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A Town Like Alice

(1956 b 116')

En: 6 Ed: 6

Based on Nevil Shute’s novel and a historical situation, English women and children in Malaya are captured by Japanese soldiers and are made to walk from camp to camp before they find a place to stay.

         An attorney asks Jean Paget (Virginia McKenna) if she wants to go back to Malaya after all that has happened, and she says she does. She has come in to money and wants to go back to the people who took them in during the war. She wants to dig a well.

         In Malaya a bus stops in the countryside, and Jean gets out and is greeted by a native woman. Jean pumps water from the new well, and people celebrate by dancing. Her friend asks her what she will do now. Jean does not want to get married. She remembers that day in 1942.

         Jean is typing, and Mr. Holland (John Fabian) comes in and says they must get on a train to escape the Japanese invasion. Jean stops to answer the phone, and Mrs. Holland (Eileen Moore) tells her she cannot manage the children on her own. Outside Mr. Holland tries to get a car started.

         Jean is helping Mrs. Holland pack. Mr. Holland arrives in a car, and he tells them to hurry. They leave with their three children and Jean right away. As he is driving, the car engine stops. He tries to fix it. They hear a machine gun nearby. They hear a car coming and hide in the ditch by the road. An officer speaking English finds them and helps them into the back of the truck that is crowded with others. The officer burns his car so that the Japs won’t get it.

         The officer delivers thirty-five people, and the man says he can put them on fishing boats. They get out of the truck and go into an office. Arthur gives Ellen (Maureen Swanson) a cigarette. They learn the fishing boat has put out to sea. The phone rings, and the man says they sent it back. A boat is approaching with Japanese soldiers, and shooting is heard. Three men outside are killed. The Japanese march forward and take down the British flag. A little boy runs up to them, and they pass him by. His mother calls him, and he runs into the office. The soldiers come in. The men are told to face the wall, and women are told to line up. A soldier takes their jewelry. They are told to bow to the Japanese officer, but few do. The Japanese Sergeant says the men must go to a prison camp now, and they say goodbye and get into the back of the truck. Mr. Holland is the last one in, and Mrs. Holland cries. The truck drives off.

         Japanese soldiers raise the Japanese flag at a camp with barbed-fire fences. In the office the Sergeant tells the women they are going back to the city. A woman asks where the truck is, and he says they must walk the fifty miles. He tells her she must apologize and bow, but she refuses. Jean runs out and stands by her as she bows. Jean makes an excuse. The soldiers order them to march, and the women and children walk down the road.

         They are told to stop for a rest. A woman asks for quinine for Mrs. Frith (Nora Nicholson). They warn a woman not to drink the dirty water. They are ordered to continue walking.

         They come near to Kuala Lumpur. One of the women serves soup to them. Jean is asked to have Mrs. Frith share the quinine. A Japanese officer tells them they are going to a port, and a woman says that is fifty miles. Mrs. Holland is laying down and asks to see her little boy. She asks Jean to take care of him, and she dies.

         At a store Jean tries to barter two pairs of sandals for some kind of milk or food. A native woman makes the man give her four cans of milk. She notices that Jean’s blouse is torn, and she gives her a dress. An older lady carries two suitcases.

         On a road two Australians are working on a truck. Eight women meet Joe Harman (Peter Finch) and Ben (Vincent Ball). Jean says they ran out of medicine, and she asks Joe for quinine. The Japanese soldiers call the women.

         At night Joe fills two cans with gas from the truck, and they sneak into the village. Joe offers petrol to a native in a Japanese truck for quinine. Joe whistles to Jean, and she sneaks into the jungle. He gives her quinine and some Chinese medicine. He asks her not to go right away and gives her a Japanese cigarette. They smoke them. A Japanese soldier approaches the hut, and Mrs. Frith comes out and bows. He goes away. Joe and Jean talk about his town of Alice. Jean goes back in the hut.

         The women walk and arrive at the port. They are told to go on and walk in the rain. They walk on a dusty road and are turned away from a prison camp. They arrive at a large house that is run down. They discover a bath tub with running water and a shower. They are able to get clean.

         They walk in the country, and the Sergeant (Takagi) takes off his boot. Freddie walks among ferns and finds bananas. He sees a snake and cries. The Sergeant finds him, sees the snake, and carries the boy. He puts him down, and Jean figures out he means “snake.” Another woman sucks out the poison from his ankle, but Freddie dies.

