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No Man Is an Island

by Glenn Erickson Apr 01, 2023

Here’s a hard-to-see WW2 real-life drama that holds up rather well. Jeffrey Hunter plays radioman George Tweed, the lone U.S. sailor holdout when Guam Island was taken by the Japanese right after Pearl Harbor. The production is modest but the story is told with a winning honesty — it’s a basic survival tale that avoids heroic overstatement. Marshall Thompson is second-billed as one of Tweed’s Navy comrades, but the film prevails through its sincere presentation of the locals that protected Tweed, even when he wanted to give himself up. This one earns an “A” for integrity.


No Man Is an Island
Blu-ray
KL Studio Classics
1962 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 114 min. / Street Date March 14, 2023 / Available at Kino Lorber / 24.99
Starring: Jeffrey Hunter, Marshall Thompson, Barbara Perez, Ronald Remy, Paul Edwards Jr., Rolf Bayer.
Cinematography: Carl Kayser
Art Director: Benjamin Resella
Film Editor: Basil Wrangell
Original Music: Restie Umali
Written Produced and Directed by
Richard Goldstone, John Monks Jr.

No Man Is an Island is a title we remember well from 1960s television, broadcast in rotation, we believe, on ‘The Million Dollar Movie.’ Catching up with it again a full 60 years later (gulp), we’re surprised to find that it’s a not-bad little movie. Obviously filmed on a meager budget, it has qualities that elude many much bigger productions that feel the need to hype heroic values. It’s a ‘one man against the enemy’ tale, a reasonably accurate account of the Navy radioman George Ray Tweed, who hid out from the Japanese occupiers of Guam for a full 2½ years. Tweed successfully signalled important information to the U.S. task force retaking the island.

Filmed in color in the Philippines, this true war tale was the work of a writing-producing-directing partnership. Richard Goldstone made short subjects before stepping up to feature producing on Robert Wise’s excellent The Set-Up. In the 1950s he branched out to oddball sci-fi (Tobor the Great) and travelogues (Cinerama’s South Seas Adventure). Writer John Monks Jr. had solid credits (The House on 92nd Street,  The People Against O’Hara) and had worked with Goldstone. In the late ’50s their ‘Gold Coast Productions’ engineered a deal with Universal-International and a film company in Manila.

 

To star they snagged Jeffrey Hunter, the former Fox contract player who around this time played Jesus in the Samuel Bronston-Nicholas Ray road show epic King of Kings. The other ‘name’ actor was the dependable Marshall Thompson, a former MGM contractee who by this time was dividing his time between TV work and low-budget pictures. Thompson had starred in Dial 1119, a show written by Monks Jr. and produced by Goldstone.

Using a John Donne quote for its title, No Man Is an Island plays well even with its budget limitations, or the fact that neither Goldstone nor Monks Jr. were confirmed directors. Navy veteran George Tweed (Jeffrey Hunter) is helping to maintain a radio relay station on Guam when Pearl Harbor is attacked. The island is immediately overrun by Japanese invaders. The Navy’s non-combat garrison surrenders but the five radiomen hastily decide to take to the hills, assuming that a U.S. counter-offensive will soon come to the rescue.

Just a few days later, the Japanese have killed all four of Tweed’s comrades and several local Chamorro islanders caught trying to hide them. The occupying enemy puts a steep price on Tweed’s head. He considers surrendering but his protectors won’t allow it. His brave new friends include copra grower Santos (Make Anzures) and Father Pangolin (Joseph de Cordova), the doctor of a leprosy hospital. Country farmer Antonio Cruz (Bert Oliver) finds Tweed a secure hideaway, high in a cave overlooking the shore.

 

With such help Tweed holds out for years; he grows fond of Cruz’s daughter ‘Joe’ (Barbara Perez), who brings him supplies and helps him rig alarms. The Japanese leave, only to return in force in mid- 1944. Tweed’s vantage point allows him to observe what the enemy is doing. He rigs a signal lamp, anticipating the day when the U.S. Navy returns.

The small-scale No Man Is an Island  has special qualities of its own. The direction and some of the performances are basic. The show does not lack for well-organized crowd scenes, but some big-scale combat shots are repurposed from earlier films, the easiest to spot being Fritz Lang’s American Guerilla in the Philippines and John Huston’s Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Jeffrey Hunter is excellent as the One Man the Japanese never catch. Hunter puts across George Tweed’s dilemma well — he knows that his survival puts others at risk. The dramatization avoids sticky speeches — the locals help him out of simple altruism.

Although many facts have been tweaked, No Man Is an Island retains its historical relevance. George Tweed is no Rambo super-soldier; peacetime Navy radiomen weren’t necessarily given combat training. He’s not like Robert Mitchum’s Marine holdout in the superficially similar John Huston film Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Tweed’s comrades’  attempt to ‘run to the hills’ doesn’t get very far. His Chief (co-producer Rolf Bayer) is killed before they abandon their station. Another sailor gets caught because he loses his shoe and is stung by a scorpion. A third man doesn’t follow orders, and dies trying to surrender. The worst outcome befalls Tweed’s best friend Jonn Sonnenberg (Marshall Thompson). He is captured along with a local, trying to recover a battery to allow them to operate a radio receiver.

