Friday, March 25, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Hell Below Zero (1954)

Over at Speakeasy, my friend Kristina has been blogging up a storm, celebrating a personal Alan Ladd festival!

Since Ladd is one of my favorite actors, Kristina's posts have motivated me to try to see more of his films as well.

HELL BELOW ZERO was produced by Irving Allen and Albert Broccoli for their Warwick Film Productions. Alan Ladd's friend, screenwriter Richard Maibaum, adapted the story from a novel by Hammond Innes; Maibaum would later write 007 movies for Broccoli.

HELL BELOW ZERO might not be one of Ladd's best films, but I agreed with Kristina that it was solid entertainment. A sweet romance, some mystery, some location shooting, and some very nice scenes for Ladd add up to a pleasant 90 minutes.

Ladd plays Duncan Craig, who falls head over heels for Judie Nordhal (Joan Tetzel) when he sits next to her on a flight to South Africa. After disposing of an issue with a business partner who did him wrong, Duncan impulsively takes a job as first mate on a ship Judie's traveling on in order to spend more time with her.

Judie is investigating the death of her father, captain of a whaling ship. The story that he fell overboard doesn't quite ring true. Before long suspicion focuses on ship's captain Eric Bland (Stanley Baker of HELL DRIVERS), son of the owner (Basil Sydney) of the shipping line.

Ladd has a great early scene dealing with his business partner, which Kristina describes as "ultra-cool." That also provides a nice contrast when the tough guy immediately falls so hard for a woman that he takes a job just to be near her. (His dismay when they've cast off and the captain lies and says Judie didn't get on the ship is cute too.) There are also good scenes where Duncan directs the ship out of the harbor, tweaking the captain by calling him "Skipper," and later he forms a nice alliance with the alcoholic ship's doctor (Niall MacGinnis).

Tetzel was acceptable as the leading lady although I can't say I found her very notable. I wasn't very familiar with her career and learned she was married to Oscar Homolka, one of her costars in the Broadway production of I REMEMBER MAMA in the mid '40s. She had a noted Broadway career along with her work in TV and films.

I was a bit squeamish when it came to the second unit footage of whaling operations, with the floating carcasses tied to a factory ship prior to being cut up and processed on shipboard, but there were some striking shots of Antarctica. As the crew members excitedly worked to harpoon more whales, it was interesting to contemplate how attitudes have changed in that regard in the ensuing decades.

The final battle amidst soundstage snow rather reminded me of the ending of another film from 1954, DANGEROUS MISSION (1954), starring Victor Mature.

HELL BELOW ZERO was directed by Mark Robson (ROUGHSHOD). It was filmed in Technicolor by John Wilcox.

I saw HELL BELOW ZERO thanks to getTV. HELL BELOW ZERO had a release on VHS. It does not appear to have had a DVD release, but it can be streamed on Amazon Instant Video.

HELL BELOW ZERO is one of those imperfect but enjoyable films which makes pleasant company on a rainy day or a lazy weekend afternoon. Ladd fans should give it a look.


Blogger john knight said...


Far be it for the likes of me to correct the esteemed Laura but you have got your
Allen's mixed up!

The Warwick producer was IRVING Allen.
IRVING Allen co founded Warwick with Broccoli and basically they followed the
Pine Thomas successful formula of making big budget B Movies generally with
American leads.Most of the Warwick product are really good films.
Victor Mature appeared in more of these than anyone else.
I might add that the "warwicks" along with the Pine Thomas films are B Movies in
spirit but certainly not in terms of budget or production values.

Alan Ladd did not want to do Warwick's THE BLACK KNIGHT but his friend Euan Lloyd
thought it would be a good move,money nonwithstanding, because loads of Ladd's
scenes could be shot using a stunt double as Ladd was in armor for much of the
picture.Despite all this the film is a hugely enjoyable romp.
THE BLACK KNIGHT is another in a long line of Warwick films that desperately need
a DVD or better still a Blu Ray release.
Other Warwick's missing in action include HIGH FLIGHT (Ray Milland)KILLERS OF

Allen split with Broccoli over the Bond films-he didn't want to do them and even
upset Ian Fleming's representatives.Allen is now best known for the Matt Helm pictures
which he made,no doubt,after seeing his old partner making a fortune from the Bonds.
One of my "most wanted" Allen productions is THE HELLIONS a South African Western
starring Richard Todd shot in super Technirama. This South African take on HIGH
NOON is a much sought after film.

