Saturday, June 04, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Seven Miles From Alcatraz (1942) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

SEVEN MILES FROM ALCATRAZ (1942) is an entertaining WWII "B" movie just released by the Warner Archive.

It's a creatively plotted 62-minute tale directed by Edward Dmytryk.

James Craig and Frank Jenks play Champ and Jimbo, a pair of cons on Alcatraz who are initially happy to be sitting out the war in the safety of prison. As time passes, however, they become concerned that Alcatraz might be the first thing the Japanese bomb on the way to attack the West Coast of the U.S., so they decide it's time to flee the joint!

This being Movie Land, they have no problem escaping "the Rock," and when the current is about to carry them out to sea they manage to wash up on a tiny lighthouse island. Somehow there's also no worries about hypothermia, despite spending who knows how long in that cold, foggy ocean.

On duty in the lighthouse are Captain Porter (George Cleveland), his daughter Anne (Bonita Granville), assistant Stormy (Cliff Edwards), and radio man Paul (Erford Gage). The group become the prisoners of the two escapees while they plot their next move.

Little do they all know that Paul is actually a German spy -- it's telegraphed very early on so that's not much of a spoiler -- and several more Nazis are about to arrive at the island. There's also a German sub menacing the Pacific Coast.

Champ and Jimbo suddenly are no longer the "bad guys," finding themselves on the front lines of the war, fighting for the U.S. of A.

Frank Jenks, just before the ending, gets the best line of the whole movie: "We're hoodlums, but we're American hoodlums!" How can you not love it?

The movie is mostly a one-room play, with a script by Joseph Krumgold, from a story by John D. Klorer. The script is clunky at times and characters aren't especially well delineated -- for instance, we don't even get an idea why Champ and Jimbo were in such a high-security prison -- but it's put over by a solid cast of pros.

Granville is always engaging, and I've got a soft spot for Craig, who was especially good dealing with child actors in several MGM films such as LOST ANGEL (1943), OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES (1946), and BOYS' RANCH (1946).

Jenks, recently seen by me in WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), is always terrific. And I'll never quite get used to the voice of Jiminy Cricket coming out of Cliff Edwards!

Watch for Richard "Chito" Martin as one of the U.S. radio operators in touch with the lighthouse. John Banner of HOGAN'S HEROES is in the film as well.

With a running time of just about an hour, the story moves like lightning. It's one of those films which isn't great art but is quite fun to watch, especially for those like myself who have a particular interest in how movies were used as morale builders during the Second World War.

SEVEN MILES FROM ALCATRAZ debuted in New York in November 1942 and was released to the rest of the country early in 1943. It was filmed in black and white by Robert de Grasse.

The Warner Archive DVD is a fine print of this RKO film. There are no extras on the disc.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

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