Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

14 June 2016

We all need to consider diversification

One of my favourite ways of planning is to sit in a chair with a scrap pad and coloured pencils. More often than not my planning sessions are accompanied by background music. Sometimes the background is alternative – it might be a movie or the cricket on the television.

Recently, during one of these planning sessions, while I was considering the need to diversify my own business, the film “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” was aired in the United Kingdom on Sky Movies.

For reasons that will become apparent my thoughts passed to the issue of diversification of Trinidad and Tobago’s economy and the mid-year budget review delivered by the Minister of Finance on the 8th April 2016. I wrote extensively on the mid-year review in an earlier blog entry. This entry can be found online here:


Why Trinidad and Tobago Needs To Diversify – A Little Recap of Some Bad News

During the mid-year budget review delivered by the Minister of Finance on the 8th April 2016 the Minister of Finance stated that in order to ensure the long-term economic growth and sustainability of living standards in Trinidad and Tobago diversification would be essential. Accordingly, the government’s diversification strategies centred around four initiatives:

  • The provision of international financial services
  • The promotion of tourism
  • Maritime activities
  • The promotion of Manufacturing

During the screening of “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison”, I got to thinking why not think about the promotion of large scale, “Hollywood Style”, movie production in Trinidad and Tobago?

You might think that a stupid suggestion but bear with me and read on…


Not a Lot of People Know This – The Golden Age of Hollywood Film Making In T&T

For a short but golden period between 1957 and 1960, Trinidad and Tobago, more by accident than design was a hotbed of Hollywood Movie production. In this golden age three major Hollywood Motion Pictures were made in Trinidad and Tobago (actually they were all made in Tobago but  remember we are all in this together – “together we aspire, together we achieve” etc).

In chronological order those films were:

  • Fire Down Below (1957): An Anglo-American adventure drama film directed by Robert Parrish starring Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, and Jack Lemmon. Fire Down Below was made by Warwick Films and released by Columbia Pictures.


Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957): An Anglo-American war drama film directed by John Huston starring Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum. Heaven Knows, Mr Allison was made and released by Twentieth Century-Fox. The film was nominated for two Oscars including Best Actress for Deborah Kerr. The author is not aware of the exact filming location in Tobago for the movie.


Swiss Family Robinson (1960): A film made in both Tobago and at Pinewood Studios in the UK directed by Ken Annakin starring John Mills and Dorothy McGuire. Swiss Family Robinson was made and released by Walt Disney Productions. Richmond Bay was featured prominently as the Robinsons Beach while Mount Irving Bay was used for the scenes where the boys rescue Bertie from the Pirates. The vine swinging waterfall scenes were filmed at the Craig Hall waterfalls and a treehouse was constructed in a 200 foot Samaan Tree in the Goldsborough Bay Area. At the request of the authorities the Tree House was left in place by the production team but was destroyed by Hurricane Flora in 1963. The tree survived and is located on the property of Roberts Auto and Tyre Shop.

swiss family robinson

More by Accident Than Design?

Trinidad and Tobago became a hot bed of major film activity in the period 1957 to 1960 as a result of the congruence of four factors all of which made it attractive for films to be produced in Trinidad. These four factors were:

The Marshall Plan:

The Marshall Plan was an American initiative to aid the reconstruction of Western Europe after World War II. $13 billion was given to Europe to assist with rebuilding the Western European Economies. The main component elements of the plan ran for 4 years beginning on the 8th April 1948. One part of the Marshall Plan that extended beyond that date related to film production. Accordingly, American film companies were forbidden by the Marshall Plan from taking their profits out of Europe in the form of foreign exchange. In order to use those profits in “Britain” American film companies had to set up production companies using substantial proportions of British film technicians and actors to qualify as a British production. Structuring the film this way also allowed the production company to take advantage of the Eady Levy.

The Eady Levy: The Eady Levy came into effect on the 9th September 1950 and was placed on a statutory basis and extended to the British Empire by the passing of the Cinematographic Film Act of 1957 in the United Kingdom. Under the Eady Levy, a proportion of the ticket price paid by cinema customers was collected as a tax. The total amount collected under the tax was then divided among qualifying British films based upon that films performance at the box office. The better the performance, the bigger the share.

The Cinematographic Film Act 1957: This act placed the Eady Levy on a statutory footing and extended its application to the whole of the British Empire.

The status of Trinidad and Tobago in the period 1957-1960: During this period Trinidad and Tobago was part of the British Empire (as one of Britain’s Caribbean Colonies- and therefore under the terms of the Cinematographic Film Act of 1957 fell under the definition of being “British”.

In other word’s if you take these four factors together, Trinidad and Tobago was a hotbed of filming activity in the period 1957-1960 because incentives existed to encourage people to film in Trinidad and Tobago.

That’s all that was needed then, and logically that’s all that is needed now.

Hollywood Stops Calling

Trinidad and Tobago achieved independence from the United Kingdom and the British Empire on the 31st August 1962. In fact, the writing was on the wall as early as 1958 when the British Sponsored West Indies Federation failed to get off the ground. The rest as they say is history. On achieving independence in 1962, Trinidad and Tobago no longer benefited from the incentives contained in the Cinematographic Film Act of 1957 and Hollywood simply stopped calling.

A Little More about

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

In the production of “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” the producers booked four of Tobago’s (out of a total of eight that existed in 1957) hotels for over six months. To play the part of Japanese soldiers Trinidad’s Chinese restaurants and laundries were raided for 50 extras. Fleets of taxis were commandeered to take the film makers from their hotels to the location on the beach. Local labour was used to build a thatched roof village and a church used as the set for the production. In 1957, the economy of Tobago was in a very sluggish state. The filming of “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” revived it.

If you haven’t seen “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” then you have missed a true beauty of cinematography. Directed by John Huston, “Heaven Knows, Mr Allison” is in many ways similar to his first Oscar winning film “The African Queen.”

“Heaven Knows, Mr Allison”, is stripped down to the bare essentials of two lead characters set against the backdrop of a beautiful location – our own Tobago. Although the film is a war movie, it also manages to be both funny and tender. Deborah Kerr, who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of the British Nun, is superb as is Robert Mitchum in his role as a simple “all-action” US-Marine with a heart of gold.

In any other year “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” would have won more than one Oscar. Unfortunately, 1957 was also the year that “The Bridge over the River Kwai”, “12 Angry Men”, and “Witness for the Prosecution” were released, so it faced the stiffest of competition.

“Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison” remains one of the author’s favourite films, and if anyone knows the exact filming location in Tobago that the film was made the author of this blog entry would love to hear from you.

Heaven-Knows-Mr-Allison 4

Robert Mitchum – an Honorary Trini?




While filming “Fire Down Below” and “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison”, Mitchum fell in love with Trinidad and Tobago and immersed himself in the local culture. He was a regular at local concerts and purchased every available calypso record he could get his hands on. In 1957 he released his own album of calypso songs entitled “Calypso is like so”. This album is still available having been reissued on a regular basis and since 1995 has been available on Compact Disk.


Firstline’s involvement in film

We have contributed funding to the local movie “This Love” and “The Prodigal Son” now in production.

Closing thoughts – time to consider your investing strategies

Firstline Securities Limited offers comprehensive coverage of local and international markets with a bias for the energy sector. Firstline offers a number of unique opportunities to put surplus cash to work either as your asset manager or investment advisor. Please contact us for more details at info@nullfirstlinesecurities.com or at 868.628.1175, we can discuss your investment needs in detail and craft a portfolio that makes sense for you. We look forward to hearing from you.

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