Monday, November 13, 2017

Five Gates to Hell

A few weeks back I mentioned the movie Five Gates to Hell that was completely new to me. I made it a point to watch it since it's coming up again on FXM Retro tomorrow morning at 9:20 AM and then again Wednesday morning at 8:35 AM.

The movie didn't start off promising, since the opening credits were both letterboxed and pillarboxed. That's a pretty good sign that FXM is only going to show the credits in Cinemascope and then pan-and-scan the rest of the movie. Sure enough that's what happened. On to the story, Athena (Dolores Michaels) is a Red Cross nurse at a field hospital in French Indochina in 1950. The Vietnamese were of course fighting for their independence from the French, but the disparate staff at the hospital try to be neutral in whom they treat. Athena is American and the daughter of a diplomat in Hanoi; there's a French head nurse, a Brit, a German, a Japanese, a nun and a couple of American doctors.

Eventually, a group Vietnamese decide to attack the hospital. Led by Chen Pamok (Neville Brand), the attack isn't a terrorist attack, but one with a more serious purpose. He needs doctors and nurses, because the ultimate commander of his group of guerrillas is sick and, in all likelihood terminally ill. But Chen wants to get the man medical care, even if he has to kidnap doctors and nurses to do so.

Chen and his fighters take the medical staff to a castle high atop a hill. The doctors and nurses would like to escape, but that's going to be extremely difficult because the journey to and from the castle has a number of bottlenecks that are the only way through -- the "gates" from the title. Chen, for his part, wants Athena for his wife, not that she's going to accept that proposal. Still, with a heavily fortified fortress, how are they going to escape?

Five Gates to Hell is a movie that has a good premise, but it's a movie that winds up being less than the sum of its parts. Part of that has to do with looks like a low budget to me; watching the movie I couldn't help but get the feeling something was missing. A bigger problem, I think, is the script, which gives some of the women motivations for the actions that aren't quite believable. Worse is the dialogue it gives poor Neville Brand. The writers at least explained away having a white guy play Vietnamese by saying that his mother was a westerner who died in childbirth, but he's given a command of English that's only slightly above "Me Tarzan, you Jane". Every time Brand opens his mouth the movie comes to a screeching halt.

Still, Five Gates to Hell isn't as bad as some of the IMDb reviewers make it out to be. It's more mediocre through and through than anything else. The movie is, in fact, available on DVD courtesy of the Fox MOD scheme.

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