Cast & Crew
Bradshaw, an American journalist, comes to the West Indian island of Santa Marta to report on racial unrest and the concomitant movement to grant self-governance. Among the inhabitants of interest to Bradshaw is Maxwell Fleury, the disaffected son of a plantation dynasty. One morning, when Maxwell discovers an exotic Egyptian cigarette butt discarded in his ashtray, he begins to suspect that his wife Sylvia is having an affair. That afternoon, Sylvia, Maxwell and Maxwell's younger sister Jocelyn attend a garden party at the governor's mansion in honor of the governor's son, Euan Templeton, who is visiting the island on his way to Oxford. Also invited to the party is David Boyeur, a black activist barely tolerated by the entrenched white ruling powers. Boyeur insists that the sultry Margot Seaton accompany him to the event, even though Margot protests she will feel out of place there. At the party, Euan is immediately drawn to the alluring Jocelyn, while Margot attracts the attentions of Dennis Archer, the governor's aide. Boyeur has announced his intention to run for the legislature, and fearful of losing their dominance, the island gentry urges Maxwell to run against him. Becoming agitated when he notices that Hilary Carson, a retired war hero, smokes the same brand of cigarettes he found in his ashtray, Maxwell clashes with Boyeur, whose father once served as a slave on the Fleury plantation. However, Sylvia's sister, Mavis Norman, fondly recalls Boyeur from her childhood and befriends him. On the drive home, Maxwell, seething with anger and jealousy, accuses Sylvia of infidelity and rapes her. The next day, as they picnic at the beach, Jocelyn voices her longing to leave the island while Euan speaks of assuming his seat in the House of Lords after completing his education. Dennis, enthralled by Margot, visits her at the pharmacy where she works as a clerk and invites her to the governor's dance. Still suspicious of Sylvia, Maxwell drives into town looking for her and finds her with Carson, thus fueling his rage. At the dance, Mavis asks Boyeur to have a glass of champagne with her and confides that she would rather be useful than privileged. Dennis, now in love with Margot, takes her home and reveals his desire to be a writer. The next day, Maxwell informs his parents that he plans to run for office. When Julian, his father, expresses skepticism, Maxwell, simmering with resentment, accuses his parents of favoring their late son Arthur, who died a war hero, and then whines that he would have been better off being born black. Boyeur, meanwhile, escorts Mavis to the humble fishing village where he was born. As the town gathers for carnival, Jocelyn and Euan drive out to Maxwell's country home and are observed by a sinister figure wearing a mask. After tea, they prepare for the ride home, only to discover that someone has stolen a part from the car's engine and the phone wires have been cut, thus forcing them to spend the night together alone. The next morning, when Euan takes Jocelyn home, he proposes to her and Mrs. Fleury, worried about gossip, encourages the match. Jocelyn, however, is reticent because she is aware that Euan is soon to assume an important position in society. After Bradshaw writes an exposé about Julian's grandmother being black, Jocelyn feels betrayed by her parents and fears that her children may be black. That night, Maxwell confronts a drunken Carson in the street and forces his way into Carson's house. After Maxwell demands that Carson leave Sylvia alone, Carson makes a slur about Maxwell's racial heritage, and Maxwell, in a rage, assaults him and strangles him to death. Determined to make the murder look like a robbery, Maxwell speeds out of town and tosses Carson's wallet out along the way. When Maxwell reads a newspaper story about the wallet being found, he hurries into town to question Col. Whittingham, the officer in charge of the investigation. After mentioning the novel Crime and Punishment , the colonel confides to Maxwell he believes that Carson was murdered and that the killer will never be able to bear his guilt. The colonel then has an imaginary conversation with the killer, advising a plea of manslaughter. Maxwell, however, decides to run for the legislature, and holds a political rally. There, Sylvia reveals that Carson had come to the house on the morning of the governor's party to inquire about a charitable donation, causing Maxwell to realize his suspicions were unfounded. As Maxwell begins his speech, his words are drowned out by the contemptuous crowd, and Boyeur steps forth to quiet the assemblage. When Maxwell begins to speak extemporaneously, opportunistically trading on his black heritage, the crowd jeers. Maxwell then crumbles and spits out "I never wanted to be one of you." That night, after returning home from a date with Euan, Jocelyn confides to her mother that she is pregnant and wants to go to Canada to deliver the baby. When Jocelyn refuses to marry Euan because of her black blood, Mrs. Fleury reveals that Julian is not her real father, and therefore, she is racially pure. At his plantation, meanwhile, Maxwell, defeated, fingers the copy of Crime and Punishment that the colonel has sent. Maxwell locks himself in the bathroom with a gun, but unable to pull the trigger, smashes the mirror and then seeks out the colonel to confess. Dennis, whose relationship with Margot has displeased the governor, resigns his post and asks Margot to accompany him to London, where he intends to publish the exposé he has written about Santa Marta. Jocelyn and Euan, just married, board the plane bound for England and are followed by Margot and Dennis. As Mavis and Boyeur watch the aircraft soar overhead, Mavis suggest that they, too, travel to another country and get married. In response, Boyeur states that his skin is his country and that his people would never understand a relationship with a white woman. Mavis then walks away, alone.