The "other" Allen, Irwin is of course the Disaster Movie King.
The hugely enjoyable DANGEROUS MISSION was an early example of what was to follow.
Mr Allen is most famous for THE TOWERING INFERNO plus a whole host of cult TV like

Trivia note: A friend of mine's brother went to work for Mr Allen on his ranch.
When he developed serious medical conditions Mr Allen paid all his medical bills,
so the legendary "Disaster King" was a pretty decent guy as well.

3:41 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

Just as an add on to the above my aforementioned friend and his brother grew up
in the North of England both "Cowboy Mad"...they loved the B Series Westerns
and were from an era which saw the tail end of these films.
My friend moved sown South but his brother stayed up North and went to work for
a horse breeder. Mr Allen on a horse buying trip for his Montana ranch met my
friend's brother,liked him and invited him to come work for him in Montana.
What a dream come true for a cowboy mad young proves dreams sometimes do
come true.
As mentioned previously when he developed some serious health problems Mr Allen
took care of all his medical bills.
My friend's brother still lives in America,where he has really been able to "live
the dream"
If Jerry is reading this,and I'm sure he is,the friend I am talking about
was always a regular at those wonderful,much missed B Western conventions, held
in London for so many years. I'm sure Jerry would have encountered my mate "Dave"
as he always had a stall at those events selling his beautifully crafted
leather belts and own designed belt buckles.

3:55 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

In my list of the "missing" Warwicks noted above (i.e. not released on DVD or Blu,)
I forget to mention A PRIZE OF GOLD also directed by Mark Robson. This Richard
Widmark starrer is one of the very best of the Warwick productions.
I DO wish more of these films could get an "official" release as they are such
great fun.
Thanks Laura for your great thread and for supplying me an "off air" copy of
Ray Milland's very fine HIGH FLIGHT.

Trivia note: I note on imdb that Connery got very peeved when he discovered that
Dino was earning much more from the Matt Helm pictures than he was making from the

7:41 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, I am so appreciative of your pointing out my misreading of "Irving" as "Irwin" -- maybe I shouldn't write reviews late at night! LOL. I have corrected the review accordingly. Thank you!

I loved all the other great info you provided. It seems like the Warwick films also mirror the early '50s Hammer-Lippert productions with American stars filming in the UK. Along with HIGH FLIGHT (glad I could supply it!), I have a copy of KILLERS OF KILIMANJARO which I believe was shown on TCM during a Robert Taylor month -- I have not yet watched either and the background information on the production company is very much appreciated, putting them in context. The other titles are unknown to me and a Richard Widmark film in particular is usually one worth watching!

That is hilarious about the filming of THE BLACK KNIGHT being easy for Ladd because of the armor. As much as I love Ladd, I have trouble imagining him in a medieval type film, but I will definitely check it out.

Your mention of Richard Todd causes me to think about the fact that Disney also went over to the UK in the early '50s and filmed three movies with Todd -- due to Disney's UK funds being frozen in the postwar years.

That is a fabulous story about your friend's brother and Irwin Allen. I'm glad I made the mistake if only to prompt that great anecdote!

Thanks for the great info and conversation, John!

Best wishes,

9:41 AM  
Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Thanks Laura for the mention and glad to see you liked this one too. Loved John's comments and stories too, so fun to read. Loved the stuff about THE BLACK KNIGHT since it's in my next viewing batch :)

12:45 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I certainly am reading it, John, and like everyone else enjoying the fruits of your great knowledge on so much film background. Makes it all really enjoyable.

I'm fairly certain I do remember your friend, Dave, at the London conventions. Incidentally, I am going to another western movie day at John Brooker's on April 15 and Colin Momber will be there. I will mention Dave to him.

12:32 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Kristina, your Ladd posts have been such fun, thanks again for the inspiration! Hope to see more Ladd films before long.

Glad you also enjoyed John's stories, Jerry!

Best wishes,

3:37 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

More on THE BLACK KNIGHT...I'm writing a tribute to Dennis O'Keefe and just learned that he is credited with providing "additional dialogue" for that movie. O'Keefe wrote and starred in THE DIAMOND WIZARD in the UK the same year THE BLACK KNIGHT was made, perhaps his proximity to the location of THE BLACK KNIGHT had something to do with it?

Best wishes,

9:42 PM  

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