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HELLGATE (directowriter: Charles Marquis Warren; screenwriter: writer & story by John C. Champion; cinematographer: Ernest Miller; editor: Elmo Williams; music: Paul Dunlap; cast: Sterling Hayden (Gil Hanley), Joan Leslie (Ellen Hanley), Ward Bond (Lt. Tod Vorhees), Jim Arness (George Redfield), Richard Emory (Mott), Doctor Pelham (Marshall Bradford), Peter Coe (Jumper Hall), Sheb Wooley (Neill Price), Timothy Carey (Wyand), Kyle James (Vern Brechene); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John C. Champion; Commander Films (Lippert Studios); 1952)
“Offbeat western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is derived from a prison in the desert of New Mexico. It’s set in 1867. Charles Marquis Warren(“Desert Hell”/”Back From The Dead”/”Blood Arrow”) efficiently directs this offbeat western. It’s about an innocent veterinarian who was found guilty of spying for the Rebels during the Civil War, Gil Hanley (Sterling Hayden). The former Confederate soldier is sick of the war and moved with his wife (Joan Leslie) out west to Yankee territory to escape the conflict. But when he treats a mysterious wounded man (Kyle Jame), who turns out to be a Rebel guerrilla fighter, his life radically changes. Before the wounded man leaves, he drops a saddlebag filled with money. The next day the Union Army searches his place and when they find the money, they jump to the conclusion he must be a spy.

Because of the harsh prison conditions the innocent man tries to escape the notorious Hellgate prison, but is caught and punished with solitary confinement. When a guard contacts Typhoid, the town barricades itself from the prison. The hateful warden (Ward Bond) is forced to let Gil cross the desert alone to bring back water, since he’s the only one who knows the way to town from the desert. When he surprisingly returns with the water, the warden relents and pardons the prisoner who saved his life and those of the others in the prison. The warden lies by saying the guerrilla prisoner in sick bay said he was innocent before dying.

It’s a reworking of John Ford’s The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936). John C. Champion writes the story and the screenplay. It’s shot in black and white.

This is one of the more ambitious and better films to come out of Poverty Row’s Lippert Studios.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”