Islands in the Stream (1977); Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner; Starring: George C. Scott, David Hemmings, Hart Bochner, Clair Bloom et al.
This film didn't attract too much attention to itself, even though it marks the reunion of Franklin J. Schaffner and George C. Scott, who first collaborated on the magnificent "Patton", and it's an adaptation of a Hemmingway novel. It's almost forgotten by now, but luckily Paramount released a DVD of it, so that today's audience can discover this wonderful 'forgotten' film. I bought this film for the pairing of Schaffner and Scott and the score by Jerry Goldsmith. To say the least: I wasn't disappointed.
This is a contemplative film, with many low-key scenes and a slow pace. It's about Thomas Hudson, who has retreated to an island in the Bahamas and is working there quietly as an artist. His best friend Eddy is there too and he's looked after by Hudson, because he is a rummy and gets in a fight a bit too often. Joseph helps Hudson out in his daily business and the two are close friends. The film is made up of three chapters. The first chapter is called "The Boys" and is about Hudson's three sons visiting him for the summer. His eldest son, Tommy, is from his first marriage and the younger two, David and Andrew, are from his second marriage. While the oldest and the youngest sons can get along with Hudson really well, it's David who holds a grudge against him for leaving him and his mother. Only after a fishing trip, where he struggles with a marlin for over three hours, does he forgive his father and does he embrace him. During their stay on the island, the Second World War draws closer and they can see burning ships on the horizon. After the boys have left, they receive a letter from their father, stating that he misses them very much and that their time together made him happy again. This chapter serves to pinpoint that although Hudson loves his retreat on the island, he also misses his boys really much and that they might be more important than himself. The second chapter is called "The Woman" and is about Hudson's first wife, Audrey, visiting the island. They talk a lot about their love for each other and the reasons for their failure together. When they're at Hudson's house and she starts drinking more and more he realizes that she's here to bring him very bad news. "The Journey" is the final chapter and tells the story of how Hudson finally realizes that he has to be with his boys on the mainland, instead of remaining forever on his island. In a way he decides to finally live again. He goes on a journey to the mainland, but the war gets between him and his goal. On the ocean he has to take a group of Jewish refugees onboard, because their ship was raided by the Cuban coastguard and they barely escaped. He decides that he should take them to shore, but when he does so, he has to escape the coastguard himself. The journey ends on a river somewhere nearby the Cuban coast, where Hudson pays a high price for his decision to start living again.
The film is beautifully filmed by Franklin Schaffner and the cinematography by Fred Koenekamp is gorgeous. Continuing their great working relation, Franklin hired Jerry Goldsmith to score the film. He delivers one of his most touching and most beautiful scores. It fits the film perfectly, capturing the emotional state Hudson is in with an almost melancholy theme, which is as restrained as Hudson and the film itself. There's a more whimsical theme for the boys and there is a majestic cue over the marlin fishing scene. Goldsmith also captures the rhythm of the ocean with his music. He's able to perfectly merge the emotions on screen with his music and he adapts his themes beautifully and in keeping with the heart of the film. The score thus becomes the film's heart and perhaps the best part about it. This is one of the best scores ever composed for a motion picture.
The performances are magnificent too. George C. Scott delivers a very subtle and beautifully executed performance, capturing the essence of Hudson's feelings and making his struggle feel entirely realistic. His performance is restrained, yet it gives a great view into the heart of the troubled main character. David Hemmings also delivers a great performance, making the audience feel sorry for Eddy, but also love him, He also makes Eddy's and Hudson's friendship a joy to watch. Clair Bloom as the first wife and Julius Harris as Joseph are great too, as are the actors playing the boys. Especially Michael-James Wixted as David is great, but Hart Bochner (as Tommy) and Brad Savage (as Andrew) deliver good performances too.
The film is very restrained and quiet and feels very real. The audience gets time to relate to Hudson as the film slowly tells more about him. The emotions are therefore never forced, nor do they feel faked. They feel real and the emotional journey becomes entirely believable and understandable. This approach is sadly quite seldom in Hollywood films. There's one problem though: the final chapter feels a bit off in relation to the other two chapters. The film moves into a chase and Hudson suddenly sympathizes a lot with the refugees, where he was much more restrained at first. Therefore the final chapter is not completely in line with Hudson's character. In the book he chases a German U-boat crew, instead of getting sympathetic with Jewish refugees, which sounds more right for the character. The last scenes are really powerful though, as is the final impact of this film. It made me quiet afterwards, contemplating the journey I had just taken with Hudson, but it also left a warm feeling behind.