Hell And High Water

Hell And High Water


Reviewed by: Merlin Harries

Samuel Fuller’s Hell and High Water stars Richard Widmark as ex-submarine captain turned mercenary Adam Jones. Jones in being paid by a shady international force to transport French nuclear scientist Professor Montel (Victor Francen) and his beautiful assistant Denise Gerard (Bella Darvi) to a remote Alaskan island to investigate possible communist activities. This is much more adventure yarn than political thriller with the tell-tale eye candy of Bella Darvi whose Denise Gerard has Jones crew falling over themselves to win her affection.

The film itself is somewhat formulaic and covers old ground for Fuller who had recently directed Fixed Bayonets in 1951. From a more modern perspective it is relatively simple to dissect the ambiguous multi-national group’s motives in investigating possible ‘evil’ in Alaska before instigating military action. In post-war USA it is easy to understand how Fuller’s pictures were so enduringly popular and, to a certain extent, this still holds true today.

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The film is exciting and, in places, border on gripping with particular kudos to the stand-off with a Chinese sub which threatens to exhaust the vessel's oxygen supply. The action was always something of a hallmark for a Fuller picture and it is well handled here with some striking gun battles that serve to give the picture a more engaging feel. The crew on board Jones’ sub also prove to be one of the more enjoyable elements of the picture and any fan of Fuller’s work will note the textbook exchanges and camaraderie.

Widmark, as always, proves to be the real high point of the picture as he did in some much of his work with the director. As one of the stand-out actors of his time Widmark had an inimitable gift in playing somewhat self-serving cynics. This was best typified by his role in Fuller's 1953 picture Pickup On South Street where he accidentally stumbles upon highly sensitive microfilm and sparks off a bidding war between the USA and their communist enemies. His gritty and rough portrayal of the grizzly mercenary is consistently enjoyable and, in a picture that may not have represented Fuller greatness, serves to make the picture stand out. All in all Hell and High Water is a genuinely enjoyable jaunt through the Fuller inspired cinema of the 1950s and, while it is by no means his crowning glory, will provide ample entertainment on a Sunday afternoon.

Reviewed on: 26 Nov 2007
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Communist Cold War thriller, starring Richard Widmark as an ex-submarine captain turned mercenary.
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Director: Samuel Fuller

Writer: David Hempstead, Samuel Fuller

Starring: Richard Widmark, Bella Darvi, Victor Francen, Cameron Mitchell, Gene Evans, David Wayne, Stephen Bekassy, Richard Loo

Year: 1954

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: US


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