Blood Alley is a 1955 American seafaring Cold War adventure film drama from Warner Bros., shot in CinemaScope and Warnercolor. It was produced by John Wayne, directed by William A. Wellman, and stars Wayne and Lauren Bacall.
|Directed by||William A. Wellman|
|Produced by||John Wayne|
|Screenplay by||Albert Sidney Fleischman|
|Based on||the novel|
by Albert Sidney Fleischman
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Cinematography||William H. Clothier|
|Edited by||Fred McDowell|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Budget||$2 million|
|Box office||$2.2 million (US)|
The ship of Captain Tom Wilder, an American Merchant Mariner, is seized by the Chinese Communists, and he is imprisoned for two years. He is helped to escape using bribery and then given the uniform of a Soviet army officer to complete the ruse. He is transported to Chiku Shan village by a large Chinese man who will not divulge why he was broken out of prison.
The village headman, Mr. Tso, explains all to the captain when he arrives: Wilder has been recruited to transport the people of Chiku Shan out of Red China to the British port of Hong Kong. In order to do this Captain Wilder must use a stolen, wood-burning, flat-bottomed, 19th Century stern-wheel riverboat. He will also need to utilize his detailed memory of the China coast to make a handmade chart and use an unreliable magnetic compass by which to navigate. Finally, he must rely upon the determination of the villagers and use their other assets in order to escape.
Their plan has been underway for more than a year: The villagers have been gradually raising the bottom of their harbor channel with stones, in order to trap the local Red Chinese patrol boat once it has been lured inside. Sinking sampans loaded with rocks at the channel mouth will cause it to run aground, trapping it, while the village makes its escape. The villagers have also been quietly accumulating arms, ranging from Browning machine guns to Mosin–Nagant rifles and Nagant revolvers. They are forced to deal with the complication of the Communist Feng family, who must be brought along so they cannot inform on the rest of the villagers or be shot for allowing the escape.
The villagers include the riverboat's Chief Engineer, a U.S. Navy-trained marine engineer named Tack, who helps to take over and steal the steamboat ferry. Tack and Wilder bring the stern wheeler to Chiku Shan village, where she is loaded with furnace firewood and boiler water, provisioned, and given the name of the village.
Wilder is attracted to a tough and determined American named Cathy Grainger, whose father is a medical missionary in the village. Dr. Grainger was recently murdered by the Red Chinese following his failed surgery on a political commissar. To keep her from staying behind, Wilder is forced to inform Cathy of her father's death just before the villagers leave Chiku Shan. She refuses to believe him.
Following their plan, the villagers lure the patrol boat into the harbor and trap it there. They flee down the coast, bluffing their way past a People's Liberation Army Navy destroyer. They disappear into a fog bank, hiding by day and sailing by night. Along the way, the Fengs first poison the food supply and then during a storm attempt to take over the steamboat, an attempt that fails. During the storm, Cathy comes to terms with her feelings for and attraction to the gruff Captain Wilder.
Forced by a shortage of wood and fresh water, the Chiku Shan pulls into the Graveyard of Ships at Honghai Bay. Captain Wilder orders the wrecks stripped of wood for fuel and water siphoned from depressions and tanks for the boiler and for drinking. A heavy timber plows through the stern wheel while mooring the steamboat, snapping one of its paddle blades. This forces Wilder to stay in the Graveyard longer than he had planned in order to repair it. At the same time, Cathy goes ashore and returns after learning that Wilder had told her the truth about her father's death. The Fengs are put off, only to be taken back aboard when the pursuing Red Chinese destroyer shells the Graveyard and sends its powered boats in search of the ferry. The Chiku Shan makes a run into a marshy estuary and disappears.
Because smoke would give away their position, the villagers both pole and tow the riverboat through miles of marshlands until they reach the open sea beyond the destroyer's search area. Tack fires up the boiler, and the steamboat proceeds to Hong Kong with her 170-plus refugees. Her triumphant arrival there is greeted by the repeated sounding of steam whistles and ship's sirens from every vessel in the harbor.
- John Wayne as Captain Tom Wilder
- Lauren Bacall as Cathy Grainger, a medical missionary's daughter
- Paul Fix as Mr. Tso, the senior village elder and headman
- Joy Kim as Susu, Cathy Grainger's housekeeper
- Berry Kroeger (Berry Kroger), as Old Feng, the Communist Feng family patriarch
- Mike Mazurki as Big Han, Wilder's First Mate
- Anita Ekberg as Wei Ling, Big Han's wife
- Henry Nakamura as Tack, the Chief Engineer
- James Hong as Communist Soldier (uncredited)
- Lowell Gilmore as British Officer (uncredited)
The film's screenplay was written by Albert Sidney Fleischman, based on his novel, and was produced by Wayne's Batjac Productions. Location filming took place in and near China Camp, a shrimp fishing village in the San Francisco Bay. Additional filming occurred at Point Orient shrimp camp (located on Point San Pablo) where the film crew was largely based in what is now known as Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor.
The Chinese Communist soldiers who search the village are armed with Model 1891 Mosin–Nagant rifles (probably ex-U.S. Rifle, 7.62 mm, Model of 1916 rifles) rather than the more appropriate Model 91/30s the Communists would have carried, having been exported to Mao's army during the Chinese Civil War. The determination as to model can be made in the scene where Captain Wilder is shown watching Mr. Feng in his car with the Mosin–Nagant laid across his knees. The single blade front sight and thick barrel bands of the Model 1891 are unmistakable.
The real Blood Alley was located in Shanghai, where Fleischman had visited as a sailor on the USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447). He was paid $5000 for the rights for his novel and was allowed to write the screenplay.
The Communist patrol boat that the villagers trap on their artificial reef was actually a rescue boat on loan to the film company by the U.S. Air Force.
Wayne plays a Merchant Marine captain in a role originally intended for Robert Mitchum prior to an altercation with the producers. Mitchum was fired from the production by Wellman. Wayne took over the lead after Gregory Peck turned the film down and Humphrey Bogart requested a large amount of money to assume the role.
Promotion and critical receptionEdit
The film was promoted by the appearance of Wayne on the number-one rated television show, I Love Lucy. In an unusual two-episode arc airing as the show's season opener on October 10, 1955, Lucy and Ethel steal Wayne's footprints from the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater the night before the premiere of Blood Alley, and complications ensue. At one point early in the episode, a studio employee interrupts Wayne in his dressing room to show him a poster for Blood Alley.
Despite the star power of its lead actors and director, Blood Alley received a lukewarm reception from critics. The New York Times said, "Blood Alley, despite its exotic, oriental setting, is a standard chase melodrama patterned on a familiar blueprint." Today's critics have focused on Blood Alley's anti-communist aspect. DVD Talk called it "preposterous but entertaining" and said, "Wayne and Bacall have no chemistry at all".
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
- Variety film review; September 21, 1955, page 6.
- "Blood Alley". Tales of Old Shanghai. Earnshaw Books. Archived from the original on October 11, 2008. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
- pp 31-32 Freedman, Jeri Sid Fleischman 2003 Rosen Publishing Group
- "Blood Alley". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
- "In Formosa Strait". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Corp. October 6, 1955. p. 25.
- Galbraith, Stuart. "Blood Alley". DVD Talk Review. dvdtalk.com. Retrieved September 19, 2010.