Cast & Crew
The factory ship Baker of the Bland Nordahl Whaling Company radios Cape Town that Capt. Bernd Nordahl has been lost overboard. When informed, both Nordahl's daughter Judie and his business partner, John Bland, decide to travel to the Antarctic to investigate. On board the flight to Cape Town, Judie is befriended by former Navy officer Duncan Craig. Judie confides her suspicion to Duncan that her father may have been murdered and that she is taking one of the whaling ships to the factory ship to make inquiries. After one of his business deals turns sour, Duncan learns that Judie will be aboard the Kista Dan whaler and signs on as first mate to Capt. McPhee. Judie, surprised and pleased to find Duncan on board, reveals that Bland believes her father committed suicide due to the company's poor season, but she remains skeptical. Later, Duncan discovers the ship's physician, Dr. Howe, in his cabin, drunkenly searching for liquor. Howe insists that Nordahl was murdered by Bland and his son Erik, who is Judie's fiancé, in order to gain complete control of the company. The men are interrupted by Bland, who orders Duncan to keep away from Judie. Angered to learn about Judie's engagement to Erik, Duncan remains cool and aloof to her the following day, to her bewilderment. That evening, the Kista Dan is struck by a fierce storm, sending Duncan and McPhee on deck to help the crew secure loose barrels and several crates of dynamite. A yard arm breaks loose and knocks McPhee out and Duncan carries him below. As Howe tends to the captain with Judie's help, Bland places Duncan in command. When Judie learns that Howe has told Duncan about Erik, she informs the doctor that the engagement had been broken long ago and then confronts Duncan, who is relieved. Several days later, the Kista Dan makes its rendezvous with the other seven ships of the Bland-Nordahl fleet in the ice-laden waters of the Antarctic. Bland, Judie and Duncan escort the ailing McPhee on board the factory ship Baker , where they are met by Erik. Judie asks about her father, but Erik maintains that no one saw him fall overboard. As acting captain of the Kista Dan , Duncan insists on making an official inquiry, but none of the Baker crew divulges any information. Howe then discovers that a man is being held in the brig and steals Erik's key to the small cell, where he finds seaman Sandeborg. Under pressure from Duncan, Sandeborg confesses that he saw Erik attack Nordahl before throwing him overboard. Duncan and Howe are then attacked by Erik's men, whom they overpower, but upon attempting to escort Sandeborg topside, they are unable to prevent Erik from surreptitiously killing the seaman and fleeing. The following morning, Duncan reports to Bland and accuses Erik of murdering both Nordahl and Sandeborg, but a pod of whales is sited and Bland orders the men to work before taking any action regarding Duncan's charges. Bland places Erik in command of the Kista Dan and sends Duncan to the whaler Southern Truce to serve as first mate to Capt. Gerda Peterson. Later, Gerda assures the skeptical Duncan that the Southern Truce is the best whaler in the fleet, then welcomes aboard Howe and Judie, who were unwilling to remain on the Kista Dan with Erik in command. Duncan grudgingly comes to respect his female captain's skill over several days of whaling and enthusiastically takes over harpooning after Gerda is slightly injured. When the Southern Truce runs aground in ice in a heavy fog and damages its propeller, Duncan radios for help from the Baker . Bland orders the Kista Dan to assist the Truce , but Duncan and Howe remain skeptical that Erik will help. Duncan then radios Cape Town and makes his accusations against Erik, knowing that Erik will overhear the broadcast and be lured to the Truce . Shortly afterward, the crew of the Truce hear the Kista Dan 's horn, but Erik purposely rams the smaller ship in the fog. In an attempt to prevent another attack, Howe fires a harpoon into the Kista Dan 's cargo of dynamite, but the doctor is pulled overboard by the harpoon ropes. Both ships begin to sink and Duncan orders everyone overboard onto the ice floe with survival equipment, and radios Cape Town of the ramming. That night Erik and a few of his men attack Duncan's tent and steal the radio. The next morning Duncan rushes Erik's tent, only to find it empty and the radio destroyed. Realizing that Erik has learned where the rescue ship will arrive, Duncan and Judie set off after him. Along the way they discover a number of Erik's dead crew. When Duncan and Judie at last confront Erik, he begins firing at them. Duncan runs out of bullets and Judie distracts Erik, who wounds her with his last bullet before attacking Duncan, who eventually throws Erik off the edge of the ice into the freezing water. Duncan then helps Judie to the rescue ship.
Albert R. Broccoli
Dino Di Campo
John D. Guthridge
Gordon K. Mccallum
C. C. Stevens
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
George W. Willoughby
Hell Below Zero
A big moneymaker for Paramount, Shane (1953) was the beginning of the end for the studio and star Alan Ladd. Fed up with the meager budgets and banal scripts, Ladd petitioned for an early release and signed a three-picture separation agreement, of which Shane was the first. Ladd next appeared alongside James Mason in the Technicolor costumer Botany Bay (1953) but he never made good on the third and final film, opting instead to repay Paramount $135,000. Part of Ladd's new agreement with Warner Brothers allowed him to work with any studio of his choice. He accepted a big paycheck to appear in Universal's foreign legion actioner Desert Legion (1953) and then inked his three-picture deal with Warwick. In the summer of 1952, the entire Ladd family sailed to England, setting up house in a Surrey cottage near Shepperton Studios. Although the money was good, Ladd grew depressed by the mediocrity of these for-hire projects. The actor was still mourning the poisoning death of the family dog prior to setting sail and was living with discomfort from a hand injury suffered during the production of Warners' The Iron Mistress (1952). Even worse, the British press greeted Ladd's presence with unveiled contempt, angry that an American was taking roles that should have gone to native actors.
