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A merchant marine captain, rescued from the Chinese Communists by local villagers, is "shanghaied" into transporting the whole village to Hong Kong on an ancient paddle steamer. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
Vehicle and settings make a highly entertaining film
Two other reviewers discuss the politics of the time this movie came out 1955. In a nutshell, the Red (Communist) Chinese government had come to power under Mao Tse Tung after the end of WW II. The Chinese then supported the North Korean communist efforts to overrun South Korea. The U.S. still had not recognized the communist government which had won control of China by force over the smaller democratic forces of Chiang Kai-shek following WW II.
Others have discussed John Wayne's patriotism which some call "right wing." Wayne had strong feelings about his country. He used his film company, Batjac, to make some movies that espoused the American ideals of freedom, liberty and democracy. Although not as strongly as others, "Blood Alley" was one film that had such propaganda.
This movie was based on a novel of the same name by Albert S. Fleischman, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. It's a simple story and plot, with a mixture of suspense, romance and action. The script and roles are not exceptional, but the film has two vehicles that drive it. The first is the overall plan for an entire village to escape Red China and flee to freedom in Hong Kong. The second is the mode for such flight a paddle-wheel ferry. Indeed, the boat is the heart of the tale and biggest star of the film.
The cast are all fine John Wayne and Lauren Bacall make a nice team, and the supporting actors are very good. But, the settings, cast of very busy extras, and cinematography make this film exceptional. The filmmakers did an excellent job in giving us vivid scenes of the Chinese coast having been filmed in San Francisco Bay. A 1955 review in the New York Times praised William Wellman for his direction. "But in filming his story at China Camp in San Rafael, near San Francisco, and in San Francisco Bay, Mr. Wellman appears to have approximated, in flavor at least, the authentic hilly Chinese locales as well as the reedy shores and choppy waters of the Formosa Strait. And he has added to that flavor by employing scores of Chinese-Americans as realistic 'extras.'"
I should mention one scene that flaunted reality. I wonder that the filmmakers didn't notice this. Early in the film, the villagers are loading very large rocks or small boulders into their sampans. One shot shows two frail-appearing older men carrying a rock the size of a duffel bag. That is followed by shots of men passing rocks the size of bed pillows to other men in the boats. This all seems to be done with relative ease. I don't know if there may be some sort of light-weigh rocks in China, but having done considerable landscaping with large rocks, I would conclude that the men in the film were supermen, or that the rocks were fakes. Rocks the size of bed pillows would easily weigh 200 pounds or more. And one the size of a duffel bag would tip the scales at 500 pounds or more.
Still, "Blood Alley" is a fine propaganda film that should entertain the whole family.
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