IMDb > Hell Boats (1970) > Reviews & Ratings - IMDb

Reviews & Ratings for
Hell Boats More at IMDbPro »

Write review
Filter: Hide Spoilers:
Index 10 reviews in total 

21 out of 28 people found the following review useful:

Understated and Sensitive

Author: no2-10 from United Kingdom
2 February 2007

Superficially it's a war drama of the tiny motor torpedo boats which did much unsung work in WW2, but the naval battles merely provide an exciting story in which an even more special romantic drama is wrapped up. The difficult love triangle involves the stuffy, awkward Brit and his unhappy wife, complicated by the arrival of the flamboyant American. The three play their parts beautifully as the tension rises; husband suspects wife, she is agonisingly torn between the two, lover tries to win her over.

Additionally there is an element of professional respect between the officers, which only serves to frustrate their base instincts, as the competent yet uncertain Brit tries to hold onto both a command and a wife he knows he doesn't deserve, and the daring yet sensitive American (a divorcée?) starts to see some semblance of bravery fighting to break out from the Brit's inhibited facade. Very like real life, the path of love does not run true, and the result is thus more realistic than one would expect from a movie. The madcap plans to outwit the enemy mimic perhaps, the deceptions played out in the romance.

This may not be a totally memorable film, but it has some finely understated beauty, which quietly avoids using hackneyed stereotypes, and mawkish efforts at pathos.

Was the above review useful to you?

12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Malta blues

Author: oOgiandujaOo from United Kingdom
26 April 2012

I adore Hell Boats, unapologetically.

The plot's engine or conceit concerns a naval officer (Lieutenant Commander Jeffords) planning to destroy a German glider bomb depot in Augusta, Sicily, with his flotilla of motor torpedo boats (MTBs). Whilst preparing for this attack in a Malta under tourniquet, he becomes part of a love triangle.

You could point out that it seems like a film where there were opposing creative forces at work, so that the parting shot of the movie, the final line of the script, falls like seed on marble. You could point out that in this movie, fairly inert objects seem to have an alchemical propensity for explosive combustibility when hit by bullets and that highly trained military individuals don't understand lines of fire, that Wehrmacht soldiers pointing machine guns at the back of spies magically fizz out of existence during a crunch, that Jeffords has a mage-like ability to become invisible in front of the enemy. You could point all this out but miss the beauty and oozing anguish of the film.

I just like the honesty of the film, the portrayal of lonely people living with death wishes, confronting raw sexual compatibility when unavailable, making sentimental love choices, envying, being hypocrites, behaving petulantly. It's all baked under the Mediterranean sun, shot beautifully, and scored wonderfully. The film is as much about what is unsaid or not shown and merely alluded to than what is heard and shown.

There's something crazy about watching these three creatures with irises like arctic meltwater, treading over Malta's quiet places, under the sandstone shadows, in and about its crenellations. The film seems much more in keeping with the tradition of Marguerite Duras and India Song than with typical World War II genre movies; Malta almost feeling like Camus's Oran.

What's also quite clear though is that the action that happens, whilst sometimes making a few elementary mistakes, often achieves with model work alone, a "Boy's Own" intensity, that makes following aerial bombs down in Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor seem academic.

It's well worth pointing out that director Paul Wendkos was in the Navy in World War II, and this film clearly meant a lot more to him than his usual fairly undistinguished output. Composer Frank Cordell served in military intelligence in the Mediterranean theatre during WWII and it would be fascinating to find out if he also had some influence as he was very much an engaged artistic collaborator.

Rarely is a film as human as Hell Boats.

Was the above review useful to you?

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Thrilling wartime film with James Franciscus commanding a suicide mission against a Nazi arsenal in Sicily

Author: ma-cortes from Santander Spain
30 June 2017

Passable warlike movie with two brave officers : James Franciscus/Jeffords and Ronald Allen/Ashurst who must lead a mission in a risked attack on Sicily coast , as well as a loving triangle takes place between Jeffords and Alison -Elizabeth Shepherd- , Comdr. Ashurst's wife . This exciting film contains cold war heroics , non stop excitement , and full of tension and intrigue . It starts in English Channel 1942 where a British Convoy is sailing and the German Nazis are deployed in the Mediterranean theater in WWII . An American Lt. Comdr. Jeffords , R.N.V.R. (James Franciscus) , serving under the British Royal Navy in 1942 , is assigned along with Comdr. Ashurst, R.N. (Ronald Allen) to blockade the island of Malta and told to formulate a plan to destroy the Nazi arsenal in Sicily . Their job : hit it head-on , their target hell-one-earth ¡ . As they have to destroy the "glider bombs" there to be used against Allied shipping , as the Nazis have such destructive weapons , the world's first smart bombs . At the end happens the British attack on the heavily defended dry dock at Sicily in German-occupied Italy during the Second World War .

