A Town Like Alice

DirectorJack Lee
Running Time107 mins
StarringVirginia McKenna
Peter Finch
Kenji Takagi

This film was based on the excellent novel by Nevil Shute. It is a work of fiction but based firmly in the difficulties experienced in the Malaya campaign of World War 2. Malaya was overrun far quicker than the British (and Japanese) expected and a large civilian population found itself under Japanese control. This film charts the experiences of a group of women and children who found themselves the prisoners of the Japanese who had higher priorities to contend with. Consequently, they are forced to walk under guard from one Malayan town to another hoping to be shipped back off to civilisation of some sort. In reality, the Japanese administrators have little time and few resources to expend on them and so no sooner do they arrive at one destination than they are forced to move on to another. Needless to say, the trudging through the Equatorial plantations, jungles and swamps of Malaya takes its toll on thee group.

Humanity is demonstrated in the story mainly by the actions of an Australian prisoner of war who was working as a truck driver on behalf of the Japanese occupiers. Although he has little influence as a prisoner of war, it doesn't stop him doing what little he can as he undertakes extraordinary risks to supply the women and children with food and medicine. Poignantly, the Japanese commander who he actually steals from, secretly admires the risks the Australian takes on behalf of the women and children and so does not have him executed. In fact, the Japanese guard over the group of women is also portrayed sympathetically as someone who is just doing his job and showing compassion when he is allowed to get away with it.

The film is quite a tale of imperial spread and design as it spreads over three continents as the hero and heroine attempt to find each other after the war. Recalling some of the more tender moments of her wartime experiences, she recalls her Australian guardian angel talking about his home town of Alice Springs - hence the title of the film. Of course, there is still another twist before the couple can see if they were actually meant for each other.

It is always helpful for a film to be based on a superior story and this is obviously the case here. Having said that, the film does take on a slightly different emphasis. The film is very well developed and pulls on the heart strings on numerous occasions, but not in an overly melodramatic method as was frequently the case in 1950s film making. Overall, I recommend this film for its breadth of imperial endeavour.

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by Stephen Luscombe