Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

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Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison
Heavnknowsmrallison DVDcover.jpg
Region 1 DVD cover
Directed byJohn Huston
Screenplay byJohn Huston
John Lee Mahin
Based onHeaven Knows, Mr. Allison
by Charles Shaw
Produced byBuddy Adler
Eugene Frenke
StarringDeborah Kerr
Robert Mitchum
CinematographyOswald Morris
Edited byRussell Lloyd
Music byGeorges Auric
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • March 13, 1957 (1957-03-13)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$4.2 million (US)[2]

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is a 1957 DeLuxe Color CinemaScope film that tells the story of two people stranded on a Japanese-occupied island in the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

The film was adapted by John Huston and John Lee Mahin from the 1952 novel by Charles Shaw and was directed by Huston. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Deborah Kerr) and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

The movie was filmed on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Producer Eugene Frenke later filmed a low-budget variation on the story, The Nun and the Sergeant (1962), starring his wife Anna Sten.[3]


In the South Pacific in 1944, U.S. Marine Corporal Allison and his reconnaissance party are disembarking from a U.S. Navy submarine when they are discovered and fired upon by the Japanese. The submarine's captain is forced to dive and leave the scouting team behind. Allison reaches a rubber raft and, after days adrift, reaches an island. He finds an abandoned settlement and a chapel with one occupant: Sister Angela, a novice Irish nun who has not yet taken her final vows. She has been on the island for only four days, having come with an elderly priest to evacuate another clergyman only to find that the Japanese had arrived first. The frightened natives who had brought them to the island left the pair without warning, and the priest died soon after.

Black and white photo of Robert Mitchum holding a gun standing next to Deborah Kerr in the movie Heaven Knows Mr. Allison in 1957
Robert Mitchum with Deborah Kerr in a scene from the film

For a while, they have the island to themselves, but then a detachment of Japanese troops arrives to set up a meteorological camp, forcing them to hide in a cave. When Sister Angela is unable to stomach the raw fish that Allison has caught, he sneaks into the Japanese camp for supplies, narrowly avoiding detection. That night, they watch flashes from naval guns being fired in a sea battle over the horizon.

The Japanese unexpectedly leave the island and Allison professes his love for Sister Angela, proposing marriage. But she shows him her engagement ring and explains that it is a symbol of her forthcoming final holy vows. Later both in celebration and frustration, Allison gets drunk on sake. He blurts out that he considers her devotion to her vows to be pointless since they are stuck on the island "like Adam and Eve." She runs out into a tropical rain and falls ill as a result. Allison, now sober and contrite, finds her shivering. He carries her back, but the Japanese have returned, forcing them to retreat to the cave. Allison sneaks into the Japanese camp to get blankets. He kills a soldier who discovers him, alerting the enemy. To force him into the open, the Japanese set fire to the vegetation.

When a Japanese soldier discovers the cave, Allison and Sister Angela have two choices: surrender or die from a hand grenade thrown inside. An ensuing explosion is not a grenade, but a bomb; the Americans have begun attacking the island in preparation for a landing. Allison comments that the landing will not be easy because when they returned, the Japanese brought four artillery pieces and concealed them well on the island.

Responding to what he attributes to a message from God, Allison disables the artillery during the barrage that will precede the American assault while the Japanese are still in their bunkers. He is wounded but sabotages all the guns by removing their breechblocks, saving many American lives. After the landing, the Marine officers are puzzled by the missing breechblocks.

Sister Angela and the wounded Allison then say their goodbyes as the Marines begin occupation. Allison has reconciled himself to Sister Angela's dedication to Christ, though she reassures him that they will always be close "companions." After being found, Allison is transferred by the Marines to the ship, with Sister Angela walking beside him.



Filming took place in Trinidad and Tobago, allowing Huston and Fox to use blocked funds in the UK, receive British film finance and qualify for the Eady Levy. The film was set later in the war than it was in the novel, which had Allison escaping from the Battle of Corregidor. In the film, the Allies are on the offensive and U.S. Marines capture the island.

The screenplay compares the rituals and commitment of the Roman Catholic Church and the United States Marine Corps. The National Legion of Decency monitored the production of the film closely, sending a representative to watch the filming; knowing this, Kerr and Mitchum ad-libbed a scene (not included in the final print) in which their characters wildly kissed and grabbed at each other.[5][6]

The Marines provided troops for the invasion climax. Six Japanese living in Brazil played some of the leading Japanese characters, while Chinese from the laundries and restaurants of Trinidad and Tobago filled out the rest of the Japanese soldiers.[5]

Screen Archives Entertainment released Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison on Blu-ray on June 10, 2014.

Awards and honors[edit]

Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Actress Deborah Kerr Nominated
Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium John Lee Mahin and John Huston Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p250
  2. ^ "Top Grosses of 1957", Variety, 8 January 1958: 30
  3. ^ Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) - John Huston | Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related | AllMovie, retrieved 2020-04-23
  4. ^ a b c d "AFI Catalogue — Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)". Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  5. ^ a b Server, Lee Baby, I Don't Care 2002 St Martin's Griffin
  6. ^ Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care"; ISBN 0-312-28543-4, ISBN 978-0-312-28543-2; p. 306+

External links[edit]

DVD reviews
Australia (Region 4)
France (Region 2)