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BLOOD ALLEY(director: William A. Wellman; screenwriters: from the book by A.S. Fleischman/A.S. Fleischman; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: Fred MacDowell; music: Roy Webb; cast: John Wayne (Capt. Tom Wilder), Lauren Bacall (Cathy Granger), Mike Mazurki (Big Han), Berry Kroeger (Old Feng), Paul Fix (Tao), Anita Ekberg (Wei Ling), Joy Kim (Susu, Cathy’s maid); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Wayne; Warner Brothers; 1955)
“Mitchum was lucky to get out of this stinker!”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This anti-communist film based on the book by A.S. Fleischman was the first under John Wayne’s new production company called Batjac, going solo after he split with partner Robert M. Fellows. It was to have starred Robert Mitchum but he didn’t get along with director William A. Wellman and a few days into filming gave honeymooning producer Wayne the alternative of firing Mitchum or he walks. The incident that finally got Wellman’s goat was when Mitchum pushed the film’s location manager into the water. Needing someone to take Mitchum’s place pronto, Wayne was forced into taking the role. I think Mitchum was lucky to get out of this stinker! It was hokey and embarrassing at times to watch Wayne try to follow this risible and implausible script.

Merchant marine captain Tom Wilder (John Wayne) is rotting away in a Chinese commy prison, nearly going mad but helped only by talking to himself as he looks up at the ceiling and converses with an imaginary person he calls “Baby,” when he’s helped by Big Han (Mike Mazurki) to escape while dressed in a Russian uniform and is taken by boat to a nearby village of Chiku Shan. There he’s greeted by village elder Mr. Tao (Paul Fix) and Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall), an American woman whose father is a doctor under duress helping the commie big shots. These village leaders arranged this jailbreak so Wilder can captain an old battered ferryboat with all 180 of the village’s residents plus animals to freedom in Hong Kong. Wilder muses that he’s being asked to navigate the 300 miles down the rough waters of the Formosa Strait without a map and in a boat capable of going only eight knots, and that if the commie gun patrol boats don’t get them then the water will probably tear the boat to pieces. Of course, the Captain accepts the challenge and the challenges are the usual overwrought melodramatics for such a shoddy tale. It includes taking along a pro-Communist family so that their children wouldn’t be executed along with them for allowing the boat to escape. The Red, played by Berry Kroeger, is pictured as a corpulent and vile character who plots to kill the Captain. The anti-communists villagers are all wonderful people who worship at the feet of their white savior.

The production values were handsomely carried out (filmed mostly along the northern California coast), but the result is only a banal actioner. Westerners Paul Fix, Berry Kroeger, and Anita Ekberg were hardly convincing acting as Asians, while the obligatory romance between Wayne and Bacall seemed forced as there were no sparks flying.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”