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February 04, 2006

The Battle of Blood Island


Joel M. Rapp - 1960
Something Weird Video Region 1 DVD

Philip Roth called his autobiography The Facts. Even though it covered the years from his birth through the publication of Portnoy's Complaint, Roth omitted several facts. While Roth mentions that a short story published in a small literary magazine received national attention, he does not cite the title, "The Contest for Aaron Gold", or that the story was adapted for Alfred Hitchcock's television show. Roth mentions being drafted in the late Fifties, but discusses nothing about his time in the Army. Why this is important is that Roth did write two short stories with military settings, although they are set in World War II which occurred when Roth was still a teenager.

When it comes to spotting nascent talent, Roger Corman gets mentioned in association with a slew of actors and directors. I don't know how Corman discovered Philip Roth, but he should get some credit for producing the first feature based on a Roth story. As the IMDb listing does not name the short story or more than the first names of the characters, a little research was required. The Battle of Blood Island is based on a short story titled Expect the Vandals which was published in Esquire, December 1958. This was several months before the publication of Goodbye, Columbus. Expect the Vandals remains as an uncollected short story. While the short story is unavailable, there are a couple of brief mentions of the story which were enough to verify that this was the basis for The Battle of Blood Island. The copyright on the film is for 1959, while IMDb lists 1960 as the release date.

As best as I can tell, the film is faithful to Roth. The story is of two G.I.s, Moe and Ken, the only survivors on a small island occupied by a small group of Japanese soldiers. Moe Malamud is casually Jewish. At one point he refers to his mezuzah as "a good luck charm". While Malamud could be descibed as a secular Jew, he rightly takes great offense when Ken calls him "Jew" in anger. The film title is misleading as the majority of the film is of Moe taking care of the wounded Ken. This is a dialogue driven film, with the only battle being verbal sparring by two guys who think they may be abandoned somewhere in the Pacific.

Joel Rapp has had several careers. The Battle of Blood Island is actually pretty good for a film made on a tiny budget. How small a budget you may ask? To save a few dollars, Roger Corman even has a bit part near the end of the film. While a new DVD version has commentary by Rapp, the Something Weird version is in wide screen. As far as film adaptations of Roth go, it may not have the prestige of The Human Stain or even Goodbye, Columbus, but neither can one complain about the film being miscast, as those films were with Anthony Hopkins and Ali McGraw respectively. It would be nice if one could persuade Philip Roth to face facts and do a commentary track for The Battle of Blood Island, or at least get Expect the Vandals republished.

Check Long Pauses for some thoughts on The Human Stain.

Posted by peter at February 4, 2006 12:01 AM