Young Jonathan Osborne (Jonathan Kahn) escapes his home one night under cover of darkness to join up with the other members of his secret society. This club only call each other by numbers, under the orders of the precocious Chief (Earl Rhodes), who tonight has brought them a book of sexual postitions to see, smuggled from his doctor father's bookshelves. But the imperious Chief is disgusted by the boys' excitement, and sends them away; when Jonathan returns home, he is caught by the housekeeper, who tells his mother Anne (Sarah Miles), a lonely widow. She forbids him from leaving the house without her permission, but Jonathan and his friends are a law unto themselves...
Scripted by the director, Lewis John Carlino, this once-notorious film attempted to translate Yukio Mishima's novel from Japan to a sleepy port in England, with results that drew hoots of derision even from those who had not read the original. The alien quality of the Japanese culture compared to the British is hard to ignore, and there's no getting away from the stilted outcome of a marriage between the two, yet The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea has an intriguing effect by virtue of its very strangeness, with its uneasy combination of a sex-starved widow and twisted kids making for, at the very least, a memorable experience, if not entirely for the right reasons.
When it was released, the main talking point was the sex scenes, which were fairly explicit, although they wouldn't shock anyone who'd seen Last Tango in Paris. Creepy Jonathan discovers a hole in the wall that allows him to spy on his mother, and sure enough he sees more than he bargained for when she spends one evening masturbating alone in her room. Anne's needs are unexpectedly fulfilled when she meets up with sailor Jim Cameron (nothing to do with Titanic), played by Kris Kristofferson, and they fall in love during his shore leave.
Meanwhile, Jonathan is being indoctrinated into the amoral world of the Chief's pontifications, where he convinces his gang that the perfection of the natural order is where it's at, and adults are bad. This perfection sees the kids anaesthetise and dissect an unfortunate cat to see what makes it tick, in one of the film's most famous scenes (don't worry, it's all staged and no cats were harmed), which also serves as an act of near-elemental power for the lads. This sick variation getting in touch with nature enables Jonathan to see Jim as a hero figure, a man at one with the force of the ocean, and he's delighted when the sailor returns there, apparently for good.
However, Jim is smitten with Anne, and does indeed come back, this time with marriage plans. Anne needs a man in her life to take care of her romantic and sexual needs (including playing around with her under the table in a genteel tea shop filled with old ladies), and feels whole again now she has Jim. Jonathan, however, feels betrayed, and wants to redress the balance with the help of his friends. Jim doesn't know that by turning his back on the sea, he is putting himself in as much danger as staying out there to brave the hurricanes.
The tone is so inscrutable that you're not sure whether Carlino believes that Jonathan and his friends have a point about their fascistic ideas of perfection and Jim's place in the world, or thinks that these boys are a dangerous bunch after all, and not to be admired. In fact, by the end, you'll be wondering what happened to the point of the exercise at all, although Douglas Slocombe's photography of the port and it's surrounding countryside is certainly attractive. Even by the close, the two plots haven't drawn together with any satisfaction, and Miles and Kristofferson come across as maddeningly vague too much of the time. You can't say it's not different, though. Tasteful music by Johnny Mandel and Kristofferson. Watch for: the unintentionally funny exploding seagull.
American writer, a respected playwright who made a striking film debut with science fiction shocker Seconds. He also scripted The Fox, crime dramas The Brotherhood, Charles Bronson thriller The Mechanic and Crazy Joe, horror Reflection of Fear, mental illness story I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, and spiritual fantasy Resurrection. As a director, he adapted Mishima's The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, which he followed up with father/son drama The Great Santini, and "Is this the same guy?" sex comedy Class.