Thursday, April 26, 2018

Hell and High Water

I had the day off work today, so I was able to watch the FXM Retro showing of Hell and High Water. It's going to be on again tomorrow morning at 8:15 AM, and that's going to be your chance to see it because as far as I can tell it's long out of print on DVD.

The movie starts with a voice-over about a mysterious nuclear test on a Pacific island in 1953. Sadly, the footage is shown in 16:9, which immedately led me to fear that Fox panned-and-scanned this down from the Cinemascope 2.35:1 aspect ratio for TV purposes. Sure enough, the opening credits come on in the correct ratio. And they actually use the Cinemasope aspect ratio to good effect, with the mushroom cloud in brilliant color taking up a central column of the frame, with credits left and right. Anyhow, the credits over, Fox pans-and-scans things back to 16:9 and we get our story.

Professor Montel (Victor Francen) is a French physicist who goes to Vienna for a conference, but never shows up His disapperance is headlines throughout the western world for weeks. Then cut to Tokyo where an American businessman (Richard Widmark) is landing. Some guys pull him aside and calls him Jones, which he insists isn't his name. It is, of course, and these guys who know his real name have some big plans for him.

Jones is taken to a basement hole in the wall, where he finds Prof. Montel! Apparently, there are a lot of people worried about that nuclear explosion, which took place on an island in neutral territory. Since no government can go exploring what happened without setting off an international incident that could lead to war, it's up to the concerned scientists of the world to set up their own committee and investigate. To that end, they've purchased an old Japanese submarine, which they're going to take to the island (maps seem so imply either somewhere off the Aleutians or somewhere in the Kuril Islands off Kamchatka) to investigate. And that's where Jones comes in. He's Captain Adam Jones, a submarine Captain back in World War II.

So Jones assembles his crew; it's amazing how many people were willing simply to drop everything in life to go to Japan and get into a submarine for an unknown mission. Most of these people are Americans, after all, since that's who Jones would have worked with and because the movie needs people who could speak English. In addition to the crew, there's Prof. Montel and his assistant Denise (Bella Darvi), who has been in labs her entire life. Really, though, she's there because they wanted a love interest as well as some dramatic tension over guys cooped up in a submarine and their hormones.

It's going to be a difficult mission, and even more difficult than they had planned. Refurbishing that sub is tough, but they have to break it off early because reports come through that there's a Chinese freighter heading in the direction of the island where the explosion occurred. So the submarine has to head out to sea sooner than planned, which means it's not going to have those torpedoes Capt. Jones insisted on having. And, as it turns out, he could have used them: the freighter is being accompanied by a Chinese submarine. If you've seen one submarine movie -- it doesn't matter which one -- you can imagine the sort of scenes you'll get here.

Anyhow, the investigation takes them first to one island, and then a second, and the horrifying reveal much too late in the game that it's the Chinese Communists up to no good, and that they're doing this because.... Well, I'm not going to give that part away.

The story told in Hell and High Water is serviceable, although it's pedestrian thanks to there only being so many things you can do on a submarine. There's a reason the Love Boat was not a U-Boat. There's also the severe plot hole of why the Chinese Communists are even using a Pacific island. In real life they didn't have a deep-water navy at the time. But furthermore, they had scads of space out in the deserts of western China where they could have performed their nuclear experiments without any fear of anybody coming after them. Also, not being precisely sure of where the explosion was is a bit of a hole, as seismological testing can figure out the location of the mini-earthquakes produced by nuclear testing.

Still, Richard Widmark does a professional job. Bella Darvi shows why she never became a star. She doesn't do much here even though the script seems to want her to do more. Francen is good, and everybody else is pretty much a character type straight out of any navy movie. Hell and High Water is good enough for a viewing, but I can see why it's out of print on DVD.

No comments: