Two Unusual John Wayne Adventures of the 1950s...
Benjamin J Burgraff | Las Vegas | 01/19/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Both only recently released on DVD, 1955's "Blood Alley" and "The Sea Chase" are now available together in a single package, at a very affordable price. Each film offers a view of John Wayne's film work away from the western genre, and are interesting, if not entirely successful, 'period' adventure tales.
The older of the pair, "The Sea Chase", has a novelty value uniquely its own, as the Duke plays a GERMAN sea captain, at the start of WWII! A decorated veteran of WWI, Wayne hates Hitler and the Nazis, but when ordered to return his freighter and crew to home port, he feels honor-bound to comply, despite a British mandate to 'stand down'. Joined prior to departure by a mysterious spy (Lana Turner, in her only teaming with the Duke), Wayne gets his aged ship out of the harbor, and is quickly pursued by a British force, headed by his old friend, Commander Jeff Napier (David Farrar). The story becomes a cat-and-mouse tale, as the freighter attempts to elude British sea power, and reach Germany, safely.
Produced and directed by John Farrow (who had directed Wayne in 1953's "Hondo"), "The Sea Chase", despite earnest performances, never really builds much suspense, and there is a marked lack of chemistry between Wayne and Turner, which sabotages their romantic scenes. Still, the cast includes young Tab Hunter, and many lifelong Wayne friends (including James Arness and Paul Fix), that helps establish an air of camaraderie. Wayne, suffering from a severe ear infection throughout the shoot, makes no effort to adopt a German accent or persona, which gives the film a somewhat surreal 'feel'.
All in all, "The Sea Chase" is, at best, an interesting misfire!
Far more entertaining and successful, "Blood Alley", director 'Wild Bill' Wellman's final collaboration with Wayne (preceded by "Island in the Sky" and "The High and the Mighty"), is not only a rip-roaring 'sea chase' adventure, but another of Wayne's many films endorsing his conservative political ideology. Produced by Wayne, himself (who'd initially hoped to get Robert Mitchum or Humphrey Bogart for the lead), this tale of a sea captain, rescued from the Communist Chinese to transport an entire Chinese village to safety on a broken-down steam ship, never drags.
The film has many 'pluses'; leading lady Lauren Bacall, both beautiful and tough, has terrific chemistry with the Duke (and became a lifelong friend, co-starring in his last film, "The Shootist", over 20 years, later); Wayne's character, 'Tom Wilder', has equal shares of bravura and madness (he talks, frequently, to an imaginary girlfriend, created to help him withstand being tortured), and the Duke obviously enjoyed the role; longtime friend Paul Fix, in Oriental make up, gives one of his better film performances, as a kindly old doctor; and the film is extremely well paced, with tension building as the Communists relentlessly pursue the tiny ship. On the negative side, the politics are stridently right-wing, some of the Chinese characters are stereotypes, and several definitely non-Oriental actors have key 'Chinese' roles (including Mike Mazurki, and an unrecognizable but certainly not Chinese Anita Ekberg). Nonetheless, after fifty years, the film continues to 'hold up' as a very entertaining adventure!
At a 'budget' price, this double feature is certainly worth including in your 'John Wayne' collection!"