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FIRE DOWN BELOW (director: Robert Parrish; screenwriters: Irwin Shaw/from the novel by Max Catto; cinematographer: Desmond Dickinson; editor: Jack Slade; music: Arthur Benjamin/Vivian Comma/Douglas Gamley/Kenneth V. Jones/Jack Lemmon; cast: Rita Hayworth (Irena), Robert Mitchum (Felix Bowers), Jack Lemmon (Tony), Herbert Lom (Harbor Master), Bonar Colleano (Lt. Sellars), Bernard Lee (Dr. Sam Blake), Edric Conner (Jimmy Jean), Anthony Newley (Miguel), Edric Pohlmann (Hotel Owner), John Miller (Mr. Canaday), Peter Illing (Captain of Ulysses), Lionel Murton (American); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Irving Allen/Albert Broccoli; Columbia; 1957-UK)
“The film gets right the Caribbean atmosphere (filmed in Trinidad) but nearly drowns over its turgid melodramatics and how perfunctory it’s all played out.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Editor-turned-director Robert Parrish (“The Wonderful Country”/”In the French Style”/”Cry Danger”) directs in an unconvincing flat style and writer Irwin Shaw tries to keep things torrid but even he quits being convincing after awhile and moves from a love triangle tale to a disaster movie tale, as he bases his leaky romantic adventure screenplay on the novel by Max Catto. The film gets right the Caribbean atmosphere (filmed in Trinidad) but nearly drowns over its turgid melodramatics and how perfunctory it’s all played out.

Clean-cut ladies man Tony (Jack Lemmon) and former rummy Felix (Robert Mitchum) are co-owners of a dicey tramp-steamer service based on the island of San Juan. A nervous American businessman (Lionel Murton) pays them to take the mysterious world-weary bad girl Irena (Rita Hayworth) to a neighboring French West Indies island on the secret, because she has no valid papers. The sexy femme fatale, who says such laughable things in such a serious tone as “Armies in Berlin have marched all over me,” stirs both men up with her hot body. This causes a jealous misogynistic Felix to play dirty with his partner-friend when the tramp chooses to marry Tony. Both agree to dissolve the partnership and sell the boat, but Tony proposes that they smuggle one last shipment of contraband before splitting the profits. Felix cautions him not to marry Irena and when not listened to, tells him to take the boat without him. During Tony’s smuggling trip, a Coast Guard cruiser suddenly appears and Tony and his loyal mate Jimmy Jean (Edric Conner) jump overboard to avoid arrest and swim safely to shore. The vengeful Tony, certain that Felix betrayed him and packing a gun, signs on as a crew-member aboard a Greek freighter. But, if you will, the freighter collides with an ocean liner near the dock and Tony is the only sailor trapped below deck unable to be freed by the U.S. Navy and unwilling to have Dr. Sam (Bernard Lee), the port’s physician, amputate his legs to free him. Time begins running out before the freighter, which has a fire aboard that can’t be extinguished, and Tony is uncommunicative about what to do except refusing amputation. Felix and Irena are called in to talk some sense into the lad. In Tony’s absence, Irena and Felix came together knowing they were meant for each other: being jaded types who have betrayed many others and understand each other only too well.

The powerhouse cast is wasted amid such beautiful Caribbean scenery into saying lame lines that could put a damper on any film. The film received much hype because it featured the return of Rita Hayworth after an almost four-year absence from films, and “bad boy” Mitchum was in it as well as rising star Lemmon. Lemmon was so inspired that he created his own harmonica theme used in the film, while Mitchum got into the swing of the island’s music by soon after cutting a Calypso record – “Is Like So.” The trio and director bonded well, too bad the film didn’t jell as well.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”