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  Hell and High Water No Subs For This Sub
Year: 1954
Director: Samuel Fuller
Stars: Richard Widmark, Bella Darvi, Victor Francen, Cameron Mitchell, Gene Evans, David Wayne, Stephen Bekassy, Richard Loo
Genre: Drama, Action, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: There has been a massive explosion in the North Pacific, and all indications are that detonation was atomic, which means someone is setting off A-bombs - but in preparation for what? The world wonders, but some people are going to do something about it, and respected scientist Professor Montel (Victor Francen) is one of them, telling the press about his concerns. But shortly after, the boffin disappears from public sight, leaving a mystery behind, one which submarine commander Captain Adam Jones (Richard Widmark) discovers the solution to by agreeing to pilot a sub for a cabal of private citizens. Montel is among them, and so is... a woman!

What in blue blazes?! A woman onboard a submarine?! Well, you would like to think that old seafaring superstition about females being bad luck on a vessel had gone the way of the dinosaurs by now, but back in 1954, it was still enough of a thing to be judged ideal material to take up a good chunk of the plot of a mainstream action flick. Director Samuel Fuller was the man behind this, presenting one of his torn from the headlines adventures where he crowbarred current events into his genre movies, the genre in this case being the submarine one, where a usually all-male cast would get sweaty and claustrophobic beneath the waves like so many sardines in a can.

The woman here was someone who caused a lot of disruption in real life, and never had any respect in Hollywood, one Bella Darvi, who was the protégé 20th Century Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck and his wife Virginia discovered on the gambling tables of Monte Carlo. Darvi (not her real name, her adopted moniker came from the letters of her mentors' names) had suffered a truly awful upbringing, as a Nazi concentration camp survivor, and had decided once womanhood dawned to try her luck at cards and roulette. She didn't have any more luck there, racking up substantial debts the smitten Zanuck paid off, then whisked her away to Hollywood where she would be hugely popular.

Or that was the idea, but everyone who met her could tell she was trouble, she had no talent, and was purely in the movies because of her sugar daddy Zanuck. She made three high profile films until Virginia found out her error in welcoming a nubile starlet into her home, and that was it for Darvi; she made a few more films in Europe, but her failures and survivor's trauma were too much, so she committed suicide aged forty-two. It would be nice to say at least she had a good time making Hell and High Water, but she didn't, Widmark couldn't stand her and Fuller solely put up with her because his boss was insisting on it, and he held the purse strings. For all these reasons, it is guiltily interesting to watch this and see how Darvi measured up, and actually she's really no worse than many a Brigitte Bardot contemporary exported to English language movies.

But what about that plot? Reputedly mistaken for a true story by some at the time (!) this was utter nonsense on paper, the usual Cold War paranoia, here applied to the Chinese and the fears they could get the bomb, but Fuller was too talented not to make at least some tension out of the shenanigans. There were sequences where Jones' sub has to play a perspiring waiting game on the bottom of the ocean with an enemy sub eager to blow them out of the water, or the final act raid on the island that indicated someone in the nineteen-eighties was taking notes on how to construct an action movie from Fuller's template, here the ideal mercenaries on a mission plot. If you like pure pulp with a supposedly politically engaged streak that was difficult to take seriously, this would do the trick, and there was a sense of urgency to its drama that was very indicative of the era. Whether you found Darvi as much of a distraction as everyone in 1954 did, was a matter of taste (or tolerance). Music by Alfred Newman (great, stirring opening theme).

[Eureka release this fully restored on their Masters of Cinema label with an audio commentary, generic Richard Widmark doc and trailer as extras, plus a booklet. It also features HOH subtitles.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Samuel Fuller  (1911 - 1997)

Pioneering independent director, best known for his tough 60s thrillers. Fuller began his career in Hollywood in the mid-1930s, and after a spell in the army and many frustrated years as a writer, directed his first film in 1949, the Western I Shot Jesse James. Fuller's third film, The Steel Helmet, was the first movie to deal with the Korean war and was a huge success. Other films Fuller made in the 50s include Pickup on South Street, House of Bamboo and Run of the Arrow.

The 1960s saw Fuller deliver dark, ground-breaking thrillers like Underworld USA, Shock Corridor and the infamous The Naked Kiss, which divided critics with their mix of melodrama and brutal realism. Fuller subsequently found it hard to find employment in Hollywood and largely worked as an actor throughout the 70s. The 1980 war movie The Big Red One was something of a comeback, but his next film, the anti-racist White Dog caused yet more controversy, and it has rarely been seen in its intended form. Fuller's final feature was the 1989 crime drama Street of No Return, although he worked in TV until the mid-90s. Died in 1997 aged 86.

 
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