A Movie A Day: Quint on UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957) Okay, I’ll do what you say. I won’t walk with Americans until I’m 17.
Published at: Aug. 26, 2008, 12:03 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow Paul Newman again to another early drama, this one called UNTIL THEY SAIL directed by the great Robert Wise.
Actually, Newman is more of a supporting character here. He opens up the movie as a witness in yet another trial (third Paul Newman-in-court movie in a row), but we don’t know for what specifically, just that his role in the army is to investigate foreign brides of soldiers who get married while on leave during the war.
Then we get a flashback (which is almost the entire story, catching up to the courtroom where we began at the end) where we’re introduced to our main characters: four Kiwi Sisters. Three of them have either boyfriends or husbands who leave town for the war, leaving Christchurch almost devoid of men.
The main theme of this film is loneliness, which makes it the perfect double feature with THE RACK… not only do you have the Paul Newman-in-court connector, but THE RACK’s main message was about how a man’s loneliness was the key his tormentors needed to break him.
Here the sisters all deal with loneliness of some sort. Jean Simmons (DARK SHADOWS, GUYS & DOLLS) has a husband she hardly knows off at war, Joan Fontaine (REBECCA, THE WOMEN) is the proper old maid, the strict older sister, Piper Laurie (unrecognizable here to us genre geeks that know her from CARRIE) didn’t have a man to wave good-bye to, so she ends up shacking up with a miserable loser who abstained and finally an innocent 15 year old Sandra Dee who had a boyfriend sign up and leave.
Now I might ignorant of New Zealand history, but I found it funny that of the entire cast the only two to even attempt a Kiwi accent were young Sandra Dee and Wally Cassell (who plays the loser who stayed behind and married Piper Laurie), everyone else speaking in proper British accents.
I know New Zealand was a British Colony, but in the many months I’ve spent there I didn’t find any trace of an English accent.
After the Japanese declare war and start working their way down close to NZ the Americans come in and suddenly there are thousands of men flood the streets of New Zealand’s towns, big and small.
The movie is about how these sisters deal with the loneliness and how the weaker of them, Laurie, splinters the family unit when she ditches them all and heads up to Wellington to try to forget her mistake of marriage in the arms of American soldiers.
As the film plays out, more than one of the sisters becomes a widow, but maybe finds true love in the aftermath. Newman’s story with Jean Simmons is the heart of the film, a true love set against the backdrop of some of the most beautiful country any man has ever seen.
The film is very sweet, but also plays with some really rough territory, including cold blooded murder. I’m a softie, though, and I’m in love with New Zealand (I actually got a little homesick when the extablishing shots of 1940s Wellington came up) so I was predisposed to enjoy this movie. I was just compelled to see a female-driven film after so many male-driven films of this period. It’s a bit of a refreshing change of viewpoint.
All the women shine in this film, especially Piper Laurie, probably because of the three she’s the most tortured character, so she has a wide range that she plays.
Joan Fontaine has a big character arc herself, but it’s not as dark. She goes from being extremely Anti-American and viewing those who fall in with the American soldiers as being… well, slutty… to falling in love with one herself.
Sandra Dee is the epitome of innocent here, in her film debut. Adorable and childlike (as she should be, since she was only 15 when the movie filmed), the purest of the sisters.
Jean Simmons is just quietly proper, a middle-ground between her older sister and younger sister. She’s extremely beautiful in this movie, but Robert Anderson’s screenplay of James Michener’s book gives her a lot to work with and she plays it very subtle, especially her cautious romance with Newman.
I talked about how raw Newman was in THE RACK, how he seemed like he was testing the boundaries of acting and in doing so overacts a bit. By the time he did this one, he found those lines and the quiet, composed confident actor that we all know is the one here.
Robert Wise’s shot selection and camerawork is very professional, as usual. He does his best to tell the story visually in his composition, so it’s never hard to keep up with what’s going on, who’s seeing whom and just what the overall tone is at any given moment.
Final Thoughts: I greatly enjoyed this movie. It’s not surprising this has been lost to time as it’s not a very showy movie, but it deserves to be seen. Piper Laurie is fantastic in it, all the sisters are, in fact, and the men are well drawn out, from all walks of life, all set against the backdrop of beautiful New Zealand. If you’re a romantic you’ll dig this movie. If you’re not, I can’t say, but I bet you’d at least appreciate how well it’s put together as well as the level of talent on display.