A Japanese soldier (Toshirô Mifune) has been washed up on a deserted island in the Pacific during the Second World War, but has adapted to life there as he waits, perhaps in vain, to be rescued. Today he surveys the sea before him through his binoculars, but there's an object closer to him that he hasn't picked up on: a dinghy that has washed up on the rocks by the shore. The occupant of that craft is lying in a daze amongst the jungle foliage, an American pilot (Lee Marvin) who gradually comes round to realise he is not alone there: he has an enemy...
And so does the Japanese soldier, because, guess what, they're both on opposite sides of the war, but are brought together in one of those special movie contrivances. For director John Boorman's magnified version of the conflicts we humans get drawn into, scriptwriters by Alexander Jacobs (who had co-written Boorman's previous hit Point Blank) and Eric Bercovici had conjured up a tale that revealed that if we put aside our differences in the name of survival, then we could really make progress.
But before the characters got to that stage there was a lot of manly posturing, grunting and roaring on the part of two of the most muscular stars America and Japan had ever offered the world. This was supposed to be a keen commentary on mankind's antagonism, yet really it's not much deeper than a Tom and Jerry cartoon. First up there's a battle for who gets the drinking water, as the Japanese soldier has proved resourceful enough to collect the rainwater and condensation to sup, and the American wants his own share.
It's a fight for survival that ends in a lot of bad behaviour, including pissing on the other's head, near-crucifixion of both and a lot of humiliation. First the Japanese soldier ties the American pilot to a makeshift yoke and has him drag a rock across the sand for no reason than to implement his domination over him. Then the American escapes, and the tables are turned, but eventually they have to reach an agreement because it has become apparent that nobody is going to rescue them. The only solution is to rescue themselves, but how?
By building a raft, of course, which they do after a fashion and a lot of arguing in their respective languages: even though they don't understand what they're saying to each other, they still yell out insults or orders. Something about the indomitable human spirit emerges as the duo take to the ocean in their transport, but although there's a lot of straining and clenching of teeth, it doesn't translate into gripping drama. To make matters worse, the story's climax renders what we've seen an exercise in futility, no matter which version you see (there are two endings available). Is Boorman saying that no matter how we might cooperate, we're still doomed to falling out at some point down the line? Was all that teamwork a waste of time because our differences outweigh our similarities? Or are we to take solace in the way that we see eye to eye every so often even if the truce doesn't last? Music by Lalo Schifrin.
British director whose work can be insufferably pretentious or completely inspired, sometimes in the space of a single film. He began his career with the BBC, before directing Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can. Hollywood beckoned and his Lee Marvin movies Point Blank and Hell in the Pacific won him admirers.