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>
Entertaining, if not First Rate, John Wayne Adventure
William Wellman solidly directed and William Clothier beautifully photographed this preposterous Cold War saga of Chinese villagers that steal an old stern-wheeler ferry to escape from Red China. The entire village uproots and sails the ancient dilapidated vessel through the treacherous Formosa Straits, which are known as Blood Alley, towards Hong Kong and freedom. Of course, with a stalwart John Wayne at the helm, the boat is in good hands, at least when the Duke is not distracted by Lauren Bacall. Bacall, who seems to have wandered in from another film, has confused living in a small Chinese fishing village with taking a suite at the Hong Kong Hilton. Her stylish clothes are always immaculate and fresh; her make-up is perfectly applied; and her coiffures must have taken hours to complete. The brass bed in her room always has clean, pressed sheets, and an invisible army of elves evidently sweeps and dusts her home every night.
But, aside from the incongruities and the racial stereotyping that was rampant when the film was produced, "Blood Alley" is an incredibly entertaining film that holds up to repeated viewings. Once the action leaves land, the escape at sea is exciting and often tense. Gunboats, storms, and treachery abound, although the Duke never loses his good-natured cool. Neither does Bacall, who remains confused about her surroundings and is dressed and manicured for a cruise aboard the Queen Mary. However, the film is great fun, if not as campy as it could have been. Mike Mazurki lends good support as a loyal Chinese villager, although he looks less Asian than John Wayne did in "The Conqueror."
The stunningly composed landscapes that are bathed in ravishing colors and splashed across the Cinemascope screen are worth a viewing in themselves. The beauty of the countryside should have kept Wayne's attention focused, because Bacall is too cold and hard as a love interest, even for a man who ostensibly spent years in a Chinese prison. Maureen O'Hara always played well with Wayne, and perhaps she would have injected some blood and life into the role. Nevertheless, "Blood Alley" remains a guilty pleasure and loads of fun for those who love watching John Wayne play John Wayne and do not demand an entirely credible storyline.
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