The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea (1976) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes in white. Spoilers.

The movie is an adaptation of a Japanese story by the respected author Yukio Mishima. Since the story was about a  uniquely Japanese mind-set, it simply doesn't make the transition into a credible story about Brits and Americans in the 1970's. because the characters are engaged in motivations and behaviors which are unique to a Japanese cultural background.

For example:

A group of adolescent boys is obsessed with the "pure and perfect" order of things. That is a backdrop for some scientific experimentation, and forms the basis of their conversations.

I think you kids who grew up in the US or UK in the 70's will remember similar conversations with your friends.

The unrealistic characterizations are matched by slow pacing and clichéd film devices which were out of fashion thirty years earlier. At one point the American sailor and his British lover are separated. The director fills in with shots of a ship's prow cutting through the waves, and we see the little route line filling in on nautical maps, while their letters are heard in voice-over. This seems to go on forever.


Sarah Miles shows all possible bodily parts in sex and masturbation scenes.

Kris Kristofferson shows his buns.

In fact, the whole film seems longer than Lawrence of Arabia, and it moves so languidly that I even fast-forwarded through the sex and masturbation scenes which, although fairly long in duration, are not lit well, and are not really either very passionate or very erotic. 

If slow development and unrealistic situations aren't enough to turn you off, you'll also find that every single character in the film is despicable except Kris Kristofferson as the sailor. The sexually frustrated widow is complete unlikable. Her son's friends are monsters. Her son -  well, he kinda falls in with a bad crowd after his dad dies, and they help him plot some evil against the sailor, who is the first man to enter his mum's life. Now this gang of kids is a really bad crowd. They don't just shoplift and smoke dope, nosireebib. They slip a mickey to a cat and vivisect it. This is shown in gory detail. But of course, this is only a warm-up so they can do the same thing to Kristofferson!

Kristofferson himself is amiable enough in the role of any old everyman American doofus. He basically plays the part of Kris Kristofferson in an ill-fitting sailor hat, but he just doesn't have the acting skills to bring much to the role. His acting basically consists of mumbling in a gravelly voice and staring. On the other hand, perhaps we don't really want get too involved with him, considering his ultimate fate.

To give the devil his due, the photography is both artistically and technically excellent, but that isn't enough to keep you watching because the movie moves so slowly, with no characters to relate to, and the minimal action is unrelentingly morbid and unrealistically motivated. Sarah Miles did a good job with her part, but she appears to be the only professional actor in the movie. To top it all off, the ending is about as unsatisfying as any movie you'll ever see.

This all might have made some sense if the Japanese locale and cultural context had been retained. As it stands, it is just abysmal.

Other notes:

  • The film became most famous for the off-screen romantic cavorting of Kristofferson and Miles. I guess Sarah and Kris really enjoyed the sex scenes. They even staged some extra ones for a men's magazine, and then continued when the cameras stopped rolling. Kristofferson was married to Rita Coolidge at the time and she was not amused. Kris has said in interviews that he'd like to take this chapter out of his life. Apparently he and Rita had a pretty good thing going, and he blew it when he had this public affair with Miles, then regretted it too late. Too bad we can't enjoy the sex scenes as much as they did. Unlike other similar examples of when people fell in love on camera, like Wild Orchid, none of that passion appeared on camera in "Sailor"
  • Miles, by the way. is now back working again, after virtually disappearing in the late 80's. She is now 60.
  • This was the first film Lewis John Carlino ever directed. The last was Class - the film where the prep school kid has an affair with his roommate's mom (Jacqueline Bisset).
  • By the way, this title will not work for you in Charades if you play against film buffs or charades buffs. Once you sign "movie", and "nine words", expert players shout out this title before they even receive any clues.


The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (1976) is a very strange UK film based on a Japanese novel. The setting and characters have been changed from Japan and Japanese to Dartmouth, England and an English widow, her son, and an American sailor. The woman, Sarah Miles, is a normal healthy woman, and more than a little horny. Her adolescent son belongs to a secret society of classmates led by a very bright but twisted rich kid. While restricted to his room as a punishment for sneaking out at night, he finds a peep hole into his mothers room, and is treated to her applying lotion to her breasts, and even masturbating one night. A large ship enters the harbor for repairs, and Miles takes her son for a tour, because he is keen on anything nautical. Kris Kristofferson is the first mate, and leads the tour. Miles invites him to a thank you dinner, and the two end up in her bed.

Spoilers Ahead

The son watches keenly, but has determined that Kristofferson is the first adult he has known who fits in the natural order of things. His view changes when Kristofferson returns to give up the sea and marry his mother. He and his friends lure Kristofferson to a remote area, slip him a Mickey, and castrate him, thus restoring the natural order.

End Spoilers

This evidently made perfect sense in the oriental setting and culture, but was just odd set in England.

There are positives. The sex scenes between Miles and Kristofferson are as hot and explicit as any in mainstream cinema, and were groundbreaking in the 70's. The photography is beautiful. Miles and Jonathan Kahn as the son both received Golden Globe nominations. Despite all that, this film seems like it goes on much longer than its actual 105 minute running time, and I was glad to see it end.

The Critics Vote

  • no reviews online.

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this film is a C-, I guess, based upon the fact that some people find it "fascinating viewing". I certainly didn't."  Tuna says, "It is competently filmed and acted, but it unfathomable except as a tale of a group of adolescents led astray by one very strong but twisted kid."

Return to the Movie House home page