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Warner Home Video presents
Cathy: I watched you during the storm. You've fallen in love with the boat, haven't you? Last night, I found out I've fallen in love with you.
DVD ReviewIn Hollywood, like so many other venues, success breeds imitators. So it was with Blood Alley. This John Wayne vehicle appears to have taken much of its inspiration from The African Queen, replacing the Nazis with Communist Chinese, and adding in a Chinese village as an additional "passenger." Based on a purportedly true story of a Chinese village that up and vanished, the film revolves around Tom Wilder (John Wayne), an American sea captain who's been a prisoner of the Communists for two years, during which time he's been tortured, though it's fairly clear he has no real information to part with. When the movie opens, he is skeptically regarding a note sent telling him an escape has been arranged. He follows his instructions and is taken to a small village, where he is greeted by the town elders, and another American: Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall).
The elders tell Wilder their plan: they want him to pilot a boat through the Straits of Formosa (aka Blood Alley) to Hong Kong. The boat will contain the entire village, animals and all. The boat itself turns out to be a paddle steamboat, one that Wilder saw regularly through his cell window, and regards as little better than junk. Wilder remains staunchly opposed to the trip at first, despite Grainger's pleadings on behalf of the villagers. Finally, Wilder decides that if he could do it, it would be a great stunt.
Blood Alley tries to mix humor with occasional bursts of action, but it never really comes off. Wayne and Bacall don't have much chemistry, and the script doesn't give them a whole lot to work with in any event. A plotline involving Cathy's father being killed by the Communists seems tacked on in order to facilitate putting her character in jeopardy to spice up the film, and to make the Communists look even worse. The expected roadblocks are thrown in on the way to Hong Kong: a raging storm, and the village's richest family, who are Communists. The bad apples in this group try to kill everyone by poisoning the food, and then mount an attack on Wilder. When the family is to be thrown off the boat, Wilder convinces them that the villagers are their true friends, not the Commies.
The movie ends fairly limply; stock footage of warships firing volleys at the good guys, who float slowly away (part of the challenge for Wilder is the boat's lack of speed) and meander into Hong Kong, to the approving eyes of the British ships present. A British officer, so moved by their devotion to freedom, murmurs, "God bless them all." Indeed. The anti-Red angle isn't too heavily played up, and Wilder's awakening to a cause beyond himself is triggered more by the villagers' single-minded devotion to their cause, rather than any political awakening. The most offensive part of the film, if you wish to term it as such, is the portrayal of Cathy's maid, Susu (Joy Kim), who is forced to speak dialogue along the lines of "Me thinky she likey you pletty good" and so on, which prompts comedy when Wayne and Bacall mimic her on a couple different occasions. There's nothing malicious in it, it's just stereotypes in action.
If you're a John Wayne fan, then you'll likely enjoy this; he does a good job with the material at hand, although the "comic" conceit of having him speak to an imaginary girlfriend throughout the film gets old. Bacall and the rest of the cast are similarly okay, but nobody stands out, aside from the Anglo actors trying to pull off Chinese characters. Anita Ekberg appears in a small role as one of the villagers.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C
Image Transfer Review: The elements used here look slightly worn at times, but overall, the anamorphic Cinemascope visuals on display here provide a solid presentation. The aspect ratio measures out at about 2.5:1. There is some speckling, and there are a couple occasions early on where it appears some frames were missing during a couple shots, but it doesn't especially hinder viewing. A solid but unspectacular transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Surround 2.0 (the IMDB lists the original release being in 4-track magnetic stereo), and it does the job. It's not a hugely vigorous track, but everything comes across well enough.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Tall in the Saddle, Fort Apache, The Sea Chase, The Train Robbers, Cahill: United states Marshal, and McQ.
Packaging: unmarked keepcase
The other extra relating to the film is a series of snippets from newsreels of the time (03m:52s) featuring Wayne, during which he receives an award, does some political speaking, and does promotional work for Blood Alley. Portions of the footage are missing sound.
Lastly, a trailers gallery is provided, for the following Wayne films: Tall in the Saddle, Fort Apache, Blood Alley, The Sea Chase, The Train Robbers, Cahill: United States Marshal, and McQ. The widescreen trailers are presented in anamorphic widescreen; image quality varies, with the later films unsurprisingly looking better than the earlier ones.
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsIt's John Wayne in China, but the Red-baiting is thankfully not over the top, allowing viewers to engage in the story as best they can. Not a classic, but worthwhile for Wayne fans. The DVD does a decent job of presenting the film.
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