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Battle Hell (1957)

Yangtse Incident: The Story of H.M.S. Amethyst (original title)
In 1949, during the Chinese Civil War, British warship H.M.S. Amethyst sails up the Yangtse river but on the return trip finds its way blocked by a barrage fire from the Communist Chinese shore batteries.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Lt. Cmdr. Kerans, RN
Leading Seaman Frank
Col. Peng
Lt Weston RN
Capt. Kuo Tai
Sophie Stewart ...
Miss Charlotte Dunlap
Robert Urquhart ...
Flt Lt Fearnley RAF
James Kenney ...
Lt Hett RN
Richard Leech ...
Lt Strain RN
Michael Brill ...
Lt Berger RN
PO McCarthy RN
Thomas Heathcote ...
Mr. Monaghan RN
Sam Kydd ...
AB Walker RN
Ewen Solon ...
ERA Williams RN
Brian Smith ...
Boy Martin


While sailing lawfully up the Yangste river in 1949, the British warship Amethyst found its return to the open sea blocked by Communist Chinese shore batteries that unexpectedly opened fire. In charge, Lieutenant Commander Kerans was not however prepared for his crew and his ship to remain as a hostage for the Chinese to use as an international pawn. Written by Jeremy Perkins {J-26}

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The true story of one of the most daring actions in modern Royal Navy history.


Drama | History | War


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Release Date:

14 June 1957 (Denmark)  »

Also Known As:

Battle Hell  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


The technical adviser was Commander John Simon Kerans, the British Naval Attaché "who commanded H.M.S. Amethyst during much of the period of the story, and whose exceptional help is gratefully acknowledged" as the credits put it; he is portrayed by Richard Todd. He had been awarded the DSO Distinguished Service Order ("for distinguished services during active operations against the enemy") for his part in the Amethyst incident, and soon after helping on the film served a term in the House of Commons after being elected Conservative Member of Parliament for The Hartlepools district from 1959 to 1964. See more »


Towards the end of the film, shortly before Amethyst rejoins Concord, we see a scene with Kerans standing on the bridge of Amethyst. The see in the background is obviously a still image painted on the background. The waves are static. There is however light smoke which is moving between the bridge and the sky. See more »

Crazy Credits

[Opening statement]: The story of H.M.S. Amethyst is true and this dramatic reconstruction of it was shot with all possible accuracy in and aboard Amethyst herself. The producers' apologies are due, however, to the officers and ships' companies, the Chinese interpreter and many others whose parts in the original action have not been portrayed. These omissions have been dictated solely by the limitations of screen time. To the Admiralty, the War Office and the Air Ministry, to Commanders-in-Chief, Officers and Ratings of H.M. Ships and other naval establishments who have contributed so much to the making of this film, the producers tender their sincere thanks. See more »

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User Reviews

The heroes of the Amethyst overpower this shameful film...
5 July 2009 | by (Bookseller of the Blue Ridge) – See all my reviews

After a week of nearly trudging through this dry wartime drama about the attack on the British naval ship, the Amethyst, I have come to realize that what occurred on this ship – in real life – was probably more entertaining than this. Sure, the ship was grounded, shot upon first, and escaped heroically in the dark, but were 113 minutes without any true character development necessary? The question is posed, not just because of random modern day war stories (character driven, historically inaccurate action films), but because this film itself seemed aggressively made, though poorly created. The premise was convincing. The history was in place. The unknown was defined, yet it seemed to drag from one frame to the next. The intensity of the scenes was too thin, causing an apathetic feeling to befall this group of heroic sailors (from an audience perspective). It wasn't until our third act, when finally something happened, that we were caught back into what these men had to endure. "Yangtze Incident" is a copious war film, demonstrating real ships in action and an unknown "Dr. Who" for the time, but perhaps it was the direction of one Michael Anderson, or my lack of knowledge about this moment in history, but it just felt bland. There was no real thrill or danger in this film, and it distracted from the soul of the situation.

What did work in "Yangtze Incident"? For me seeing those ships in acting, watching a slice of another country's involvement in WWII, and the cleverness of the officers to use their minds instead of guns to solve the situations at hand that created a decent film experience. It was when we slipped away from these great points that we lost focus with the film. "Yangtze Incident" wasn't bad, it just wasn't constructed well. When the Amethyst is first attacked, we spend nearly twenty minutes with stock footage with random inserts of the crew reacting to the obvious staged shots. Without warning, the ship is stopped and continued to be fired upon – Anderson, the director, may have been trying to give the audience the same feeling as the crew (the unanswered question as to why this cleared ship was fired upon) – but there wasn't anything connecting the incident to real life. From the opening shots, one knows that this is a film – a recreation of sorts, and the British Hollywood isn't afraid to keep it glossed over. It lacks that reality, or grittiness, that these heroes surely faced while abandoned in the middle of this river. The black and white cinematography does its best for the scenes, but the transfer watched was pathetic. The night scenes were too dark and I finally emerged just as happy to see the sunset as the crew was. Stronger lighting would have helped see that final moment of tension and fear.

Both Richard Todd and William Hartnell do as well as possible with the light characters given. Todd keeps a sense of superiority to himself, while Hartnell continues to be the hard-working deckhand with a heart of gold. The scene in which he tries to make the girl smile is both heartwarming and the only chance we get to see the true nature of these men. My final issue with this film is the lack of focus on the heroes. These men did go through quite a bit to bring their boat to safety, and to see many of them regarded as secondary – it just felt shameful. I wanted to know these people, their lives, their histories, their mannerisms – but nothing but cardboard was decided.

As historians, this is a film that needs to be watched. As a fan of classic foreign cinema, this was a difficult battle to win (no pun intended). "Yangtze Incident" felt slow, it felt shallow, and it was exciting – boring – and darkly exciting again. There was substance there, but it was unused throughout by both the director and the cinematographer. The horrible acting by Akim Tamiroff as a Chinese colonel was embarrassing. I cannot suggest this film to anyone. It was worth the singular viewing, but aside from that – it brought nothing new than history to the table. This was a film full of potential, lacking vision and dedication.

Grade: ** out of *****

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