Monday, August 17, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Hell's Five Hours (1958) - An Olive Films Blu-ray Review

HELL'S FIVE HOURS (1958) is a briskly paced "atomic noir," recently released on Blu-ray and DVD by Olive Films.

HELL'S FIVE HOURS is in the tradition of an earlier Olive Films release, THE ATOMIC CITY (1952), with docu-noir overtones capturing the era of new nuclear anxieties. As in THE ATOMIC CITY, in HELL'S FIVE HOURS a father works at a mysterious plant and his young son's life is endangered as a result.

The film has an extended documentary-style pre-credits opening laying out the dangers of living near an energy plant such as the one seen in the movie. After the credits the movie zeroes in on plant manager Mike Brand (Stephen McNally), who receives a call late one evening after a security guard's confrontation with an intruder leads to a fire at the plant.

An explosion could lead to a cloud of cyanide gas so the town must be evacuated. Before Mike's wife Nancy (Coleen Gray) and son Eric (Ray Ferrell of ZERO HOUR!) can leave their home, it's invaded by Nash (Vic Morrow), who was the intruder at the plant earlier that evening. It transpires that Nash had been fired that day; it doesn't help that the foreman (Robert Foulk) who fired Nash was not a nice guy, but Nash is clearly psychotic and suicidal.

Mike tries to help the police negotiate with Nash for his wife's release while simultaneously supervising the fuel being quickly drained away from the plant to prevent an explosion. Just another day at the office...not!

HELL'S FIVE HOURS is a compact, entertaining thriller with a nice overlay of '50s paranoia. There's not much in the way of back stories or character development, but it's an engrossing suspense tale which I enjoyed, especially given the lead actors and my liking for '50s films of this type.

Some viewers might find the flatly written and acted scenes where employees watch gauges and drain the plant to be a bit incongruous with the rest of the story, but I liked the way the movie veered back and forth from the hostage sequences to the documentary-style scenes, which provide a needed respite from the movie's tense moments.

HELL'S FIVE HOURS was a reunion for Gray and McNally, who had costarred in the Val Lewton Western APACHE DRUMS (1951) seven years earlier. The same year as HELL'S FIVE HOURS, McNally and Gray also appeared together in another Allied Artists release, JOHNNY ROCCO (1958).

I was moved watching this film soon after Gray's passing. Gray is a fine actress who does a lot with her skimpily written role. The audience knows nothing of Nancy other than she's a wife and mother, but Gray convincingly portrays varied levels of fear and courage. We watch her calculating how to best talk to Nash to try to win her and her son's release, and on the other end of the spectrum she persuasively portrays utter terror in the film's final minutes.

I wrote more about McNally's career a few days ago in my review of DR. GILLESPIE'S NEW ASSISTANT (1942). He's fine as the level-headed plant manager; if anything, McNally is almost too restrained in expressing his concern for his wife. A bit more anxiety and angst would have made sense, but there wasn't much time for that as written.

Morrow does well as the very disturbed villain, a man who most definitely will shoot anyone who gets in his way, and Ferrell is convincing as the Brands' young son. The supporting cast includes Maurice Manson, Dan Sheridan, Will J. White, Charles J. Conrad, and John Mitchum.

One of the peculiar things about the movie is that the narrator of the extended opening sequence can be heard later in the movie, awkwardly dubbing a police broadcaster.

HELL'S FIVE HOURS was written, directed, and produced by Jack L. Copeland, his only film credit.

Some sites list the film as 73 minutes long, but the Olive Films Blu-ray runs 81 minutes. Perhaps the film was shown at some point without its pre-credits prologue, which would likely account for the time difference.

The stock footage seen in HELL'S FIVE HOURS is understandably all over the map in terms of visual quality. The movie itself, shot in black and white by Ernest Haller, is a nice crisp print. There are no extras.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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