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Duncan Craig signs on a whaling ship, partly because his own business deal has fallen through, partly to help Judie Nordhall find her father. Rumor has it that her father may have been murdered by Erik Bland, son of her father's partner and her one-time lover. Duncan and Erik find themselves on rival whaleboats and, ultimately, on an ice floe. Written by
Ed Stephan <email@example.com>
Hell Below Zero finds Alan Ladd as an American flying to Capetown to see about some mining investments. He meets Joan Tetzel on the plane and is intrigued by her. She's going there to investigate her father's death for herself, she doesn't like the initial verdict of suicide.
Ladd's investment has gone up in smoke and after he metes out a justified beat down to Peter Dyneley. He looks up Joan Tetzel at the Capetown equivalent of the Merchant Seaman's Hall. She's now half owner of a whaling vessel with Basil Sydney and his son, Stanley Baker and she's not happy with their explanation of things. On a flip of a coin since apparently Ladd has nothing else to do, he signs on their vessel as the first mate.
Though the personal story takes a melodramatic turn, I have got to hand it to the folks at Shepperton Studios. Other than using some establishing color cinematography to depict Capetown, the Ocean, the whaling, and the Antarctic, the film was shot in the United Kingdom. But you would never realize it, that's how good the sets are. There is a film Bear Island with Richard Widmark and Donald Sutherland that is also a polar location and that was done in North Labrador to simulate the Arctic. You can't tell the two apart, viewed side by side during the Antarctic sequences.
Best performance in the film however is Jill Esmond as a female Norwegian whaling ship captain, a part that is obviously a lesbian. Filmed today Jill's character would be quite open about her sexual orientation.
This is one of three British made films that Alan Ladd did for Columbia release in the USA during the Fifties. Hell Below Zero is easily the best of the three because of its production values. Very similar to the studio recreation of the Himalayas in Black Narcissus.
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