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.
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.