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Image Entertainment presents
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea (1976)

"Morality is nothing more than a set of rules adults have invented to protect themselves. A set of rules for the weak. You see, if you're strong, really strong, you don't need protection."
- The Chief (Earl Rhodes)

Review By: Robert Edwards  
Published: January 25, 2004

Stars: Sarah Miles, Kris Kristofferson, Jonathan Kahn
Other Stars: Earl Rhodes
Director: John Lewis Carlino

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 01h:44m:53s
Release Date: January 27, 2004
UPC: 014381195521
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ AAB- D-

DVD Review

Author Yukio Mishima was one of the more intriguing figures of the Japanese literary scene. Born in 1925, he was a complex man, obsessed with notions of honor and perfection. Deeply influenced by bushido, the code of honor of the samurai, and Japan's humiliating defeat in World War II, his failed attempt to inspire nationalism by taking control of a military headquarters led him to commit suppuku (ritual suicide) in 1970.

A few years later, director John Lewis Carlino adapted Mishima's 1963 novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and brought it to the screen. Other than a change in setting from Japan to the English coast, it's a faithful adaptation, which concentrates almost exclusively on a few characters. Anne Osborne (Sarah Miles), whose husband died several years previously, lives with her young son Jonathan (Jonathan Kahn). In many ways he's a typical boy, alternately bored with his life and enthusiastic about his hobbies, with a loving relationship towards his mother that's only threatened when she attempts to control his freedom. And this freedom has become necessary to allow his participation in a secret society with his fellow schoolmates.

The group is led by the Chief (Earl Rhodes), who has replaced the other boys' names with numbers, "for security reasons," and also as an instrument of control, the boys with the higher numbers being his favorites. He's clearly the most intelligent, with notions of perfection, strength, and morality (even if they are a bit twisted), which are mostly lost on his less-mature friends. But Jonathan has certainly internalized some of the Chief's ideas, and finds their embodiment in the person of American sailor Jim Cameron (Kris Kristofferson). Ruggedly handsome, and full of tales of dangerous adventures, he's seen by Jonathan as the very model of masculine perfection. But Anne is very attracted to Jim, and when Jim reciprocates, the boys no longer see him as pure, and decide to punish him for his imperfections.

Although he's a relatively minor character, the film centers around the Chief and his domination of the secret society. He's alternately cruel and kind, at first punishing the other boys for their transgressions (as he perceives them) and just as quickly warmly embracing them back into the group. His half-baked notions of truth and morality, only partially comprehended by the others, are made explicit by his actions, frighteningly so when he literally illustrates that it's "necessary to take things apart to find the truth" with a household pet. He's the center around which the boys' lives revolve, and when Jonathan turns against Jim, the Chief's remedy is both logical and horrifying.

Despite the creepiness of its themes, this is a visually beautiful, even stunning film. The rocky coastline of Devon gave Carlino and cinematographer, Douglas Slocombe, ample opportunity to lense long sweeping sea vistas, beautiful sunsets, and long takes over country landscapes. Even the interiors, with their period English decor, are lush and inviting. One might make the argument that a visual style that privileges exterior landscape shots is not in keeping with the spirit of the film, but in this case the beauty of the cinematography acts as a welcome contrast to its rather frightening plot incidents and themes.

Although it's certainly not the only film to examine the potentially horrifying consequences of putting abstract notions into practice, The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is certainly effective. It made a powerful impression on this reviewer when he first saw it, aged barely older than the boys in the film, and it still packs a punch, remaining in the mind long after the viewer sees it.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Wow! It's obvious that someone cares a great deal for this film, because the transfer is simply beautiful. The colors are full and vibrant, faithfully rendering both the slightly hyper-real bright reds of the schoolboys' jackets, and the icy blue tones of the darkened exteriors. There's a lot of detail in the image, not only in the brightly-lit scenes, but also in the shadows and deep blacks. One or two brief scenes show a bit of grain, there are a few speckles on the source print (mostly in the early scenes), and there is some gate float, but overall, this is an amazingly good and accurate transfer for a film from 1976.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The sound, while perfectly adequate, is not up to the standards of the image, although this is most likely a limitation of the original print. It's reasonably full-range, but without much bass, and there is a consistent low level of hiss.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Printed insert with chapter listing
Extras Review: There are no extras except for a printed chapter listing, but kudos to Image for including the original mid-1970s "groovy" artwork on the jacket, even though it's likely to put off someone casually flipping through the DVD bins.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

John Lewis Carlino's The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea is a visually lush yet disturbing portrayal of adolescent manipulation and its frightening consequences. The beautiful transfer compensates for the lack of extras.


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