Hell and High Water (1954 film)
Hell and High Water is a 1954 Technicolor Cold War drama film starring Richard Widmark, Bella Darvi and Victor Francen. The film was made to showcase CinemaScope being used in the confined sets of a submarine. (Not to be confused with the 1933 film by the same name.)
|Hell and High Water|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Samuel Fuller|
|Produced by||Raymond A. Klune|
|Written by||David Hempstead|
|Screenplay by||Jesse L. Lasky, Jr.|
|Music by||Alfred Newman|
|Edited by||James B. Clark|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|February 1, 1954|
Before the credits, an off-screen, voice-over narrates:
In the summer of 1953, it was announced that an atomic bomb of foreign origin had been exploded somewhere outside of the United States. Shortly thereafter it was indicated that this atomic reaction, according to scientific reports, originated in a remote area in North Pacific waters, somewhere between the northern tip of the Japanese Islands and the Arctic Circle. This is the story of that explosion.
Meanwhile, former U.S. Navy USS Bowfin (SS-287) submarine commander Adam Jones (Richard Widmark) arrives in Tokyo after receiving a mysterious package containing $5,000. Jones meets Professor Montel and his colleagues, a group of scientists, businessmen, and statesmen who suspect the Communist Chinese are building a secret atomic base on an island somewhere north of Japan. They must have proof, so Montel offers Jones another $45,000 if he will command an old World War II-era Japanese submarine being overhauled and follow the Communist Chinese freighter Kiang Ching, which has been making suspicious deliveries in that area. Jones reluctantly agrees, providing that the submarine is armed, and that he is also allowed to hire some of his former navy shipmates.
The day before Jones is to conduct a test dive, news arrives that the Kiang Ching has sailed. Despite Jones's protests that the submarine's torpedo tubes have not been inspected and tested yet, and they are therefore too dangerous to use, there is no choice but to start out after the freighter. When Montel boards with his beautiful assistant, Professor Denise Gerard (Bella Darvi), the superstitious crewmen are upset, believing women on a ship are bad luck, but Montel insists that she come along.
On the voyage, they are detected by a Communist Chinese submarine. When contacted, the Chinese are not fooled by their explanation that they are on a simple scientific expedition and fire torpedoes at them without warning. Unable to fire back with his own untested torpedo tubes, Jones dives to the sea bottom, hoping to hide there; the Red Chinese follow. After several tense hours of waiting each other out, Jones finally decides to surface. When the other submarine does the same, Jones rams and sinks it.
Jones wants to turn back, but Montel points out that their contract specifies that he won't be paid unless Montel is satisfied. They continue to follow the Kiang Ching to an island. Jones and Montel land to investigate, but Montel is disappointed by the low radioactivity levels he detects. After a firefight with Red Chinese soldiers, the patrol returns to the submarine with a captive. They learn the location of another island from the prisoner, a pilot named Ho-Sin.
During a storm en route, Montel is injured. Because he is too hurt to go ashore, Montel insists Jones take Denise in his place, since she is the only other person qualified to gather and interpret the data. Denise detects an extremely high level of radioactivity; then she is forced to shoot and kill a Chinese soldier who stumbles upon her. Back aboard the submarine, Jones is worried because he recognized an American B-29 bomber (a Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-4 copy in U.S. markings) sitting on an airstrip. Needing more information, they trick it out of Ho-Sin by putting the ship's cook Chin Lee (Wong Artarne), dressed in a Chinese uniform and beaten by Jones at Chin Lee's insistence, into the same room. Fooled, the captive reveals that the plane is going to drop an atomic bomb on either Korea or Manchuria the next day, with the blame placed on the United States, but Chin Lee slips up and Ho-Sin beats him to death before Jones can intervene.
Jones decides to go ashore and watch for the bomber's takeoff. When he signals, the submarine will surface and try to shoot it down. However, Montel sneaks onto the island in his place. When Jones scolds Denise for not stopping the old man, she tearfully reveals that Montel is her father. The submarine surfaces, and the crew opens fire with every weapon aboard on the heavily laden, low flying bomber. On fire, it turns back and crashes, detonating the atomic bomb, obliterating the island. In voice-over Montel's previous observation echos as the mushroom cloud rises: "Each man has his own reason for living and his own price for dying".
- Richard Widmark as Adam Jones
- Bella Darvi as Professor Denise Gerard
- Victor Francen as Professor Montel
- Cameron Mitchell as "Ski" Brodski
- Gene Evans as Chief Holter
- David Wayne as Tugboat Walker
- Stephen Bekassy as Neuman
- Richard Loo as Hakada Fujimori
- Henry Kulky as Gunner McCrossin
- Wong Artarne as Chin Lee
Fuller agreed to direct the film after Darryl F. Zanuck agreed that he could rewrite the screenplay, provided that the original screenwriters, Jesse L. Lasky Jr. and Beirne Lay, approved Fuller's rewrite. Though he did not like the film, he accepted the assignment as a personal favor to Zanuck, who had defended Fuller against FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's attack on the studio over Fuller's film Pickup on South Street. Fuller discussed the CinemaScope process with Jean Negulesco and carefully studied Negulesco's How to Marry a Millionaire in which he found the New York panoramas particularly impressive. Fuller used the widescreen effectively for the opening European locations and the exciting action climax, but also demonstrated how to use it to communicate the claustrophobia experienced on board the submarine.
Fuller spent several days aboard a U.S. Navy submarine, including fifteen hours submerged. The experience led Fuller to add film sequences where Francen gets his fingers caught in a hatch, using a submarine's red lighting to enhance a love scene, and having a battle between two submarines staged much like a hunter stalking his prey. When cinematographer Joseph MacDonald said there was no room on the sets for the red lighting, Fuller said that few in the audience would be familiar with the equipment inside a submarine and therefore had MacDonald place them in the audience's view.
The U.S. government, who provided the nuclear bomb explosion footage that opens the film, insisted that certain spectrum colors be eliminated from the sequence, lest it "could reveal nuclear secrets".
Filming started 26 June 1953.
Charles Boyer was originally cast in the role as Professor Montel, which later went to actor Victor Francen.
Zanuck often screened the film in CinemaScope to directors who had reservations about working in the widescreen process to demonstrate why its use should not be limited to just epics.
The film did excellently in the box office in the United States and abroad, particularly Germany. Later, when filming a cameo in Steven Spielberg's 1941, Spielberg showed Fuller that he actually carried a print of Hell and High Water in the trunk of his car.
Initially, France banned the film on political grounds. France had also banned Soviet political films. A number of European countries were sensitive to films with political themes and refused them exhibition permits rather than rouse the ire of either the U.S. or the Soviet Union.
- Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p249.
- Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p225
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954', Variety Weekly, January 5, 1955.
- Fuller, Samuel A Third Face 2002 Alfred A. Knopf, p.308
- Fuller, Samuel A Third Face 2002 Alfred A. Knopf, pp 311-312
- First Full CinemaScope Schedule Listed by Fox Los Angeles Times 8 June 1953: A3.
- RANDOM OBSERVATIONS ON PICTURES AND PEOPLE By A. H. WEILER. New York Times 31 Jan 1954: X5.
- Southall, James. "Hell and High Water". Movie Wave. Retrieved July 25, 2015.