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I was sparked to comment after reading another user comment here that
contended Blood Alley is one of John Wayne's worst films. It may not be
at the top of the heap, but it's far from the bottom. It well
accomplishes what it sets out to do--entertain: fun, engrossing,
action-packed and--on the wide-screen edition DVD I have--beautiful to
The reviewer especially criticized Wayne's frequent side comments to "Baby" and the film's having non-Orientals playing the Chinese. I didn't find either factor a deterrent to my enjoyment. First, I took Baby to be Wayne's guardian angel more than an imaginary girlfriend. And I think his occasional comment to her was fitting. Yeah, the Captain Wilder got a little dotty after spending all those years alone in that cell. His hangup about "tennis shoes" was another example of his having gone a bit stir crazy.
Having non-Orientals play Chinese or Japanese was not uncommon in the Hollywood of yesteryear. Remember Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto? And closer to our time David Carradine in Kung Fu. I never understood why this is a stumbling-block for some people. And in Blood Alley the American actors playing Chinese did a great job.
Paul Fix first and foremost gets a nod. He made Mr. Tso a distinct character through mannerisms and distinctive sage-like speech. I especially liked the scene where Captain Wilder told him to toss that ornate sculpture in the furnace to fuel the ship, "That'll burn" Duke says, but Fix calmly notes how a craftsman put 10 years of his life into creating it. Here was a man who respected and had appreciation for the intangible things, like beauty and like freedom, which is what Mr. Tso was risking his life to help his townspeople regain.
Mike Mazurki also gets kudos for putting in a great performance as Big Hans. No, he didn't really look Oriental, but he brought weight to his part, especially in his first scene. You could tell that he was a guy you could count on. And for film buffs familiar with Mazurki, wasn't it nice to see him playing a good guy for a change?
Finally, the reviewer said Lauren Bacall was wooden. Well, was she ever among Hollywood's most dynamic actresses? I thought she did a good job with what she had to work with. She did seem tacked onto the film and her story was secondary to the main plot. I never did get a firm grasp on the subplot involving her father or why she ran off in the ship graveyard. However, she did sizzle in the scenes in the pilot house, especially when coming between Wilder and the ship's wheel. Yes, this film was not her finest hour, but Bacall certainly redeemed herself in The Shootist and proved she did indeed have an on-screen chemistry with Wayne.
Admittedly Blood Alley does not have a place in the crowded pantheon of GREAT John Wayne films, but it is certainly not among his worst! And as a huge fan of the Duke I can't even suggest a film for that dishonor. For me, any film featuring John Wayne is going to be better than most anything else on at the same time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Wayne is an American sea captain imprisoned by the Chinese Commies
for Impure Thoughts and Eating With Forks. He is sprung by Lauren
Bacall, an American doctor's daughter who is also the leader of a
nearby village. His Mission: To shepherd the entire village of 180
people on a stern-wheeled ferryboat down the Chinest coast to sanctuary
in Hong Kong where a man can breathe free and wear something other than
ballet slippers on his big Caucasian feet.
Of course there is a large family of communists in the village and they must be taken aboard too, to save them from reprisals. They don't seem to appreciate this gesture because they poison the food supply aboard the boat and stage a mutiny during a terrific storm. Well, it's okay, though because they all convert in the end except the pompous, bloated family head who moans his humiliation out loud just before being blown to bits by a shell from a Chinese destroyer.
The Chinese villagers are a zany laff riot. They include such dyed-in-the-wool Asians as Paul Fix (Dobbs Ferry, NY), Paul Mazurki (Ukraine), Berry Kroger (Texas), and Anita Ekberg (Sweden). Anita EKBERG? There's also one of those cigar-smoking Oriental wise guys who serves as chief engineer, a pregnant woman, lots of children and old people, and all that.
Wayne took over as the star when the director, William Wellman, fired Robert Mitchum for pushing the Transportation Director into San Francisco Bay, claiming it was just "a practical joke." And Wayne hefts his bulk around effectively enough.
The visuals are pretty good. The film was shot around San Francisco and Suisun Bay and on the Sacramento River but the production design gives a pretty good imitation of what we imagine the coast of China to look like. Lots of fog. The old paddle-wheeler skulks among the reeds. There is a "graveyard of ships", old hulks piled alongside one another, drying and rotting, where wood for the boiler is gathered. A kid would have a heck of a good time crawling in and out of those skeletal remains.
And it's exciting too, though we don't doubt for a moment that the ship and the majority of its crew and passengers will make it to Hong Kong. Wittingly or otherwise the writers have caught some of the features of East Asian culture. When the food is poisoned and must be dumped overboard, the passengers crawl around on the floor picking up individual grains of rice. And the grand ballroom or whatever the compartment is called, serves as a giant bedroom at night with sleeping bodies all over the deck. In the morning, the mats are rolled up, stacked tidily against the bulkheads, and, lo, the bedroom is now the grand ballroom again. I lived with Koreans of modest income for a while and that's kind of how it's done. Every scrap of nutrients is made use of. When they boil rice in a pot of water, the cooking water is served as a beverage along with the rice. And the bedroom cum living room was a simple fact of life.
