At the height of World War II an American airman (Lee Marvin) and a Japanese soldier (Toshiro Mifune) find themselves stranded on an otherwise uninhabited pacific island.

The men stalk each other and finally face off on the beach. Each imagines killing the other, but neither acts on it. They play a game of cat-and-mouse for a while, each being alternatively helped and hindered by the four elements.

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Eventually, the Japanese takes the American prisoner. The American escapes and turns the tables on his former captor. Then, in spite of advice in his army manual that, in a situation like this, one should dispose of the enemy, he frees the Japanese.

The two develop an uneasy modus vivendi and work together to construct a raft so they can escape.

The basic scenario, then, is an old and oft-repeated one. One need only look at The Defiant Ones or Enemy Mine to see that.

What makes Hell in the Pacific worthwhile is the way it is handled by the filmmakers.

Neither protagonist speaks the other's language and, deprived of subtitles or translations, viewers are placed in a similarly uncertain position.

With the dialogue reduced to a minimal role, the two leads have to convey meaning in other ways. Both are great physical actors but what impresses most here is their ability to suggest so much with little gestures - a furrowed brow here, a quizzical look there.

Of course, one cannot discount the contribution made by director John Boorman. Working with Marvin for the second time in two years and essaying some of his favourite themes - culture clash, the struggle between man and nature - his impressionistic direction, bolstered by Lalo Schifrin's evocative scoring, expertly conveys the alternately claustrophobic-agorophobic relationships between the two men and the environment.

If you're in the mood for something a little bit different, then Hell In The Pacific is a rewarding, thought-provoking experience, let down only by its ending. "Hell is other people" but "No man is an island".

Reviewed on: 31 May 2001
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Two soldiers on opposite sides bury differences and work together to escape desert island.
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Director: John Boorman

Writer: Alexander Jacobs, based on the book by Reuben Bercovitch

Starring: Lee Marvin, Toshirô Mifune

Year: 1968

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US


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