Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Island in the Sun (1957)

This week’s selection as part of TODD MASON’S weekly series OVERLOOKED FILMS is the 1957 feature directed by Robert Rossen, Island in the Sun. The film has an all-star cast that includes Stephen Boyd, Harry Belafonte, Joan Fontaine, Joan Collins, Dorothy Dandridge and James Mason.

Controversial at the time of release, the film deals with the topic of miscegenation. Check out the trailer below:


Surely the film has some flaws, namely the lack of chemistry in the Fontaine/Belafonte dynamic. I for one never buy them as a plausible couple. And the Dandridge / John Justin coupling is only that much more believable. Much like Darryl F. Zanuck’s other attempt to tackle racial issues, Pinky (1947), Island in the Sun fires but ultimately does not strike a resonate chord.

At the time of the film’s release, critical reception was largely negative with several groups concerned with the ‘unsuitability’ of the film’s central plotline. In spite of this, the film was financially successful for the studio (20th Century Fox).

So you may ask, why am I highlighting it as an overlooked film? Despite its shortcomings, I think that it is a film that should be seen for the following reasons:

  • Given the era in which it was produced, it was an admirable effort to tackle racial politics. In that way, it is a ‘successful failure.’
  • Any opportunity to see Dorothy Dandridge on screen is well worth it. She was an immense talent who unfortunately did not fit the mold of Hollywood starlet and her career tragically suffered for it.
  • For viewers who only know Joan Collins (below) from her TV role in Dynasty, here is an opportunity to see her in an earlier role. Stay tuned for a plot twist involving her character.

Until next …


  1. Oh, yes! Great forgotten film to highlight for all the reason you state. Remember, many states in the U.S. at the time of release still had strict laws against miscegenation so this an ahead of its time movie and subject. Even the later decades in the 20th century, post such laws, societal pressures against were still brought to bear on those who crossed such lines. And I very much agree about the talented Dorothy Dandridge. She was an exceptional actress and singer woefully overlooked that died far too early. Excellent post.
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    • Dandridge’s bio by Donald Bogle was pretty good too. After watching “The Loving Story” if memory serves, I recall them mentioning that Mississippi still had anti-miscegenation laws on the books until 2000 or something like that. Even if was not enforced, that is just plain sad.

  2. NIce! I do love this feature as I often learn of films I had not ever heard of!! Thanks
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    • Thanks Scott! I will try to keep them coming. It is easier with older films so for the next couple of weeks, I will probably focus on films from 30s-50s.

  3. Patti Abbott says:

    I’d forgotten all about Stephen Boyd until I read this. Oh major crush on him. That chin!

  4. Wow the cast here is awesome! I’ve been meaning to see another film w/ Stephen Boyd where he’s a good guy, I mean I only knew him as the evil Messala from Ben-Hur. I actually have The Bravados to watch where Boyd also plays a baddie, he is so good looking, no wonder, he’s Irish 😀
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  5. But what’s the Joan Collins’ plot twist? Did I miss something?

    Thanks so much for reminding me of this movie – I hadn’t seen it in many years. Yes, it was daring in its time. I give Otto Preminger kudos for attempting something pertinent and different.

    I love Harry Belafonte on film. He was SO good looking….sigh. Remember THE WORLD, THE FLESH and THE DEVIL? I think that was title of the movie. I’m going to write about it at some point – my problem is that I can find very little about it online. I’ll have to keep digging.That was a film in which the film-makers cop out on the racial angle in the end. But still, a movie worth looking for.

    John Justin. I remember him from THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD. He was an incredibly beautiful actor.

    Now that I think on it, I’m going to go see if Netflix has ISLAND IN THE SUN…You made me do it. 🙂

    Oh, before I forget – I have a Harry Belafonte story.
    When I was still in highschool, I used to eat lunch every day at a small place that had the best burgers and best sandwiches in Manhattan – at least I thought so.

    Anyway, one day I walk in and sit at th counter (the place was so small it had no tables) and order my ususal when I notice that the man sitting next to me looks familiar. I glance sideways and gasp! It was Harry Belafonte enjoying a hamburger. The man was so incredibly handsome up close and personal – he took my breath away.

    I almost slid off the stool onto the floor. But I tried my best to be cool. I didn’t jabber or froth at the mouth or even squeal. I just nibbled at my sandwich (which tasted like sawdust) and did my best to show sophisticated indifference.

    Belafonte smiled at me. 🙂

    I knew a girl who baby sat for him and his wife – they had small kids then. So I heard about some of the drama that went on at chez Belafonte. But that’s for another day….
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    • 🙂 Great story!

      Odds Against Tomorrow was a really gritty look at a similar topic that also starred Belafonte.

      Re: Joan Collins – Well not really a twist, much more her “discovery.” Don’t want to give too much away. Also possible that I am misremembering details of the story. I am going straight off of recall for this week’s pick 🙂

  6. Oops, I attributed the film to Otto Preminger in error. Sorry.
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  7. Loved this film when I was a teenager….the music, the colour, the scenery, the actors. Eventually went to live in the West Indies and it was exactly like that.
    Funnily enough I’ve just found the book by Alec Waugh and m reading it with delight. Takes me back soooo many years ago!

    • Sounds like you’ve had quite an interesting life!

      • Helen Ferrieux says:

        Yup – I ‘ve lived Manchester uk, then in Malta, then in Eton, (UK again) and then in France, and then in the French West Indian island of Guadeloupe and then in Israel and now in the South of France. No, Interpol is not on my tail!!

  8. Great review!

    We’re linking to your article for Harry Belafonte Tuesday at SeminalCinemaOutfit.com

    Keep up the good work!

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