, both had also served in WWII, in the Pacific theater, Marvin in the Marines and Mifune in the Japanese Army. Making this movie was a way for both of them to come to terms somewhat with their war experiences. At one point during production, they went to the nearby site of a bloody WWII battle and together placed floral wreaths at a memorial, which helped establish their bond of mutual respect. Still, Mifune was obsessed with not stereotyping his portrayal. Director John Boorman said, "Every scene we did, we never agreed on anything. Mifune came determined to defend the honor of Japan and he bitterly resisted any scene in which his character showed brutality or cruelty." Be that as it may, the end result is a beautifully modulated performance that is on an equal par with Marvin's and just as commanding of the audience's sympathy. John Boorman has always been strong at depicting man's struggles with the forces of nature, in films like Deliverance (1972), Excalibur (1981), The Emerald Forest (1985), and Beyond Rangoon (1995). In Hell in the Pacific, he used the ruggedness, beauty and danger of the ocean, rocks, forest, sun and rain to immerse the audience completely into the story. You feel as if you are stranded on that island, and at the same time, you marvel at the logistics and difficulties that must have been involved for cast and crew shooting in the tiny Pacific islands of Palau. Boorman and Marvin had also just collaborated on the tough and metaphorical neo-noir Point Blank (1967), another career highlight for both men. MGM Home Entertainment's DVD looks and sounds quite good, though not spectacular. It features an option for subtitles, but I recommend not using it. The original release did not use subtitles, and it would change the audience's relationship to the movie to have them utilize it. Without the subtitles, neither Lee Marvin nor we know exactly what Mifune is saying, though we have a pretty good idea from the context, and that's the way it should be. The only extras are a trailer and an alternate ending, but the alternate ending is a must-see. The ending was the cause of some consternation in late 1968. When Hell in the Pacific premiered in Tokyo and played for a one-week Oscar®-qualifying run in L.A., the ending was the one Boorman wanted. Subsequent test screenings, however, led executive producer Henry Saperstein to insert a new ending without Boorman's approval, one which does make a point about the absurdity and futility of war but which is also gimmicky and completely unsatisfying dramatically. That's the ending most people saw, and that's the ending on this DVD. The alternate ending is Boorman's original one - also not ideal (could any ending to this story be?) but much better, more poignant and more realistic. The title also caused some squabbling. Neither Boorman nor Marvin liked the title "Hell in the Pacific," feeling it would mislead audiences into expecting a traditional shoot 'em up combat film. But that's exactly what the distributor did want. They were afraid Lee Marvin fans would be scared away if they knew this was a slower, "arty" film. Boorman wanted to call it "The Enemy," but executive producer Selig Seligman said that according to his research, that title "would have kept women away." As if "Hell in the Pacific" wouldn't! Other rejected titles were "Two," "Two Soldiers," and "50-50." To order Hell in the Pacific, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed on Koror and other Palau Islands of Micronesia. Working titles: Two Soldiers-East and West and The Enemy.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 1968

Released in United States Fall November 1968

Released in USA on video.