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South Sea Woman

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

South Sea Woman
Original film poster
Directed byArthur Lubin
Screenplay byEdwin Blum
Adaptation by
Based onGeneral Court Martial
by William M. Rankin
Produced bySamuel Bischoff
CinematographyTed D. McCord
Edited byClarence Kolster
Music byDavid Buttolph
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • June 27, 1953 (1953-06-27)
Running time
99 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2 million (US)[1]

South Sea Woman is a 1953 American black-and-white action-comedy-drama film starring Burt Lancaster, Virginia Mayo and Chuck Connors, and directed by Arthur Lubin. It was based on the play General Court Martial by William M. Rankin with the working title being Sulu Sea.[2] The picture was written by Edwin Blum.

Jeanine Basinger's and Jeremy Arnold's book The World War II Combat Film – Anatomy of a Genre calls the film a significant mixture of genres: tongue-in-cheek adventure, "Flagg and Quirt" (1926)-style service comedy, Road to...Hope and Crosby road film, South Seas, prison escape, pirate, World War II and costume drama mixing ridiculous comedy with hard-boiled action in "Tell It to the Marines" style.[3]

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U.S. Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant James O'Hearn (Burt Lancaster) is being tried at the San Diego Marine base for desertion, theft, scandalous conduct and destruction of property in time of war. He refuses to testify or plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. The film alternates between flashbacks and the courtroom, as witnesses give their testimony.

Showgirl Ginger Martin (Virginia Mayo) takes the stand against his protest. She tells how she met O'Hearn and his friend, Marine Private First Class Davy White (Chuck Connors), of the 4th Marines in Shanghai two weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor. With war looming, the 4th Marines are ordered out of China. White slips away to propose marriage so that Ginger can be evacuated from China (at government expense) as his wife. O'Hearn tracks him down at the nightclub where Ginger works. When the club's manager objects to Ginger quitting, a brawl breaks out.

The trio escape aboard a small motor boat. When the two men start fighting, Ginger tries to help White and accidentally disables the boat. They drift out to sea and are picked up by a passing junk. Once again, the Marines quarrel over White's future. This time, they accidentally set the sail on fire. They have to chop down the mast in order to save the ship. As a result, they are put ashore on the Vichy French island of Namou.

To avoid being jailed, the Marines persuade pro-Axis Governor Pierre Marchand (Leon Askin) that they are deserters. They are quartered in a hotel/brothel run by Lillie Duval and her three "nieces". O'Hearn is delighted to make their acquaintance, to Ginger's annoyance.

When a supposedly Dutch yacht calls at the island, O'Hearn tries to book passage, but the captain, Van Dorck (Rudolph Anders), refuses to take the risk. O'Hearn discovers that Van Dorck is actually a Nazi setting up radar stations on the islands around Guadalcanal, and plots to seize the ship with the help of expatriates like ex-U.S. Navy sailor "Jimmylegs" Donovan (Arthur Shields) and fugitive bank embezzler Smith, and Free French liberated from the prison. White refuses to join and says he is deserting and intends to remain on the island with Ginger. This causes Ginger to have second thoughts about their relationship. O'Hearn forces White on board the yacht at gunpoint. Back in the courtroom, O'Hearn breaks his silence in order to exonerate White.

When Van Dorck and a search party find him, O'Hearn manages to kill them all. He and his men then overthrow the governor and load the island's armory on the ship, intending to join the fighting at Guadalcanal. Ginger slips aboard as a patriotic stowaway.

They stumble upon a group of Japanese landing craft escorted by a destroyer. O'Hearn engages the Japanese in a fierce battle. When the destroyer tries to ram the yacht, White jumps aboard and climbs its smokestack. He throws in explosives, blowing up the destroyer at the cost of his own life. Only O'Hearn and Ginger survive; the rest of the crew die heroically.

The court martial exonerates O'Hearn and recommends White for a posthumous Medal of Honor. O'Hearn and Ginger then admit they love each other.



The film was announced by Jack Warner in 1952. He wanted to make an action comedy in the vein of Two Arabian Knights. Frank Lovejoy was mentioned as a possible star and the film originally started in Hong Kong as opposed to Shanghai.[4][5]

Arthur Lubin was given the job of directing in August 1952 when the project was known as Sulu Sea.[6]

Burt Lancaster was then signed has star. He had a deal with Warner Bros for them to finance and distribute three movies of his Norma Productions. In return, Lancaster had to appear in some Warner Bros films of which this was one.[7][8] Filming of Lancaster's next film, From Here to Eternity, had to be pushed back until Lancaster finished South Sea Woman.[9]

Chuck Connors was cast as Lancaster's friend. This led to Connors retiring from baseball.[10]

The movie was shot on the Warner Bros. backlot with some location work done on Catalina Island.[7]

The movie was also known as Sulu Sea, South Sea Paradise and The Marines Have a Word for It before Warners decided on South Sea Woman.[11][12]


The New York Times reviewer Bosley Crowther was unimpressed, calling the film "a rip-snorting glorification of two United States Marines", with Lancaster doing his best "with all the muscle and charm at his command", but ultimately dismissing the effort as "a terrible lot of nonsense and, eventually, a fizzle as a show."[13]

In 2019 Diabolique magazine wrote that the film "needed to be in colour but is highly spirited fun, which benefits from Lancaster at his toothy, swaggering best."[14]

See also


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
  2. ^ Thomas, Bob Chuck Connors is Faced with Decision on Career The Florence Times 4 February 1953
  3. ^ Basinger, Jeanine; Arnold, Jeremy (2003). The World War II Combat Film – Anatomy of a Genre. Wesleyan University Press. p. 241.
  4. ^ Tommy Rettig to Star in Pickford Feature; 'Sulu Sea' War Comedy Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 12 Mar 1952: B9.
  5. ^ COOPER WILL STAR IN MICHENER FILM: Actor to Play Mr. Morgan in Mark Robson Motion Picture of 'Return to Paradise' By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times 12 Mar 1952: 32
  6. ^ Berlin Musical Awaits Gaynor Return; British Joust Set for Bing, Bob Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 25 Aug 1952: B9.
  7. ^ a b[bare URL]
  8. ^ Burt Breaks Mold When Typed: Burt Balks at Typed Film Roles Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times 14 Dec 1952: D1.
  9. ^ FILM SHORT TO PUSH TAX REPEAL DRIVE: Metro Will Wrap up Campaign With Presentation of Loss Faced by Movie Houses By THOMAS M. PRYOR New York Times 10 Jan 1953: 13.
  10. ^ Connors Quits Baseball for Film Career The Washington Post 13 Feb 1953: 30.
  11. ^ LUBIN WILL DIRECT MOVIE IN ENGLAND: Cornel Wilde Heads Cast in 'Star of India' -- Morley Set to Portray Louis XIV By THOMAS M. PRYOR New York Times 17 Apr 1953: 31.
  12. ^ FILM, TV ENGINEERS CONVENE ON COAST: 1,000 Society Members, Record Turnout, Show Excitement Over 3-D Developments By THOMAS M. PRYOR New York Times 27 Apr 1953: 19
  13. ^ Crowther, Bosley (June 4, 1953). "South Sea Woman (1953) – The Screen; 2 Marines and a Girl". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 August 2011.
  14. ^ Vagg, Stephen (14 September 2019). "The Cinema of Arthur Lubin". Diabolique Magazine.

External links

This page was last edited on 20 December 2023, at 23:25
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