Hell's Island

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Hell's Island
Hells island poster 1955.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Phil Karlson
Produced by William H. Pine
William C. Thomas
Screenplay by William H. Pine
Maxwell Shane
William C. Thomas
Story by Martin Goldsmith
Jack Leonard
Starring John Payne
Mary Murphy
Narrated by John Payne
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Edited by Archie Marshe
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • May 6, 1955 (1955-05-06) (United States)
Running time
84 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1 million (US)[1]

Hell's Island is a 1955 American Technicolor film noir crime film starring John Payne and directed by Phil Karlson. The film was the last teaming of actor Payne and director Karlson. Mary Murphy co-stars. The film was shot in the VistaVision wide-screen format. Hell's Island was re-released in 1962 under the title South Sea Fury. The working titles of this film were Love Is a Weapon and The Ruby Virgin.[2]

The film is told as a flashback with Payne narrating the story.[3]


After being dumped by his fiancée, hard-drinking and depressed Mark Cormack (Payne) loses his job in the Los Angeles district attorney's office and serves as bouncer in a Las Vegas casino.

A wheelchair-bound stranger, Barzland (Francis L. Sullivan), hires him to locate a ruby that disappeared in a Caribbean plane crash. He lures Cormack into doing the job by telling him it may be in the possession of the very woman who jilted him, Janet Martin (Murphy), who is now married to the pilot of the downed plane.

The ex-detective flies to remote Santo Rosario to find the stone and investigate the mystery. When he finds his old flame, her husband is in prison. Cormack, again falling for Janet, is coaxed into helping him break out of jail.

Her husband shocks Mike by revealing Janet sabotaged his plane, causing its crash, out to collect on his life insurance. Janet also double-crosses Mike, who discovers she has killed a man and has the ruby. Barzland returns but plunges to his death, and Mike watches the police take Janet away to jail.



The film comes near the end of the film noir cycle and at a time when Payne's unsmiling and fatigued expression in film had become something of a noir icon.[4]


Critical response[edit]

The New York Times panned the film, "All to the credit of Hell's Island — and we mean all—is an unstartling usage of VistaVision, which merely widens some pretty, crystal-clear and synthetic tropical backgrounds. But what a picture! Produced, for no discernible reason, by Paramount's Pine-Thomas unit, with John Payne and Mary Murphy featured, it arrived yesterday with the Palace's new vaudeville program ... It's all slow-moving and obvious and exasperating to find Mr. Payne led around so willingly by the nose ... Mr. Payne and Miss Murphy remain examples of perfect casting and miscasting."[5]

The review by the staff of Variety magazine was more positive, "Screenplay [from a story by Martin Goldsmith and Jack Leonard] unfolds in the Caribbean port of Puerto Rosario, where the adventuring twirls around the search for a missing ruby. Phil Karlson gives narrative a hard glossing in his direction, occasionally letting down his pace but generally delivering a briskly-told tale in which capable players lend realism to colorful characters ... Payne socks over a hard-hitting role in excellent fashion, and Murphy takes on her first heavy role very competently."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956.
  2. ^ http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/77754/Hell-s-Island/notes.html
  3. ^ Hell's Island at the American Film Institute Catalog.
  4. ^ Silver, Alain and Elizabeth Ward. Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. Film review and analysis by Alain Silver, page 123. The Overlook Press, 3rd edition, 1992. ISBN 0-87951-479-5.
  5. ^ The New York Times. Staff film review, May 7, 1955. Accessed: August 10, 2013.
  6. ^ Variety. Staff film review, 1955. Accessed: August 10, 2013.

External links[edit]