James Franciscus and Ronald Allen play WWII commando leaders who lead a group of soldiers on a suicide mission to destroy a Nazi naval arsenal on the Sicilian coast by means of dead ships turned into a live bombs . As the valiant soldiers sailed it down the throat of the enemy . They carry out their risked assignment while keeping their activities hidden from outsiders and German boats and airplanes . The movie title "hell boat" comes from a term used by the Nazis for their motor torpedo E-boat . At the ending , they arrive in the enemy port , being a strongly defended position and commanded by stiff Nazi officers . The Germans had a number of reinforced submarines , planes and boats , but the target of the actual attack was the dry dock facilities and the bomb-shelters . The yarn utilizes an often-used plot line of the war movie genre which has two brave soldiers in love with the same woman , such as : ¨Day-D the sixth of June¨(1956) by Henry Koster , ¨Kings go forth¨(1958) by Delmer Daves , ¨Mosquito Squadron¨ by Boris Sagal and ¨633 Squadron¨ by Walter Grauman , among others . The movie actually comes to life by decently realized action shots , they were fairly well-staged ; however , it also contains some stock-shot footage . The intriguing premise gets to satisfy completely , though it was reminiscent of other wartime films by that time , as it has breathtaking moments , including an explosive climax with bombs , rockets and ammo exploding in the depot . It mixes a twisted tale with intrigue , noisy action , bombings , explosion and a triangular love story . It results to be a sustained and predictable story , although partially based on true deeds , upon the Operation Ruthless planned by Ian Fleming . Acceptable acting from James Franciscus and Ronald Allen as two commanders who take on a strong battle of wits , as for the dangerous operation as a woman . The film progresses with Lt. Comdr. Jeffords/James Franciscus training the crews of the ships , even though the crew lacks faith in his command abilities and he must overcome tensions with his antagonist Comdr. Ashurst/Ronald Allen . The highlights of the movie are the violent as well as exciting fights of the crews against Nazis , who successfully fend off an final attack at Sicily port . And moving scenes at the final when the ships penetrate the highly armored stronghold , nets in the port , and explosives blow up under the dry dock . It includes stock WWII , especially when show up some airplanes , and dog-fighting . Atmospheric cinematography by Paul Beeson , Walt Disney's usual cameraman , though an alright remastering is necessary . Being filmed on location , it was shot entirely on location in Malta including the 'Sicily' scenes . Good and enjoyable musical score by Frank Cordell .

The film was financed by Oakmont production , a company exclusively dedicated to warfare films (Submarine X1 , Hell boats , Mosquito Squadron , Thousand plane raid , Last escape) which was a production arm of Walter Mirisch Films. The motion picture was compellingly produced by Lewis J. Rachmil and professionally realized by Paul Wendkos who was imported from Hollywood to helm this English Wartime movie , displaying enough spectacular images to keep things interesting . Apparently , director worked on the film's original screen story with writers Anthony Spinner , Donald Ford , Derek Ford , being based on a story written by S.S. Schweitzer , but Wendkos is uncredited for such . Wendkos whose works remain undervalued in USA directed various TV series and some films as ¨Guns of the Magnificent Seven¨ , ¨Cannon for Cordoba¨, ¨Gidget¨, ¨The Flight¨, ¨The legend of Lizzie Borden¨ and ¨Attack on the Iron Coast¨

Was the above review useful to you?

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Hit it hard and hit it head on.

Author: Michael O'Keefe from Muskogee OK
7 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This action adventure has American Lt. Commander Jeffords(James Franciscus), serving with the British Royal Army being sent on a dangerous mission to Malta. His top secret assignment is to take command of a flotilla of motor torpedo boats and use them to destroy a Nazi glider bomb depot on Sicily. Jeffords is distracted, but not totally, by a naked woman, Alison(Elizabeth Shepard), swimming in the sea. Romance will begin to flare, only to flame out, when the American finds out that the woman is the wife of his immediate commander(Ronald Allen).

