by Pauline Kael
Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune are the stars of Hell in the Pacific, and there’s nobody else in the movie — just this American soldier and this Japanese soldier stranded on a Pacific island during the Second World War, and neither speaking a word of the other’s language. Doesn’t that make you eager to see it? Surely you can hardly wait for its pungent thought-for-today. Haven’t you always longed for a movie full of Toshiro Mifune grunting and Lee Marvin muttering to himself? Marvin actually has a few lines of dialogue — talking to himself, of course — and is rather funny. And near the end there is a sexy moment when the two men shave and look at each other’s smooth face -— which might have made a promising beginning for a comedy. But “Hell in the Pacific” is about — you guessed it — brotherhood and communication, and it’s made for star turns not only by the actors but by John Boorman, the director, and Conrad Hall, a clever, showy cinematographer who thrusts opulent, empty imagery at us. Hall can’t just shoot a picture; he has to make it a tour de force. After his flashy, overdramatic work in Cool Hand Luke and In Cold Blood, one might think that a talented director like John Boorman would know better than to use him, but I fear that the situation is just the reverse — that Boorman, who got caught up in directorial flashiness in “Point Blank,” is so determined not to risk banality that he is going further into the clever, commercial forms of ersatz art, in which the only aim is to be strikingly effective. Together, he and Hall make the Pacific island a pile of sequins. And Hall’s tricky little camera etudes deserve Lalo Schifrin’s I-can-do-anything- anybody-can-do music. When John Boorman and Conrad Hall and Lalo Schifrin all found each other, the shocks of recognition must have been deafening.
The New Yorker, March 1, 1969