Robert Mitchum did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Corporal Allison in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison.
It must be said that Robert Mitchum was a great actor, with such an ease onscreen that is perhaps what lead to him being such an underrated commodity. I must say I take a certain joy in finding each and every one of Mitchum's notable turns as they reveal such a remarkable performer who had such a notable idiosyncratic personal style yet had a tremendous and somewhat under exploited range. Of course again even this in some circumstances was almost hard to notice just in terms of how easily Mitchum slipped in a different type of role. The role of Allison here, a marine who finds himself marooned on an island, Mitchum does not use as an excuse just to deliver a performance similair to say his hard boiled P.I. from Out of the Past. Of course that probably almost would have been fine, but Mitchum doesn't go for that approach which is rather impressive to begin with, but also leads to a very special turn from him. Now this isn't just in his New York accent he fashions for his character. That's just part of it, an easy part of it that Mitchum just makes it part of himself. Mitchum with accents is always rather fascinating since he's not an actor who'd strike you as using accents, but you barely notice them when he does use them since he does so in such an effective fashion.
That accent though is only a stepping stone in his portrayal of Allison which I might say is perhaps Mitchum at his most charming. A notable distinction needs to be made in this though in that Mitchum is always a charismatic performer, however this is a time where his considerable charm really comes to the forefront with his approach to Allison as a character. Allison is after all a marine who had a none too pleasant childhood before he reached this rough patch created by his time in the war. Mitchum however does not present this as some sort of horrendous wound by any means. This is not inconsistent though which is so interesting in his work. In that Mitchum delivers the lines on Allison's past rather bluntly with certainly the right hardened attitude in this explanation. There is no sense that these are good memories however they do not truly pain him in Mitchum's presentation. He does this though through a careful, and brilliant, workaround where he reveals this as basically assuaged through his time with the marines. When he speaks of the chapter, even when explaining a harsh drill sergeant, Mitchum infuses this considerable pride in every word. In his eyes he brings this sense of purpose within the marines creating this core within Allison, and this belief essentially towards his duty in the armed forces.
Now the reason Mitchum's choice there is particularly important is because there was a potential possibility for Allison to be this terrible brooder, however his approach to avoid that really opens up the film to frankly a more enjoyable experience in general. Mitchum uses this that allows him to be far more expressive in his charm, of course with such ease as always by portraying Allison very much as a man at ease with himself. Mitchum's approach and turn here actually reminded me a bit of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. In that captures that sort of action hero you can approach. This is in part that charm to be sure that makes Allison just this very likable sort, but it goes further than that. In that Mitchum really allows you in on Allison's endeavors to subvert the Japanese efforts to find him, and his companion as well as to later sabotage their defenses against his fellow marines. Mitchum's so good in the action scenes not just by being charming, but also bringing this certain haplessness to moments. In that just his physicality in the moments and his reactions are not of this superman, but just a guy winging it at times. This in turn makes him so very easy to watch in every moment since he never seems too far gone, but is so very endearing in every moment by showing Allison essentially just doing his very best to survive, serve the marines, and help his nun companion.
Speaking of his nun companion who is an essential part of this performance. As in the story the marooned marine Allison comes across a nun who also happened to be marooned there, the nun Sister Angela played by Deborah Kerr. Now I already covered Kerr and Mitchum later showed their considerable chemistry in The Sundowners, but this was their first film together. The chemistry here also is a bit more complicated given the nature of the relationship whereas in that later film the two where they are already a married couple as the film opens. That is not quite the case obviously for Allison and Sister Angela. Kerr and Mitchum evidently developed a real life friendship through this film, and that sort of ease together is quite obvious through their work together here. What is so important about this though is this film is essentially a two person show between the two. What I love is how even though there is the nun/soldier juxtaposition from the start the sense of ease actually comes quite quickly. Now this is with each fulfilling their roles so well, Mitchum naturally being more expressive against Kerr who stays a bit demure. Their interactions from their opening scene though has just something so remarkable in how genuinely they speak with one another. There is just such earned sweetness and warmth in it that makes the two such entertaining duo from the outset.
The two use that as this basis for the two that certainly makes the film all the more compelling in itself. The two go much further than that though, and I love how both performers so eloquently realize their own arcs in tandem yet separately in approach. Kerr giving the more subtle and introverted portrayal, well Mitchum giving the more extroverted, although I wouldn't quite say broad. Mitchum does well though to convey really just the outgoing nature in every scene making some of Allison's blunt statements seem so honest to the character. When Allison just for example states being unaware of pretty nuns, clearly referring to Sister Angela, there is such a earnest sincerity in Mitchum's delivery that so effectively just reveals this as just the way Allison is. He uses this idea though particularly well in creating what Allison's story is within as the non-church going soldier, interacts with the devote nun. Mitchum does this carefully in presenting really an idea of kind of showing Allison's initial attraction essentially slowly falling into love with the Sister. Mitchum brings this purity through how he so well finds that directness of Allison. His rather uncompromising statements early on about her choice to be nun Mitchum refines always through such clear, and rather pure tenderness for her. What helps all the more though is just how good their chemistry is in every interaction, and to the point the two seem right together, even if this must be in a specific way.
Mitchum gradually delivers this to a tipping point which he importantly portrays not as a mental breaking point, but rather Allison's blunt attitude taking him too far, amplified due to drink. When he reveals his feelings for her I love the definite vulnerability in Mitchum's eyes that allude to really only a most sincere reasoning in the man's mind, even if it was perhaps not in the right circumstances or taken with the right considerations. When the Sister rejects this Mitchum doesn't show the love Allison has for her diminish instead he actually presents as growing after she becomes ill. When he treats her there is perhaps the most powerful affection in every moment as Mitchum brings such a striking compassion in every moment. As he treats her, and then later asks for her forgiveness for his previous statements, Mitchum though has one major difference though which is in his face he carries this considerable sense of empathy. When he asks for her forgiveness Mitchum makes Allison as straight forward as ever, but now with such solemness in his voice evoking such a convincing act of contrition and understanding towards her. The relationship between the two is so beautifully realized as we see both change through it, and come together in what is technically not a romantic love in the most traditional sense, however it is not unrequited in the end. Of course this all naturally woven within their interactions throughout that create such a winning duo throughout the film. I love both of their performances here that manage to find the dramatic potential within the central relationship, but at the same time are just a pair I simply liked spending time with.