Sunday, January 26, 2014

One Foot in Hell

I didn't want to say anything this morning, but the real reason I wasn't going to blog about Closely Watched Trains today is that there was somwthing else I wanted to blog about. FMC showed One Foot in Hell earlier today, and are showing it again tomorrow morning at 9:30 AM.

Alan Ladd plays Mitch Garrett, who at the start of the movie is migrating westward with his wife. The two left their home in Georgia after the Civil War, since Sherman's march through the state resulted in their home being burned to the ground and their being left with nothing. The couple are near the town of Blue Springs in the Arizona Territory, with Mitch's wife heavily pregant but also seriously ill. Mitch takes her to town to see the doctor, and has to spend his last two dollars on a hotel room for the night -- cash up front since he's a stranger. This means that when Mitch sees the pharmacist, he doesn't have the $1.87 to pay for the medicine his wife needs. Mitch tries to take the medicine at gunpoint, which leads to the sheriff being called in. This delay ultimately results in the wife dying. Thw townsfolk, in order to try to make it up to Mitch, offer him almost any job he wants.

Mitch takes up the job of deputy sheriff, but he really only does so because he's got ulterior motives. The first time the cattle come in, Mitch meets itinerant laborer Dan Keats (Don Murray). Dan is, like Mitch, a transplant from the vanquished South, his parents having owned hardscrabble farmland in Virginia that was destroyed by the Union. Dan's been reduced to a drunkard who makes a little extra money by offering to draw portraits of people. Mitch, seeing somebody who has no real goal in life, decides he can use Dan in his ultimate plan, which is going to be robbing the Bank of Blue Springs, which holds all of the town's money. Mitch still holds a grudge against the town's citizens whom he sees as responsible for killing his wife. Dan goes off to Royce City on the border with Mexico, followed a couple of days later by Sheriff Mitch. Unfortunately, Dan has complicated things a bit by getting drunk, and telling Mitch's plan to Julie, one of the women working in the bordello (Dolores Michaels). She by default has to become part of the plan. Mitch elists two other aimless men, a British man with a gun up his sleeve Harry Ivers (Dan O'Herlihy), and quick-draw man Stu Christian (Barry Coe), since neither of those two have ever been seen in Blue Springs.

The five all return to Blue Springs for the heist, which of course you know is eventually going to go wrong. Thanks to the Production Code, you couldn't have a heist that worked out in the end. Everybody had to expiate their since. So, the reason to watch a movie like this is to see what goes wrong and how. Sometimes, it looks like the original heist works, as we saw in the recently-recommended The Sicilian Clan, or to a lesser extent in The Asphalt Jungle -- although an alarm gets tripped off in the latter complicating things almost immediately. Here, there's no alarm, so instead something is going to go wrong after the heist. That something turns out to be Mitch. In addition to hating the townsfolk, he deliberately hired aimless men for his plan so that, while playing the part of sheriff, he could round them up and kill them, leaving him as the only one with the money, and allowing him to retire with his ill-gotten gains. Of course, things don't work out that way, but you're going to have to watch the movie to see exactly how things fail.

One Foot in Hell isn't the world's greatest movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, either. Alan Ladd isn't a particular favorite of mine, but there's nothing wrong with him here, at least in terms of Ladd's acting. Sure his character is a jerk, but that's not the actor's fault when a character is written that way. Don Murray is pretty good as the guy whose character changes when he sobers up, while Dolores Michaels is inoffensive while being nice to look at. Coe and O'Herlihy are more nondescript, but then their characters were hired precisely because they were throwaway characters.

Unfortunately, the FMC print is panned-and-scanned except for the credits, which is a shame because you can see from the credits that the cinematography looks like it would be nice. Amazon lists the movie as having gotten DVD release from the Fox Cinema Archive MOD scheme, although I'm not certain of the aspect ratio of that print. Amazon lists 16:9, while some of the reviewers suggest it's the Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1, although some of those reviews are clearly not of the Fox MOD release, but of a European release.

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