The dialog has nothing much to recommend it. When Wayne is faced with the difficult task of telling Bacall that her father has been stoned to death by the Commies, he slaps her across the jaw and tells her, "That's right. Get mad. Get GOOD and mad. Then ya'll be ready for what I have ta tell ya." Wayne also gives the speech that converts the Commie villagers to capitalism or democracy or whatever they're converted to. "Your old China is dead!" he announces. Actually, we can't be sure he's right. China has a long long history of being conquered by internal or external agencies and it has usually taken them about 500 years to shake off the yokes. The Commies still have 442 years to be gotten rid of.
You know what would have given this movie a good kick in the pants? Not that it needs one. But -- okay, Lauren Bacall is good enough in an inessential role. But imagine Gong Li as the doctor's daughter! Whew.
When I watch Blood Alley it does make me wonder that if all these
people are so dead set on leaving Communist China than who was it that
supported Chairman Mao. My answer is a lot of people who wished they
When Blood Alley came out in 1955 the Chinese Communist takeover was in 1949 and we in this country, rightly or wrongly, were not recognizing them. Maybe the policy was bad, didn't mean the Chinese Communists were any good.
Anyway the film is about a sea captain who gets freed from jail in the People's Republic by a village who have hit upon a plan to take themselves to Hong Kong and freedom bag and baggage. The idea is to steal an old river steamboat and have Captain John Wayne pilot the craft down the Formosa straits, or Blood Alley as its called. Lauren Bacall who is the daughter of a medical missionary is along for the ride.
Too bad that the Duke and Betty could not get a better film though they sure did do a winner later on in The Shootist. Nevertheless in her memoirs she spoke with great affection for Wayne and how much she enjoyed working with him.
One other interesting thing has always struck me. John Wayne did three films with William Wellman and this was the least of them. The other two, The High and the Mighty and Island in the Sky are classics containing two of the Duke's best performances. But for whatever reason the Wayne family estate withheld them until last year it rendered discussion about Wayne's acting abilities totally off base. This one which is just a routine action adventure film despite the right wing political message.
In addition Wayne is miscast, but in fairness he was pinch hitting for the originally cast Robert Mitchum. Back in those days Wayne and his Batjac production company did produce films with other people in them. One they did produce was Track of the Cat that starred Mitchum and was directed by Bill Wellman. Wellman also directed Mitchum in his breakthrough role in The Story of GI Joe. But Wellman and Mitchum came to a parting of the ways just before the film was to start shooting and Mitchum got canned.
That left producer Wayne in a bind and after reportedly offering the role to Humphrey Bogart and Gregory Peck, he did it himself with no changes in the script to accommodate his less cynical screen persona.
In fact according to Lee Server's biography of Mitchum, Wayne was to go on his honeymoon with wife number 3, Pilar. It was postponed and Pilar Wayne would not allow the Mitchums in the Wayne home for the time she was married to the Duke, though Mitchum and Wayne were friends. They could be friends, but Mitchum was forbidden to enter her home.
Such occidentals as Paul Fix and Mike Mazurki were cast as Chinese in this film as was Berry Kroeger. It could never happen that way again, though Mazurki in fact did have some Oriental blood in his background.
As for Communist China or Red China if you prefer, you never hear it referred to in that way any more. That's because the second Mao Tse tung couldn't fog a mirror the Chinese set about becoming good capitalist oligarchs. They pay lip service to the 1949 revolution, but that's about all.
Good for them.
Shows the communist way of oppression and total disregard for human life, even their own people. Mild compared to what Mao actually did to China. Good for all ages. Unique concept of the quirks of John Wayne's character. Rare display of a movie to show the way of communists without typical socialist and anti-American excuses. As for the real life murders of 40 to 60 million Chinese during Mao's dictatorship this is a hopeful story. Millions of Chinese were able to do this, however with little help from the outside world. Several movies and reports of this type were available before the censorship by pro-communists of the later 60's and 70's.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Firstly, ignore some of the nonsense complaints about right wing
propaganda. If ever a government deserved to have themselves demonised,
it was the Communist Chinese Government of the 1950s. Bringing a slant
on communism that more closely resembled fascism, they destroyed
countless lives and offered the nation very little in return.
Secondly, at heart this is a boy's own adventure. Despite the political point all this really does is give John Wayne the chance to cannon down Blood Alley, cracking one liners, not to mention skulls as he tries to get a boat load of hard working, wise cracking Chinese people to the border. And then of course, there's baby. Wayne's imaginary friend who he created to help him survive years of torture.
