Hell in the Pacific Island

Hell In the Pacific is John Bormann’s 1968 film shot on an unnamed island in the Palau archipelago, which the locals call the Rock Islands.

Bormann is the man who gave is Deliverance, Excalibur and Point Bank. Bormann says that in his nearly 50 years of filmmaking this one was the one that took that biggest bite out of his bottom.The film features Lee Marvin, who was an A-lister (Cat Bayou), and Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai), the biggest star in Japan.

They play two WWII soldiers who wash ashore onto an uninhabited island to discover they share the same small beach. Since they are on opposite sides of the war, they try to kill each other. They capture one another in turns, escape, and become begrudging collaborators—then friends—and end up building a raft to escape the island as there they have no future.

In the film, and in reality, neither one spoke the other’s language, and they grunt and holler to be understood. The film has no subtitles, but you can sure tell what’s going on.

Bormann says Marvin was great (though generally drunk), but Mifune refused to take direction and kept wanting to play the part as a comedy; not at all what Bormann was intending. There was a translator who Bormann kept trying to convince to tell Mifune what he wanted, but the translator was very reluctant to convey the corrections because when he did, Mifune would hit the translator in the head and kick him to the ground. Then he would smile and bow to Bormann. Mifune was supposed to play the part as an enraged Samurai, and eventually he actually worked himself into a fury—and apparently he isn’t acting when he explodes on film.

Eventually the raft takes them to an island that had been a Japanese stronghold but was then taken by the Americans before being deserted, though the two can hear combat in the distance. They find clothes, food and sake. Then, looking at a Life Magazine, Mifune sees ads of Pepsodent smiling girls and heroic Americans mixed with photos of dead Japanese soldiers.

They get into a fight, and this is where it gets really interesting. The explosions from a naval battle grow ever louder, as does their drunken argument; then a shell hits their building and they’re killed as the building explodes. Or, or they snarl and just walk away with no explosion and the film fades to black.

I’m not kidding! It was shot with two different endings as if it was a split in the Universe and both endings were released. This reminds me of John Fowl’s book The Magus. The Magus is also about WWII as well, and there is a magical hallucinogenic island in Greece where the hero gets the girl in the first edition. Then in subsequent editions, Fowls rewrote the ending where he doesn’t get the girl. ‘Hey, stop messing with us!” Or do.

In fiction, as in real life, anything is possible. We both explode and don’t explode. If you are reading this you are in the Universe where you didn’t explode…yet?

Subscribe to Pacific Voyages

Voyage to distant locales, right from your inbox.


  • Bill Goss says:

    What a fascinating read! All our lives have two endings. If you chose to be happy with your life – it has one ending.
    And if you chose to be unhappy with your life – it has another ending.

    Which one are you going to chose?

  • Ollie says:

    I sure hope people are reading these. Just good stuff
    Story is like the movie
    Enemy Mine
    Good views of how we can be with ourselves and others

  • Nancy says:

    I can’t wait to check out this movie. I love Toshiro Mifune; There’s a sense of humor in him, even when he’s serious. Lee Marvin too, actually. Both were very smart actors. But I can imagine Boorman’s frustration. Probably a bit like FF Coppola and Marlon Brando, though in a different hot jungle.

Leave a Reply

Created by Captain Jamis MacNiven (Editorial) & Chief Officer Ryan Sport (Design)

© 2020 Pacific Voyages