 

His morale low, Tweed is taken in by Father Pangolin, whose quarantined hospital is a fine place to hide. Unable to stay idle, Tweed prints resistance leaflets under the masthead of his unit’s old morale publication, Guam Eagle. A Guam collaborator of Japanese heritage soon traces the leaflets back to he hospital. Father Pangolin’s imprisonment ordeal isn’t distorted — the religious statement is there without being stressed.

The changes to Tweed’s official record are easily understood. The real George R. Tweed was a 40-ish old salt, not a youngish 30. He was also married, and his family had recently been evacuated back to the U.S. mainland. ‘Good Going, Navy’ for that decision; Guam was relatively close to Japan, and somebody seriously anticipated hostilities.

The movie shows Navy officers turning over personnel records, allowing the occupiers to calculate that exactly five radiomen were on the loose. Local informers turned them in. The movie doesn’t depict that angle, but it explains how the Japanese patrols find the fugitives so quickly. All except Tweed were summarily executed, the price for not surrendering when ordered. The Japanese are presumably played by Filipino actors, and are fairly convincing.

 

A good example of the film’s realism comes when farmers spirit three of the fugitives to the North of Guam hidden in carts of cocoanuts. When they emerge hours later, they can barely stand on their feet. Not only that, the ruse isn’t fully successful — a drunken Japanese sergeant fires a random shot into one of the carts.

The real Tweed had to do without female companionship, but the movie can’t be blamed for inventing a romantic subplot. The charming Barbara Perez would become a fixture in Filipino productions, with a career lasting nearly 70 years. As this was apparently her only non-Filipino picture, Universal probably came up with the ‘Audrey Hepburn of the Philippines’ nickname. Ms. Perez’s  ‘courting’ of Tweed is neither forced nor condescending.

The movie doesn’t dwell on its more grim aspects. There is one single shocking shot that brings the horror to the fore: a sailor and local are found beheaded, a convincing bit of butchery not matched until Apocalypse Now and The Thin Red Line. I find no mention of the shot in reviews or online posts, and don’t remember it from TV back in the day — could it possibly have been cut for Universal-International’s first release?

 

A likely invented development sees a convenient corpse left on the beach to fool the enemy into thinking that George Tweed is dead. All that’s left is a skeleton supposedly picked clean by crabs. It’s not particularly convincing yet we don’t complain. We also like the inclusion of ‘good’ Japanese locals, like saloonkeeper Mrs. Nakamura (Chichay). Her performance is iffy but she retains an authentic quality anyway. We certainly didn’t make such distinctions in 1962, but Filipinos play Guam Chamorros, using the wrong language. A main island in the Marianas, Guam residents were a mix of indgenous natives, with Japanese and Filipino immigrant bloodlines.

In practical terms No Man is likely not a good prospect for a remake. The Japanese are now allies and partners in regional security, and few if any postwar Hollywood films have been made to depict war crimes and atrocities on Wake Island or at Bataan.  Film entertainments must succeed in the marketplace of selective history. Although Nazi villains seemingly go on forever, our media culture has increased our awareness of the racist attitudes built into many older films about Japan in wartime.

Certainly not perfect, No Man Is an Island is an entertaining, historically reasonable true story with excellent key performances. It’s a pleasant surprise in Kino Lorber’s release of seemingly everything marketable in Universal’s film vault.

 


 

The KL Studio Classics Blu-ray of  No Man Is an Island  looks great in color, with its appropriate 1:85 widescreen framing. The cinematography enhances the directors’ good sense for locations: we wonder if the impressive rock citadel we see is the real location of George Tweed’s 18-month hideout. The stock shots are integrated well, in the sense that we don’t feel we’re being cheated. The night-for-night filming is good, and there are some decent attack and fire effects in the action sequences.

Steve Mitchell and author Steven Jay Rubin, go-to names to chat up Kino’s war pictures, do well with this commentary, dispensing a great many interesting facts about Guam’s significance in the Pacific War. Toward they end we get some vamping and quoting from Wiki, but the track is never boring. We learn that this was an early Filipino show in color. There was a book called Robinson Crusoe USN that wasn’t connected to the movie.

The scene with the decapitated heads goes by without any mention in the commentary. As it turns out, maybe that beheading shot shocked only me — the trailer shows a glimpse of it. Using the film’s every bit of action, the trailer sells No Man Is an Island as a combat film. As Mitchell and Rubin say, it’s instead a suspenseful survival story. I’m not sure that George Tweed ever fires single shot at the enemy.

Related movies of note: Tyrone Power starred in the interesting Fritz Lang film American Guerilla in the Philippines, a similar story of sailors that joined the resistance rather than surrender to the Japanese. An early starring role for Jeffrey Hunter is Roy Boulting’s Sailor of the King aka Single-Handed, a 1953 thriller about a captured British sailor who escapes from a crippled German warship when it hides for repairs in a Galapagos lagoon. Sniping from the nearby rock slopes, he holds the entire ship at bay. The exciting tale is marred by an insipid, obviously tacked-on framing story with Michael Rennie and Wendy Hiller.

Hunter’s most impressive Pacific Theater war movie is about another historical combatant, Guy Gabaldan. Hell to Eternity is noted for its sympathetic attitude toward Japanese Americans, which may have influenced this film as well.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson


No Man Is an Island
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements:
Commentary by Steve Mitchell and Steven Jay Rubin
Trailers.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)

Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
Reviewed:
March 29, 2023
(6909isla)CINESAVANT

Final product for this review was provided free by The Warner Archive Collection.
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Text © Copyright 2023 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 6.51.08 PM

Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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