Cast & Crew
In 1952 at a U.S. Air Force base in Okinawa, Capt. Jack Merrill's crew lie about in various stages of boredom and frustration as poor weather has prevented any missions for over a month. Young Sgt. Buddy Lewis, who is in love with a half-caste laundress named Sammi, is annoyed to learn that the cool, ambitious Jack has designs on her as well. Crewman Al Trask broods over not hearing from his wife and drinks a harsh homemade brew for consolation. Second-in-command Paul Jenkins breaks up a brawl between some of the men as young airman Jockie mournfully plays his trumpet. Jack and his men then learn that they are the sole crew posted to a mission and are briefed early the next morning. The colonel informs them they are to make a ten-hour flight to the Yalu River, which is the divide between North Korea and Manchuria, and bomb a bridge to break a vital supply line. After the bomber is ordered to fly with only heavy clouds as protection and to turn back if the weather clears, a temporary replacement for the ship's injured radar man, Capt. Morgan, is assigned to the crew. Jack assures his gloomy crew that the mission will be a success, but Paul accuses him of simply wanting another medal and promotion. Later, despite Al's warning, Buddy leaves the base to see Sammi. Although angry about her meeting earlier with Jack, Buddy proposes and Sammi happily accepts. Morgan meets the rest of the crew and admits he is a flight instructor and has never flown a mission, but Paul assures him he will be fine. After their plane is loaded with bombs, the crew prepares to board and Buddy is escorted back by MPs, but not reprimanded. No one notices Al, who received mail from home just before departure, slip a bottle of liquor into his jacket. After takeoff, Jack steers the bomber above the clouds, where they fly for several hours without incident. As they close in on their destination, however, shells fired blindly by the North Koreans rock the ship and heighten tension. Without warning, the heavy cloud cover drops away and the crew soon spot a squad of enemy fighter jets sent to intercept them. Morgan panics and demands they turn around, but Jack drops altitude and presses on. When the bomber comes under heavy attack, Paul also recommends they turn back, but Jack refuses. Bombardier and navigator Murph guides the plane to its target and successfully drops its load. Jack then turns the plane and heads for the high cloud cover, but not before the ship fends off several more attacks, during which flight engineer Ed is wounded and Jockie killed. The gas tank has also been pierced, but Al, distraught over the letter from home, fails to notice the gas gauges. The wounded bomber flies into a fierce storm, and Morgan, upset for faltering under pressure, offers to scan the radar should they need to make an emergency landing. The crew is startled when the number four engine wanes and ceases, which rouses Al, who finally realizes the ship is nearly out of fuel and reports to Jack. When Morgan spots a nearby island that the men identify as two hours from their base, Paul suggests they make a forced landing, but Jack refuses, ordering the men to dump everything of no value, including parachutes. Paul argues with Jack for risking the men's lives to be a hero, but Jack vows to return the ship to the base. The number one engine then dies and Al, in a daze, throws a photo of his wife out of the plane, then leaps after it, to the men's horror. Buddy finds the letter to Al, which was from his wife telling him that she had found someone else. At the base, the colonel and men wait anxiously in the gloomy weather, then hear the bomber's last remaining engine overhead. When the plane's wheels stick, Jack is forced to make a belly landing, which tears up the ship and starts a fire. The crew escapes, but Jack dashes back to retrieve Jockie's body. Later, on the way to the briefing, Jack congratulates Buddy on his engagement to Sammi.
Set decorator Darrell Silvera's name was misspelled "Darryl" in the onscreen credits. An October 1954 Los Angeles Times news item reported that producer Wray Davis and writer-director Tom Gries, who owned the newly formed Gravis Productions, Inc., intended to use music written by Italian composer Camillo Rustoli in Hell's Horizon, and that Dean Martin was being sought to sing a Rustoli song in the film. No songs were performed in the picture, however, and only Heinz Roemheld is credited with music. Another Los Angeles Times news item announced that Neville Brand and Dane Clark were under consideration for roles in the film. Jazz trumpter Chesney "Chet" Baker (1929-1987) made his motion picture debut in Hell's Horizon. After rising to popularity through his work with the Gerry Mulligan quartet in 1952-53, Baker went on to appear sporadically in films before personal problems with drugs and alcohol prompted his move to Europe.