William C. Andrews
J. B. Smith
F. A. Young
Island in the Sun on DVD
A news writer named Bradshaw (Hartley Power) arrives on the island of Santa Marta in the British West Indies just in time to cover rising racial tensions as an election approaches. The election has taken on a new significance with the emergence of a charismatic black leader David Boyeur (Harry Belafonte), who intends to oppose well-respected white landowner Maxwell Fleury (James Mason).
As the political situation simmers in the background, the prominent islanders become involved in a variety of inter-racial relationships. Boyeur's friend Margot Seaton (Dorothy Dandridge) accompanies him to a reception for the newly arrived son of the Governor, where she comes to the attention of the Governor's aide Dennis Archer (John Justin). The reception also brings together Boyeur and Mavis Norman (Joan Fontaine), whose family once owned one of the island's largest plantations. And the Governor's son Euan Templeton (Stephen Boyd) unexpectedly finds a potential for romance in Fleury's sister Jocelyn (Joan Collins).
Boyeur and Mavis have a few memories of each other from childhood, though at the time race would keep them separated. Now that they are adults, Mavis finds herself captivated by the dynamic Boyeur, who sets out to show her the Santa Marta that she could not have known in her rarified upbringing. They visit the cane fields together, and landmarks of the black community, as well as the plantation that was once owned by Mavis' family. Eventually they develop a mutual understanding and respect for the lives that they have led, and for the people they have become. At the same time, Dennis Archer finds himself hopelessly enamored with Margot Seaton, whose straight-forward attitude and observations come as a breath of fresh air: in direct opposition to convention, they strike up a romance with each other (though neither of them seem particularly aware of the potential for disaster). Templeton and Jocelyn appear to form the most traditional relationship. They immediately begin keeping company, the only snag coming when one of Fleury's political rivals sees to it that the two are trapped in Fleury's deserted house during a local celebration, hoping to engender a scandal.
But any potential discredit that might've been caused by the incident is completely forgotten when Bradshaw publishes an article exposing the most guilty secret of the Fleury family: an inter-racial relationship in Maxwell's lineage that means he is one-sixteenth black, which was enough to cause him to be ostracized, threatening to destroy his political career. The "disgrace" causes Jocelyn to reconsider her decision to marry Templeton, until he convinces her that her heritage doesn't make any difference to him (or to his father, the Governor, whose political future may now be affected by the union). But there will be even more shocking revelations in the Fleury family, which will destroy lives while at the same time healing some wounds
Island in the Sun is a turgid film that is as fascinating for what it attempts as it is for the limitations that censorship at the time would impose on it, making it difficult for the film to succeed. Young audiences viewing the film now would probably find it "much ado about nothing," but in its historical context Island in the Sun is an audacious, courageous film. Made at a time when the African-American Civil Rights Movement was just beginning to make strides, the idea of an interracial relationship was still considered shocking: to give an idea of just how shocking, eleven years after this film was released, Belafonte would be involved in a nationwide scandal when, while doing a duet with Petula Clarke on an NBC special, Clarke laid her hand on his arm. This innocent, innocuous act created a racial firestorm in the United States.
So for a 1957 film to present interracial couples was particularly daring. Unfortunately, with the Production Code's rules about interracial relationships still in tact, the actors are allowed to profess their love for each other, but one is painfully aware of the taboo against any expressions of physical affection, taking some of the bite out of the story. The film also suffers from a screenplay (by Alfred Hayes) that at times sounds like a political tract rather than a drama. Hayes' best work for the film comes in the handling of the murder investigation that enlivens the film's second half. The exchanges between investigator Colonel Whittingham (John Williams) and his chief suspect are deftly handled and particularly involving.