         A Japanese officer tells them he has no rations for them, and they must leave the school. Mrs. Dudley Frost (Marie Lohr) asks if they have a ship. The officer calls Jean and tells her he has orders that no more prisoners are to go to Singapore. She asks if they can build their own camp, but he says there is no food there. They must go to a prison camp, and she says it is two hundred miles to Kuantan. He tells Jean she can stay there, but she walks away. He calls to pretty Ellen, and she gets in the car and goes with him.

         Joe and Ben are working on trucks in a prison camp. Joe sees Jean outside the fence and tries to talk to her. She says they are going to Kuantan, and he says they go there every week.

         They cross a stream and carry a child on a stretcher. An older woman falls in the mud, and another older woman helps her. Brenda’s mother asks Jean for quinine and accuses her of using it. The Sergeant (Takagi) pours a cup of water for Brenda, and they share it with other children too. Jean cries. A woman sings. They leave behind grave markers for Ebbey and three children.

         Joe drives a truck with Ben and a Japanese soldier. He sees six women walking on the road and throws out a package as he drives by. Jean gets a letter. At night Joe and Ellen sit in the truck and talk. He offers to scrounge for her, and she says okay.

         Joe drives and sings with Ben, and they arrive at the Kuantan supply depot. They bow to Captain Sugaya (Tran Van Khe). At night Joe is in the barn, and Captain Sugaya walks outside. Joe grabs a fat chicken.

         The next day three women and Jean are plucking feathers off chickens. The Sergeant comes, and Jean gives him one. Soon he, the women, and a boy are eating chicken. A Japanese officer arrives and asks where they got the chicken. Jean says they bought it, but he shows her the feathers and grabs her. Joe drives up in the truck and is taken where she is being punished. He confesses he stole the chickens and gave them to her. She begs them not to kill him. Two soldiers carry Joe away as she cries.

         The soldiers have built a platform by a large tree while the women watch. Sugaya is in charge, and Joe is put on the platform. Jean is praying and faints. At night they watch as an officer shines a light to see if Joe is still alive. Sugaya is summoned from the house, and he tells the women they have done bad things. He says he is sending them to another prison camp, and they must walk. Sugaya says that the prisoner was executed not for stealing but for hitting a Japanese guard. Sugaya asks Joe what his last wish is. Then Sugaya tells Ben and the other men they can have him.

         On a beach Jean takes the boy Robin from the Sergeant.

         The Sergeant and the women walk in the rain. Later they arrive in a village, and two women are helping the Sergeant walk. At night Mrs. Frith cares for the ill Sergeant. Jean gets a photo from his pocket and shows him his children. He cries and dies. She says you cannot really hate people. They remember Joe.

         In the village Jean talks to the men and says they have walked for hundreds of miles, and no Japanese will take them in. The leader quotes the Koran, and she quotes it that helping women pleases God. She asks if they can work for their food and for a place to sleep. He says they have little food and water. She says they will grow more food. He says the Japanese may kill them. She says the women are in his hands.

         The women work with the peasants in the rice paddies. Miss Horsefall (Jean Anderson) carries a bundle on her head.

         Jean recalls how they worked there for three years, and she watched Robin grow. She tells an old man how a prisoner stole food for them and was crucified. He says the man was in a hospital for a long time. He finds out if the man lived or died. Jean learns that he was taken to a hospital and lived. Jean says she must find out if he got home.

         Jean is in a car, and the driver takes him to Jack, who knows everyone. She asks if Joe Harman came there after the war. She asks about his family, and Jack says Joe is not married.

         Jean goes in an airplane that lands on a field. Sam gives Jean a ride in his jeep. She asks where Joe Harman is, and he says he went off for a couple months.

         In a city office Joe tells a man that he does not know Jean very well. The man says he came to England to look for her while she went to Australia to find him.

         At an airport Jean puts on lipstick. Joe gets off a plane and asks if there is a message for him. Jean speaks to him, and they embrace.

         This drama portrays the hardship people suffered because of Japan’s imperialistic war and the callous treatment of their many prisoners. The Malayans help some of them survive.

Copyright © 2010 by Sanderson Beck

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