ISLAND IN THE SUN (1957) dir. Robert Rossen

21 Oct

“Oh my island in the sun” the song goes. It pops into my head on occasions when homesickness swells in my veins. As soon as the island way of perceiving the environment was adopted, the song reminded of the falsity of calling it an island, no matter how island-like a place might be. ‘The island’ – as it was known by locals – is a place that calls out to my instincts. Even though in a busier environment, in Harajuku, in the middle of a vast city like Tokyo where there are many things to do, many activities to enjoy, if I’m honest – as much as I love it in the city – I do miss certain things about the island lifestyle.
A lifestyle where winter evenings were spent cosy next to a hearth with roaring embers, while sipping gin. And summers were filled with swimming, working hard, lounging on terraces enjoying great food. It was idyllic. I miss the bonds with nature. I miss the emphasis on the sea. I miss the importance of the weather. I miss the pressures of community spirit. I miss the obtund gossip. I miss the gorgeous environment – subtropical – where it could’ve been a Caribbean island with palms and azure waters if it wasn’t for the murky fish that swam beneath the waves.
Island in the Sun was a good movie choice for a Sunday afternoon with this lusty mindset. It stars Joan Collins (swoon). Colours and sets are opulent in technicolour. Costumes are exquisite. The island location and historical period make race relations the main topic of the movie. A few white men govern a 90% majority of black people. It was a movie of two halves. At more or less exactly half way through, a crime was committed. The crime didn’t add a lot to the plot, though it changed the pace. What brought more drama to the fictitious island was the following sentence printed in a newspaper article:

The article went on to reveal the true parentage of Mr. Fleury. The shame! The main family in the story – a prestigious white family – had a secret black ancestor. Joan Collins is 1/32 black! Her brother, running in an election, could persuade the black natives with ‘I’m one of you now!’ to charm their vote from them. It was that ridiculous.
Of course, it was ridiculous and so David Boyeur, an ‘upstart’ (haven’t heard that said about anyone since the village days, in fact haven’t heard a lot said since village days, things that are still influential in my thought patterns, perhaps what is causing this spate of longing), stood up for his people – the island people – by telling Joan Collins’ brother, in a public meeting, that he was delusional. David Boyeur: a man rumored to have powers. We had a glimpse of these when he stopped the crowd’s merry-making just by telling them to be quiet. He’s in an inter-racial relationship with a white woman. He’s a well-respected member of the community, someone who commands the trust of others, no matter what background or race.
At the end of the movie, Joan Collins is a black woman, in an ‘inter-racial’ relationship and starting a new life in England (though the dramatic irony, which kicks in during the second half of the movie, gives the viewer an advantage that the islanders don’t have). Plus the beautiful black checkout assistant (Dorothy Dandridge) from the pharmacy is moving to England to start a new life with the island governor’s white assistant, who was forced to resign due to his inter-racial relationship with her.
In the final scene, David Boyeur’s white girlfriend asked him if they can get married and start a new life together. He then went on a bit of a rant about the importance of the island and the importance of him being on the island – where he is powerful and black – not miles away talking about the island in a place where he is still black but not powerful. And that’s how it ended: David Boyeur ranting to a beautiful blonde against a backdrop of pristine coastline and tempestuous, ravaging seas.
This movie ticked several boxes in my missing rural-coastal isolation checklist:
1. The wonderful scenery and property sets.
2. The great colours and costumes of the 1957 movie world.
3. Watching people living under the silent pressure of community entertain themselves. These kicks aren’t to be found by visiting neighborhood cafes. Even the people I see everyday in the neighborhood – their struggles are imperceivable. The transparency of characters in this movie added something to my day!
As a movie known for its opening song, there’s little singing. It’s not South Sea Pacific and it doesn’t star Elvis. It’s been strange having to draw attention to character’s skin tone when writing this, in life it’s not something that I notice much, not centering around human skin. Overall the sleepy first half followed by the melodramatic conclusion – in a historical window – was just my cup of tea on a quiet, non-eventful Sunday in suburban Harajuku, with its tranquil evening yet to come.


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