Despite its flaws, Island in the Sun still has a lot going for it, beginning with the sure-handed direction by Robert Rossen (The Hustler, All the King's Men) who keeps the film moving at a smooth pace while giving the film what little edge that remains today. And the cast is flawless. James Mason turns in another outstanding performance as the privileged white landowner who finds his life falling apart. Belafonte is particularly strong as the charismatic leader, and Joan Fontaine (who is saddled with some of the film's worst dialogue) manages to give one of her most textured performances. With this film Dorothy Dandridge proved once again that she was a fine actress, playing the role of Mavis with humor and depth. Even Joan Collins, under Rossen's guidance, gives a strong performance. The cast also includes Michael Rennie (The Day the Earth Stood Still) as an old friend of Fleury's wife, who innocently drives Fleury to a jealous rage.
Another of the film's assets is the cinematography. The gorgeous location scenery (shot in Barbados and Grenada) is lovingly photographed by the great Freddie Francis. He also makes the most of the wide-screen image in capturing the vast interiors of the white characters' home, a stark contrast to the humble abodes of the islands' black population (and a mute condemnation as well). And the film is punctuated by an engaging calypso score, with Belafonte getting a chance to croon a couple of tunes.
Fox's new Cinema Classics Collection edition of the film does full justice to Francis' work: the source is showing no signs of deterioration, and the colors are beautifully rendered, vibrant and natural. The black level is absolute, and the image if perfectly contrasted throughout with excellent shadow detail. The audio is in equally fine shape (though there are a couple of brief spots where a tiny bit of deterioration is evident. The bass is particularly resonant, and both the dialogue and vocals are crystal clear.
The disc includes an audio commentary by Film Writer and Historian John Stanley, as well as the A&E Network documentary "Dorothy Dandridge: Little Girl Lost," as seen on Biography.
For more information about Island in the Sun, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Island in the Sky, go to TCM Shopping.
by Fred Hunter
Island in the Sun on DVD
Contains one of the first interracial kisses in American cinema. Banned in Alabama as Communist propaganda promoting race mongrelization.
The title credit reads: "Twentieth Century-Fox by arrangement with Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, Inc. presents a CinemaScope Production of Island in the Sun by Alec Waugh." The film opens with the voice of Harry Belafonte singing the title song over aerial views of the beaches, harbors and villages of the island of Santa Marta. This is followed by a series of long shots picturing laborers cutting sugar cane, loading cargo onto boats and fishing. The sequence ends with the lone figure of Belafonte strolling along the beach. Although the Variety review and Call Bureau Cast Service lists the character played by John Justin as "David Archer," he is called "Dennis" in the film. Alec Waugh's novel was published serially in Ladies Home Journal in May 1955 under the title "Sugar Barons." At the end of Waugh's story, Maxwell commits suicide. The figure of "Boyeur" in the film is a composite of Waugh's labor leader and black attorney characters.
According to a May 1955 Los Angeles Times news item, Darryl F. Zanuck bought the rights to Waugh's novel prior to its publication. Island in the Sun was Zanuck's first independent production for Twentieth Century-Fox after he ended his tenure as Vice President in Charge of Production for the studio. According to materials contained in the Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Dana Wynter was originally cast as "Jocelyn" and Joan Collins was to play "Sylvia." The film was shot on location in Barbados and Trinidad in the West Indies. Interiors were filmed at the M-G-M Elstree Studios near London, England.
Although the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that no objections were raised over the depiction of an interracial romance, the film caused a great deal of controversy upon its release. According to a July 1957 Daily Variety news item, Island in the Sun was banned in Memphis, TN, because of its "frank depiction of miscegenation, an offense to moral standards and no good for Whites or Negroes." A July 1957 New York Times news item adds that in New Orleans, the American Legion launched an unsuccessful campaign to halt the film's screening on the grounds that it "contributes to the Communist Party's aim of creating friction between the races." In Minneapolis, MN, another campaign was launched to cancel screenings. Although the effort was unfruitful, many Minneapolis theaters received calls and letters protesting the opening of the film, according to a June 1957 Daily Variety news item. As noted in another June 1957 Daily Variety item, Joan Fontaine, who played "Mavis Norman," received a flood of hate mail because her character desired an interracial romance with the character played by Belafonte. According to the MPAA/PCA file on the film at the AMPAS Library, the PCA's only concern about the film was that the characters of "Margot Seaton" and "Dennis Archer" not be portrayed as having an affair.
Released in United States Summer June 1957
Released in United States Summer June 1957