Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William A. Wellman|
|Produced by||John Wayne|
|Written by||Albert Sidney Fleischman (novel and screenplay)|
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Edited by||Fred McDowell|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||October 1, 1955|
|Running time||115 minutes|
|Box office||$2.2 million (US)|
The film was written by Albert Sidney Fleischman from his novel, directed by William Wellman and was produced by Wayne's Batjac Productions. Location filming took place in and near China Camp, a shrimp fishing village in the San Francisco Bay.
The real Blood Alley was located in Shanghai where Fleischman had visited as a sailor on the USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447). He was paid $5000 for the rights for his novel and allowed to do the screenplay.
Wayne plays a Merchant Marine captain in a role originally intended for Robert Mitchum prior to an altercation with the producers. Mitchum was fired from the production by Wellman. Wayne took over the lead after Gregory Peck turned the film down and Humphrey Bogart requested a large amount of money to assume the role.
Blood Alley tells the story of Captain Tom Wilder (John Wayne), an American Merchant Marine captain whose ship was seized by the Chinese Communists. He has been imprisoned by them for a number of years. Wilder has been recruited to take the people of Chiku Shan village in Red China to (then-British) Hong Kong. To do so, he has nothing more than a small wood-burning sternwheeler riverboat, his memory of the coast, a hand drawn chart, and an unreliable magnetic compass to navigate with.
The villagers have been setting up this plan for two years, gradually raising the bottom of the channel into their village harbor with stones so that once the local patrol boat (a rescue boat loaned from the U.S. Airforce) is lured inside, sinking some of the village sampans loaded with rocks will cause it to run aground and trap it there, thereby delaying word of their escape. They have also been quietly accumulating arms ranging from .30 caliber Browning machine guns to Mosin Nagant rifles against the day they make their break for freedom. They also have to deal with the complication of a family of dedicated Communists in the village, the Fengs, who must be brought along despite their ideology. If they are left behind, they will either rat out the rest of the villagers or be shot for allowing them to escape.
The villagers include the riverboat's Chief Engineer, a US Navy-trained marine engineer named Tack, played by Henry Nakamura. He has sabotaged the riverboat, to force the ChiComs to install a steel boiler to replace the original cast iron boiler that is not up to the task of taking the ferryboat 300 miles along the coast to Hong Kong. He also helps the villagers who have come aboard as passengers when the escape is launched to pirate the sternwheeler by setting off smoke bombs to simulate a fire aboard. The freedom-loving Chinese take the ferry and with Wilder in command bring her to the village.
Wayne's love interest is the tough and determined Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall) whose father is a medical missionary. Dr. Grainger is murdered by the Reds after an operation he was performing on a political commissar went sour while the final preparations for the escape were being made. Wilder is forced to tell her of the murder just before the villagers leave their ancestral homes for the last time aboard the renamed Chiku Shan.
Following their carefully thought out plan, the villagers lure the patrol boat into the harbor and trap it there, ripping its bottom out on the artificial reef they have built. They then flee down the coast, bluffing their way past a Peoples Liberation Army Navy destroyer that has not yet learned about their escape and disappearing into a fog bank, hiding by day and sailing by night. Along the way, the Fengs first poison the food supply and then during a storm attempt to take the ship, an attempt that fails. It is during the storm that Cathy comes to terms with her feelings of love for the bluff Captain Wilder.
Forced by a shortage of wood and fresh water to pull into the Graveyard of Ships at Honghai Bay, Captain Wilder intends to strip wood for the fires and water from the wrecks to fill his tanks and the boiler. While mooring, he picks up a heavy timber through the sternwheel, forcing him to stay there longer than he'd planned so Chiku Shan can be repaired. At the same time, Cathy leaves the ship to search for the truth about her father's death (without Wilder's permission or approval), returning after learning his death was exactly as Wilder had told her; and the Fengs are put off the ship, only to be taken back aboard (with the exception of their patriarch) when the destroyer they had slipped past earlier first shells the Graveyard and later sends her boats to search for the ferry in the maze of channels of the estuary in which Wilder has sought refuge.
Unable to use the engine because the smoke from the boiler would give away their position, the passengers aboard Chiku Shan pole and tow their riverboat through the marshlands until they can reach the open sea beyond the range of the searching Red destroyer's boats. Tack fires up the boiler again and Chiku Shan triumphantly proceeds to Hong Kong Harbor with her 170-plus refugees aboard, freed from the tyranny of Communism.
Promotion and critical reception
The film was promoted by the appearance of Wayne on the number-one rated television show I Love Lucy. In an unusual two-episode arc airing as the show's season opener on October 10, 1955, Lucy and Ethel steal Wayne's footprints from the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater the night before the premiere of Blood Alley, and complications ensue. At one point early in the episode, a studio employee interrupts Wayne's "rubdown" by showing him a poster for Blood Alley.
Despite the star power of its lead actors and director, Blood Alley received a lukewarm reception from critics. The New York Times proclaimed, "Blood Alley, despite its exotic, oriental setting, is a standard chase melodrama patterned on a familiar blueprint." Today's critics have focused on Blood Alley's anti-communist aspect, website sover.net calling it "only a banal actioner" and DVDtalk proclaiming it "preposterous but entertaining" and claiming that "Wayne and Bacall have no chemistry at all".
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
- Variety film review; September 21, 1955, page 6.
- "Blood Alley". Tales of Old Shanghai. Earnshaw Books. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
- pp 31-32 Freedman, Jeri Sid Fleischman 2003 Rosen Publishing Group
- Schwartz, Dennis. "Mitchum was lucky to get out of this stinker!". Ozus' World Movie Reviews. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
- "Blood Alley (1955) Trivia". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
- "Blood Alley". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
- "In Formosa Strait". The New York Times (New York City: The New York Times Corp.). October 6, 1955. p. 25.
- Galbraith, Stuart. "Blood Alley". DVD Talk Review. dvdtalk.com. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
- Blood Alley at the Internet Movie Database
- Blood Alley at AllMovie
- Blood Alley at the TCM Movie Database