Friday, May 10, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Hell's Half Acre (1954) at the Noir City Film Festival

While I'm at this weekend's Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, here's a look back at HELL'S HALF ACRE (1954), one of the films I saw last month at the Noir City Film Festival in Hollywood.

HELL'S HALF ACRE was shown on the bottom half of the double bill with the very enjoyable PLAYGIRL (1954). Like PLAYGIRL, HELL'S HALF ACRE was shown in a terrific-looking digital print.

HELL'S HALF ACRE stars Evelyn Keyes -- also seen at this year's fest in 99 RIVER STREET (1953) -- as Donna Williams, who flies to Hawaii to search for the husband of just a few days whom she believed had been killed at Pearl Harbor. Donna is tipped off that her husband might actually be alive when she hears a record with distinctive lines he'd written for her.

The song was written by Chet Chester (Wendell Corey), a criminal turned nightclub owner currently under arrest for a murder actually committed by his girlfriend Sally (Nancy Gates, who passed away just days previous to the screening). Sally, who is devoted to Chet, shot a man trying to blackmail him.

Chet breaks out of prison when he learns that Sally has in turn been murdered, intent on finding her killer, and Donna finds herself mixed up in the mess as she had seen the murderer, Roger Kong (Philip Ahn), outside Sally's home the day she died. An elaborate cat-and-mouse game ensues, with Donna chasing Chet as he in turn pursues Kong; when Donna finally catches up with Chet, he insists he's never seen her before!

A scar on Chet's face hints at why he might have decided not to return to Donna if he was truly on the Arizona when it was bombed. He's a bitter yet somewhat philosophical man who's lived a rough life but found a measure of happiness with Sally. Chet may regret what he did to Donna, as well as the son he never knew, but Donna clearly has no place in his current life -- not that he's expecting to live much longer anyway.

The supporting cast is excellent, with several good roles for women. Elsa Lanchester offers comic relief as Donna's helpful taxicab driver, and the one and only Marie Windsor turns up as a woman married to a slob (Jesse White) but carrying on with Kong behind hubby's back.

Keyes is properly spunky, determined to solve the mystery of her long-ago romance once and for all. Likewise memorable is Gates as Sally, a Eurasian woman whose beauty hides a steel core; she doesn't hesitate to pick up a gun and shoot someone threatening her lover.

While not particularly flashy, Corey registers well as the mysterious Chet; it's an interesting part as the script, written by Steve Fisher, doesn't provide the kind of Donna-Chet reunion we're expecting at the outset. Chet will never return to Donna's life, and his final scene makes an impression.

It's a moody film in an interesting setting, some of it shot on location in Hawaii. While not absolutely top drawer, I found it a unique and absorbing watch.

HELL'S HALF ACRE was directed by John H. Auer and filmed in black and white by John L. Russell Jr.. The film runs 90 minutes. The supporting cast also includes Keye Luke, Robert Costa, Robert Shield, and Leonard Strong.

HELL'S HALF ACRE is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

Photo: Alan K. Rode introduces HELL'S HALF ACRE at the Egyptian Theatre.

Coming soon: Two more Noir City Hollywood reviews, THE MIDNIGHT STORY (1957) and MONKEY ON MY BACK (1957).


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Sounds like a dandy. My Saturday is settled.

5:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Do let me know what you think if you get a chance! :)

Best wishes,

9:43 PM  

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