The Bottom Line
After an unfortunate accident, three people involved in a squirmy love triangle (Ava Gardner, Stewart Grander, and David Niven) must sort out the more delicate aspects of their new life on a desert island in this bland romper room comedy.
The Rest Of The Story (Warning: Spoilers.)
Granger and Gardner play Susan and Philip Ashlow, two wealthy socialites who have been married for many years. Unlike other marriages gone sour, however, their relationship is primarily strained due to Sir Philip's constant business dealings. Susan isn't bitter; merely brokenhearted and lonely. It's with this view in mind that she takes on a new lover, the snidely Henry Brittingham-Brett (Niven, in one of his smarmiest roles this side of Where The Spies Are), who also happens to be a close friend of the family.
The three are all aboard a ship in the unknown South Pacific (which looks awfully like the silkscreened backgrounds which also plagued Lust For Life) when it runs up on the rocks and begins to sink. They end up in a lifeboat together, and finally on a deserted island. Luckily for them, food is plentiful, and there are no bloodthirsty natives in sight, and thus the plot can continue unabated.
Shortly after arriving at the island, the group builds a watch tower, a table, and of course, the titular little hut. Unfortunately, it only has one bed, and Henry seizes the opportunity to tell Philip about his affair with Susan. Philip, being the passive sort that he is, refuses to fight for his wife's honor. Susan is distraught at the proceedings, but giving up, asks for a divorce, which Philip, being a knight, can bestow. So they do, and Henry and Susan begin to shack up with one another, only ...
Now that Philip's got no business left, he returns his loving focus to Susan. The two recent divorcees play footsie beneath the table at dinner (a trick Henry had pulled earlier to great success), and go walking, with him carefully placing a flower in her hair. All of this makes the conniving Henry furious, and to add insult upon injury, the Ashlow's dog Wolfie refuses to let Henry in the little hut to sleep, and so he ends up on their shoddy rock table for the night.
The next day, the group is accosted by an unexpected sight: a native! He craftily ties up Philip and Henry and then takes Susan inside the tent, where he lets the truth slip; he is actually Mario, one of the cooks from the ship. He was only acting like a native in case any other natives showed up, so he would blend in (casual racism++, by the way.) So he and Susan enjoinder to trick the two blithering morons outside by turning the music on the Victrola up reeeeal loud and leaving the rest to their imagination.
Finally, Susan and Mario emerge and reveal their little trick, and before things get any more complicated, a boat arrives and rescues the group. The scene then flashes forward to a short while later, with Henry entering the house of the Ashlow's. He runs into Mario (now the main manservant) and asks to see Susan. When he does, he is prepared to offer her a hand in marriage, since she is single, but he is shocked to see that she's pregnant and she and Philip are going out that instant to get remarried. Dejected in the proper British fashion, Henry walks out as the credits roll.
Mark Robson, perhaps the most inoffensive director in MGM's canon in 1957 (though he would later direct several modern classics, including Von Ryan's Express and Valley of the Dolls), and whose previous credits included the Gary Cooper flop Return to Paradise and the wartime thriller The Ghost Ship, seems now like the perfect person to direct this inoffensive, utterly contrite comedy.
Beyond the inanity of Stewart Granger (who gets by on his 50s smoking jacket charm), who in their right mind wouldn't want Ava Gardner? That having been said, Ava is delightful and flirty as usual, and Niven is passably snooty. The situation is a bit farfetched, but the three play up the subtlety of the nobility in the play (originally by Frenchman André Roussin), with Niven's desert dry wit and frazzled counterpoint being the center stage for most of the laughs.
The film is, of course, sexist at its very nature (as if the battle between Henry and Philip is the only thing that matters towards getting Susan), but its small knock at racism with the Italian boy acting as a "native" is incorrigible. The film has its own flaws (it's essentially a slow but brief one-trick pony) but it certainly gave pause to see such odd stereotyping.
All in all, you could do a lot worse than watch Ava Gardner in skimpy island clothes for 90 minutes, but for my money, this just doesn't quite fit the bill.
Rating: 5 out of 10. Quaint but antiquated, and best left for some film festival on the lesser-explored aspects of sexual frustration amongst castaways.
André Roussin (play)
Ava Gardner .... Lady Susan Ashlow
Stewart Granger .... Sir Philip Ashlow
David Niven .... Henry Brittingham-Brett
Walter Chiari .... Mario
Finlay Currie .... The Rev. Brittingham-Brett
Jean Cadell .... Mrs. Brittingham-Brett
Jack Lambert .... Capt. MacWalt