This movie is actually filmed in Malta; scenery is nothing to speak of. HELL BOATS seems to have no real ambition and could easily be described as both dull and unmemorable. If there is any redemption, it is Miss Shepard providing some sizzle in a wet shirt. The cast also features: Mark Hawkins, John Heller, Magda Konopka, Takis Emmanuel and Reuven Bar-Yotam.

Was the above review useful to you?

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Creaky war drama

Author: julianj-1 from United Kingdom
10 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I've become fascinated by the small-scale war of coastal craft in WW2 - the nightly battles between allied and axis fast light craft, the buccaneering nature of some of the commanders and the stoicism and bravery of the crews on both sides fighting with grim and unrecognised heroism.

When I realised Hell Boats was showing on C5 I turned it on, missing the first 20 minutes or so. Unfortunately this is a horribly creaky drama, and doesn't do any favours to realism. It's basically ridiculous, even allowing for the terrible model work, with German "E Boats" (actually called S-Boats) that don't look remotely like the real thing. The hero and his mate plus comedy partisans and eye-candy sneak into a German port and shoot their way out....

{SPOILER} At the low point of three men with pistols capturing an "E Boat" I gave up.

A disappointment. I'm sure there is a great film to be made about the coastal war, but this isn't it.

Was the above review useful to you?

The Royal Navy Triumphs With A Yank at the Helm!!!

Author: zardoz-13 from United States
28 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Attack on the Iron Coast" director Paul Wendkos stages several exciting combat scenes in "Hell Boats," but shallow characterization makes this energetic World War II thriller little more than a solid, standard-issue Navy actioneer. The story takes place against the singularly spectacular looking setting of Malta in the Mediterranean Sea in the early years of the war when the British were losing. The biggest celebrity name in a largely British cast, "Youngblood Hawke" actor James Franciscus plays a rugged American officer in the Royal Navy, Lieutenant Commander Jeffords, with a caramel tan that George Hamilton would envy. As one officer explains, our hero's mum was British, and he enlisted in 1939. The Admiralty dispatched him on special orders to the island of Malta, and Jeffords cannot malinger when it comes to disembarking from his transport plane. The German Luftwaffe likes to wait long enough for transports to land before they strafe them. Elizabeth Shepherd makes an unforgettable entrance as Alison, the lonely wife of Jefford's commanding officer on Malta, while Jeffords is out roaming the beach. She is naked, but of course we cannot see any nudity. To make herself presentable to Jeffords, she borrows his shirt. They meet once after Jeffords learns about her. Apparently, Alison's husband, Commander Ashurst, R.N. (Ronald Allen), has more of a stiff upper lip than anything else won't have her. Eventually, everything works out between them, but not before he puts his life on the line for the mildly insubordinate hero. The big mission in "Hell Boats" involves hijacking a Nazi patrol boat and gathering a flotilla of motor torpedo boats (MTBs) to blast to smithereens a Sicilian-based submarine pen that contains an arsenal of German glider bombs used to sink British shipping to Malta. These bombs have made devastating inroads on His Majesty's shipping. Happily, scenarist Anthony Spinner has more luck with the mission itself rather than the love triangle that sputters out. Before our hero can launch his attack, he must obtain information about the gun emplacements on the island. Consequently, he sneaks onto the island disguised as a native and reconnitors the place. They have a brief encounter with the Germans and a running firefight ensues. Our heroes escape, but the people who guided them die valiantly. This is good because otherwise "Hell Boats" would have been pretty dull if our hero remained at the helm of a boat during the fireworks. The behind-enemy-lines scenes bolsters the suspense. The special effects make the grade, and the action is the strongest part of the narrative. Unfortunately, one-dimensional characters abound and the talented cast does as best it can. "Hell Boats" was one of a number of World War II actioneers made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, such as "Mosquito Squadron" and "The Last Escape."

Was the above review useful to you?

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:

Great locations but a collision of confused plots and U.S. does U.K. film culture

Author: Max Blinkhorn from Edinburgh and Lothians
10 August 2013

Malta is its usual stunning self in this cinematically beautiful film. Why was it not filmed wide? What irritates me is the overly strong U.S. asserter officer shouting at the Brits to do something.

James Franciscus and Elizabeth Shepherd's relationship is ludicrously overblown and misconstructed. Sorry, filmmakers but the silly introduction where she is "starkers" and swimming and flaunts herself at him is priceless. She is so forward and up for IT, it's not true yet her acts all gallant and appears only mildly stirred... It's so awkward - it's clear she is says "Come on bog boy!" with everything she has but he is only modestly aroused. Oh you have to see it to understand it.