The film is held up by the constraints of the time, getting a lot of Western actors to play the Chinese characters. This was not uncommon, and given that that the yanks weren't supporting China at the time that's another complication. But they do a nice job.
Lauren Bacall is the film's weak point, struggling for a reason to be there, she simply comes off looking like a token love interest. That having been said, what's a good adventure without the damsel in distress? This is a good movie, satisfying, wholesome, and only a 20 year old first year uni student who believes that they are the gateway to true knowledge would have a problem with its politics. This is not a snapshot of history trying to show a believable look at Chinese culture and the harrows of torture, it's an action flick. Suspend your disbelief and don't nit pick, John Wayne films are a gift. Just sit back and enjoy.
Not essential, but it is an interesting change of pace for the Duke, and if you have two hours free, there's plenty worse films you could invest in.
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.
"i think they just want to evilize the Chinese communist government
(they may be or not be, now their people are manufacturing for the
This, posted above, reflects the attitude of several commenters whose left-wing sphincters reflexively contracted the second they read the name "John Wayne".
"Blood Alley" isn't great, and it isn't one of Wayne's best movies, but it's well-made and entertaining enough to be worthy of at least one viewing.
As for "evilizing" the Chinese government, Mao Zedong and his regime did a fine job of doing that themselves when their actions resulted in the deaths of tens of millions of their own people, not to mention brutal imprisonment of non-criminals, slavery, stupid agricultural policies that resulted in mass starvation, etc., etc. It's no wonder the people in the film's village wanted to escape. But damn John Wayne and his conservative cronies for making it the background of an escapist adventure movie. Because after all, the death and oppression of countless innocent people that is the legacy of the communists in China is okay, because "now their people are manufacturing for the world", and who is the Duke to say otherwise?
Nobody does John Wayne as good as John Wayne. But in 'Blood Alley'
Wayne didn't even portrait himself well. He seemed bored through out
the movie, failing to give anything better than an average performance.
Maybe he knew the script was weak. I certainly felt no interest in the
characters or what they were doing, maybe Wayne didn't either. Too bad
because it seemed like a good premise for a movie.
You do get to see Lauren Bacall in color. However she didn't get to do much of anything interesting. Nobody really does.
One good point, the film is directed by William Wellman who goes back to the silent film era and directed such monumental films as 'The Public Enemy', 'The Ox Bow Incident' and 'A Star is Born' 1937 version, which he also wrote. And another good point is that it was shot in CinmaScope with glorious 'Warner Color', looks good. And don't forget the actual footage shot at the graveyard of ships, which was cool.
Not a classic, but a worthy diversion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As the Chinese let the commies take over their country, a few freedom- loving citizens decide to escape before they lose their basic rights. We love the first pairing of Bacall and The Duke, and must wait until John Wayne is almost dead until they're paired again in the Shootist. Too bad - - they were wonderful together! While for years the usual cadre of lefty pseudo-intellectual apologistas have panned this film because of their oh-so-predictable fawning devotion for dickators which affects the judgment of our so-called intelligentsia in Europe and America, this is a morality play where the good guys win, even as the great nation of China slips into totalitarianism and brutality, done up so well by a government of grown-up schoolyard bullies. The dedication to freedom by these brave few is well-symbolized by the rejuvenation of the steamboat...they revive some long-lost principles in themselves and make the effort to assure their own freedom of thought, freedom of faith, freedom of will. And, as always, the classic John Wayne film has in it The Strong Woman, Cathy Grainger, who almost doesn't make good her escape from the Bamboo Curtain as she performs a final, selfless act.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In this outlandish, adventure film, John Wayne plays a hardened sea captain, who is freed from a Communist prison. He is heroically taken to a hamlet of villagers who want to escape Red domination. There he encounters Lauren Bacall, the daughter of a missionary doctor killed by the Red Chinese. The villagers reveal their grand plan of escape, taking all 189 souls aboard an ancient, wood-burning ferryboat, with Captain Wayne at the wheel, along the 300-mile route to Hong Kong and freedom. Before all this takes place, there are some tense encounters to the village from communist Chinese soldiers and a smouldering current between Bacall and Wayne. This movie was filmed at China Camp in San Rafael, near San Francisco, and in the San Francisco Bay, which sufficiently captures authentic hilly Chinese locales as well as the reedy shores and choppy waters of the Formosa Strait. Blood Alley is one of John Wayne's most politically propagandistic films, and was produced by his company Batjac, with William Wellman directing. The acting is adequate with a charming performance given by Kim Joy as Bacall's maid. Although the going is rough along " Blood Alley, " the trip is reasonably absorbing with the help of the entire cast of interesting characters, who amazingly manage to pull it entertainingly all together. John Wayne fans may find this film an interesting change for the Duke.
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