Sunday, September 29, 2019

Blood Alley

Another recent DVR viewing for me was Blood Alley.

John Wayne plays Tom Wilder, a merchant marine captain who has been in a Communist Chinese prison for some time for reasons that don't quite make sense to me. Granted, the US and mainland China didn't have diplomatic relations at the time, but you think they would have deported him. At any rate, Tom isn't going to be in jail much longer as he's sprung by some mysterious Chinese villagers.

They have good reasons for breaking him out of jail, too. They hate the Communist government, and have decided that they're going to try to escape. Their audacious plan is to commandeer a boat and sail it all the way to Hong Kong! (I think Taiwan would have been nearer, so another odd plot point.) They need Tom because he's a ship's captain, which is the one thing they don't have in the village. And indeed, pretty much the entire village is going to try to escape.

They have everything else, from a family that has sided with the Communists, headed by Old Feng (Berry Kroeger), and another American: Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall), who stayed behind with her missionary doctor father after the Communist takeover because she was profoundly stupid. Dad isn't around because he was shanghaied into taking care of a bigwig in the nearest big city; if the bigwig dies, so will her Dad.

Eventually, the villagers are able to get that boat, but getting it to Hong Kong is going to be quite the feat. This is a river ferry, most definitely not designed for an ocean voyage because of how top-heavy it is. The boat is also overcrowded with people, and doesn't have enough food to begin with. Never mind that the Communists decide to poison the food supply since they don't want any of the non-Communists to escape. They even break out of the brig to attack Tom at one point.

And then there's Cathy, who's still stupid. She insists at one point on getting off the boat to go into town to see what happened to her father, even though we all know he's already dead. (Tom didn't have the heart to break the news to Cathy). She's so obnoxious that I would have given serious consideration to letting her strand herself on the mainland.

Blood Alley is a movie in a firm tradition of people trying to escape from various forms of totalitarianism. I know I've mentioned Escape from East Berlin and Man on a Tightrope from among those with people fleeing Communism; there's also The Mortal Storm for people escaping Nazism. So the premise of Blood Alley isn't all that bad.

Unfortunately, the execution leaves something to be desired. Unsurprisingly, there weren't enough Asian actors to give the big villager roles to, so the biggest ones go to Caucasians. In addition to the previously mentioned Kroeger, there's also Mike Mazurki as the muscle behind the escape, and Paul Fix (yes, Micah Torrance from The Rifleman) as the brains. Fix actually does a good job with a silly role. The big problem is that this particular escape is particularly unrealistic. That, and Lauren Bacall's character, who had to have known long before getting off the boat for the last time that she was never going to see her father again.

Still, despite all it's problems, you could find worse ways to spend two hours of your time than to watch Blood Alley if you want something you haven't seen before. But it's not something I'm going to look to rewatch. Blood Alley is available on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive.

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