I find this film is embarrassing. It's full of bristly macho-ness and "U.S. attitudes will shake up the Brits and sort 'em out" and the Brits deference is bordering on obsequious.

A good story with weak characters. Elizabeth Shepherd is gorgeous and acts strongly but a poor story and and weak direction diminish what could have been a great part.

I hate giving bad reviews but this film seems to come from a time when studios squashed good film-making in the process of simply creating star vehicles and it makes it very difficult for me to watch it happily.

The real star of the film though is Malta.

Was the above review useful to you?

6 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Old Fashioned Clichéd War Drama

Author: Theo Robertson from Isle Of Bute, Scotland
10 November 2012

You'd have thought with the concept of total war it might have given film producers more scope to make a film that doesn't revolve around this cliché: a British woman is romantically involved with an American serviceman and a Brit and both male characters have to work together on an extremely dangerous mission in which either only one of them or neither of them will come back . Stop me if you've seen this type of movie before . In the film producers defence they can claim that women won't instinctively feel the need to watch war films hence they need an angle , usually a love triangle , to sell a film to the widest possible audience

HELL BOATS continues this cliché and brings many other clichés to the party . Being a film that features the Royal Navy it means they have to be led by an American in order to boost its box office stateside . As can be expected the best looking member of the cast is the American as well as being the bravest member on the suicide mission . Guns when fired by the good guys never run out of ammo while Germans never seem to be able to shoot straight etc etc

In it self there's nothing fundamentally bad about HELL BOATS . The problem lies that it's a victim of film studios churning out one war film after another which all use the same type of premise and plotting and nothing in this movie sets it apart from its peers . It's not helped either that channel 5 broadcast this movie then followed it up with the brilliantly cynical THE BRIDGE AT REMAGEN immediately afterwards

Was the above review useful to you?

4 out of 11 people found the following review useful:


Author: screenman from United Kingdom
4 March 2012

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It's not a good sign to see a former manager of the 'Crossroads' motel running any British WW2 enterprise in Malta.

This movie began with a naval clash in the English Channel. British MTB's pitted against German E-boats. The latter both more heavily armed and armoured. Unfortunately, someone forgot to take the lens cap off or used the wrong aperture-setting, as practically nothing could be observed. Later, we encounter an American commander who has somehow got into the Royal Navy on account of having a British mum. So even here, we depend upon the Yanks. He's given a certain-death mission to do in Malta.

To the maker's credit, filming does actually take place in Malta. There's some nice location choices and the colours of the Med are beautifully captured. Sadly; that's about it. Most of the movie entails conflicts of a more human kind. There's a failing marriage and we squander a disproportionate amount of time over the agonising and recriminations. The plot's a bit silly - '633 Squadron' on water (only sillier). The script is formulaic, the acting wooden. As to the 'Hell-Boats'; blink and you'll miss 'em.

A great opportunity to show these versatile little warships powering through the waves and generally blazing a trail was completely missed. If we'd spent half as much time seeing them smashing through white-caps as we spent with the commander's philandering missus, it might've been worth an extra star or two. But even then, the daft plot, mediocre drama and soap-opera script would doom this to the unmemorable list.

Check out 'The Ship That Died Of Shame', John Wayne's 'They Were Expendable' or 'PT109'. This could've been just as good if not better, for no extra money but a bit more thought.

Was the above review useful to you?

4 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Enjoyable but not deeply felt.

Author: TedMichaelMor from United States
20 April 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie surprised me. I enjoyed it more than I expected that I would. The film seemed older than it was—it used tropes and motives from earlier war films but they almost work here. The music and clichés simply echo another, earlier time. One almost laughs at the sex scenes and the confrontations between the two competitors. The heavy use of music, in particular, seems too studied.

Yet, Franciscus brings intelligence and understatement to his roll as the protagonist. He underplays sufficiently to give an illusion of depth to his character.

Elizabeth Sheppard, playing Allison, is fetching. She too underplays her part in a convincing way. Ronald Allen plays off both of them in ways that makes the interplay interesting. The director Paul Wendkos knows how to produce a creditable film narrative. Still, this is not Bergman.This is a seventies movie that looks and sounds like a black and white film from the forties.

Special effects are, at best, studied (that word again) and not all that believable. One forgets how new scuba gear was at the time the movie is set.

By the way, one understands how Magda Konopka married a billionaire. She looks terrific here.

Was the above review useful to you?

Add another review

Related Links

Ratings External reviews Plot keywords
Main details Your user reviews Your vote history