Ladd suffered a leg injury shortly before beginning The Black Knight, leaving many of his action scenes to be shot using a double. Back in the States, Shane was reaping big box office and critical kudos but Paramount put its weight behind William Holden for the "Best Actor" Oscar®. Holden did win the statue for Stalag 17 (1953) while a disappointed Ladd moved on to producing and starring in projects generated by his own Warners-based company, Jaguar Pictures.
The tale of an American who signs aboard an Arctic whaling ship, Hell Below Zero had put Ladd in the room with an uncommonly high caliber supporting cast. Shakespearean actors Basil Sydney and Niall MacGinnis had both appeared in Laurence Olivier's Hamlet (1948), while leading lady Joan Tetzel also had an estimable theatrical career (and would originate the role of Nurse Ratched in the 1963 Broadway production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest opposite Kirk Douglas). Returning to the Warwick payroll after a bit as a jump instructor in The Red Beret (in which he was dubbed by the considerably less Welsh John van Eyssen), Stanley Baker was more than a match for Ladd as the heavy of the piece. Malaysia-born Jill Bennett was fresh from the set of John Huston's Moulin Rouge (1952) and well on her way to distinguishing herself as a commanding dramatic actress of stage and screen. Cast in the minor role of Ulvik, Edward Hardwicke was the son of Sir Cedric Hardwicke but is perhaps best known to modern audiences for playing Dr. Watson to Jeremy Brett's nervy Sherlock Holmes in Granada Television's The Return of Sherlock Holmes from 1986 to 1988.
Hell Below Zero was directed by Mark Robson, a one-time protégé of producer Val Lewton at RKO. Not an auteur of the level of Jacques Tourneur or a populist such as Robert Wise, Robson has long been stuck with the label of "workman" and was the recipient of very little praise during his long career. Nonetheless, the Canadian native's curriculum vitae is studded with cult favorites, including The Seventh Victim (1943), Peyton Place (1957) and the camp classic Valley of the Dolls (1967).
Albert "Cubby" Broccoli remains most famous, of course, for being half of the team responsible for backing the long-running James Bond franchise beginning with Dr. No in 1962. Broccoli turned to Ian Fleming's source novels when rights to adapt the adventures of Sherlock Holmes were denied by the estate of author Arthur Conan Doyle. Complicating matters was the fact that Broccoli's partner, Irving Allen, was dead set against optioning Fleming's novels, which he considered poorly written. Partly due to this impasse but also stemming from the failure of their daring The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960), the Warwick partnership was dissolved. Broccoli formed Eon Productions in 1961 with Harry Saltzman, a military intelligence officer turned theatrical impresario. What Saltzman lacked in business acumen he made up for with sheer chutzpah and urged his new partner to gamble $50,000 for a six month option to the James Bond character. That bet paid off in spades, making Broccoli and Saltzman millionaires. (A few years later, poorer but wiser Irving Allen jumped on the Bond wagon by acquiring the rights to Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm spy novels.) Not only was Hell Below Zero produced by a future money-man of the James Bond franchise but the adaptation of Hammond Innes' novel The White South was penned by Richard Maibaum, scenarist of all but one of the 007 films from Dr. No to Licence to Kill (1989). Hell Below Zero even filmed on the soundstages of Pinewood Studios, where interiors for many a Bond vehicle were shot.
Producer: Irving Allen, Albert R. Broccoli, George Willoughby
Director: Mark Robson
Screenplay: Alec Coppel, Richard Maibaum, Max Trell, Hammond Innes (novel)
Cinematography: John Wilcox
Film Editing: John D. Guthridge
Art Direction: Alex Vetchinsky
Music: Clifton Parker
Cast: Alan Ladd (Duncan Craig), Joan Tetzel (Judie Nordhal), Basil Sydney (Bland), Stanley Baker (Erik Bland), Joseph Tomelty (Capt. McPhee), Niall MacGinnis (Dr. Howe).
by Richard Harland Smith
The Films of Alan Ladd by Marilyn Henry and Ron DeSourdis
Ladd, the Life, the Legend, the Legacy of Alan Ladd: A Biography by Beverly Linet
The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz
Hell Below Zero
The working title of this film was The White South. According to an October 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, producer Irving Allen originally planned to shoot on location in Munich, West Germany, under the direction of Raoul Walsh. The film was shot instead on location at Pinewood Studios in England. Daily Variety and Hollywood Reporter news items note that in July 1954, Columbia and Warwick Productions were sued by Carveth Wells, a travelogue and documentary producer. Wells asserted that the title Hell Below Zero infringed upon his late 1920s documentary and book of the same name detailing an expedition to Central Africa. The outcome of the suit is not known.
Released in United States Summer July 1954
Released in United States Summer July 1954