Cast & Crew
In 1953, the worldwide scientific community is stunned when French scientist Prof. Montel goes missing, and after four weeks, the authorities believe that he voluntarily traveled behind the Iron Curtain, as four other scientists are suspected of having done recently. Meanwhile, former U.S. Navy commander Adam Jones arrives in Tokyo after receiving a mysterious package containing $5,000. Jones is taken to meet Hokado Fujimori, who ushers him into a secret room buzzing with activity. There, Jones meets Montel and a consortium of international scientists, businessmen and statesmen, who explain they suspect that Communist forces are building an atomic base on an island somewhere between Japan and the Arctic Circle. Montel states that as private citizens, they can conduct their investigation without political interference. Montel then offers Jones another $45,000 if he will head a submarine expedition, during which the sub is to follow a Chinese freighter, the Kiang Ching , that has been making deliveries to the area under observation. Although he is reluctant to use the Japanese submarine that the consortium is overhauling, Jones agrees, providing that he can hire his former crew. Soon after, Jones and his men, plus an international group comprising the rest of the crew, labor to refit the Japanese submarine. The day before Jones is to make a running test, however, Fujimori insists that they leave, as the freighter has just departed. Jones protests, asserting that they have not tested the torpedo tubes, but Fujimori prevails, and Montel boards with his assistant, the multilingual and beautiful Prof. Denise Gerard. The crew is outraged, as they were unaware that Montel's assistant was a woman, but her earnestness and Jones's insistence that women are not bad luck persuade the crew to accept her. The voyage is uneventful, despite a fight between "Ski" Brodski and a drunken crew member over Denise, until Jones realizes that they are being tracked by another submarine. They contact the sub, which is Chinese, and are fired upon when the Chinese are unsatisfied by their explanation that they are on a scientific expedition. Jones orders their sub to dive, and during the confusion, Montel's hand is caught in the hatch, and Jones is forced to amputate his thumb. The Chinese sub also dives to the bottom, and the subs "run quiet" in order to avoid detection. During the following hours, as the heat builds and the oxygen runs out, the crew grows sluggish and Montel becomes weak from shock and loss of blood. Unwilling to lose his fee for returning Montel to Tokyo, Jones decides to risk surfacing, even though the Chinese sub will be able to shoot torpedoes at them and they will be unable to retaliate. After blowing off the accumulated hydrogen, which could have caused a massive explosion, the sub begins to surface, and the Chinese pursue it. Jones decides to ram the other sub, and after two attempts, manages to cripple the enemy and escape. Later, while Montel is recuperating and Jones and Denise are falling in love, the sub follows the Kiang Ching to an island, onto which Jones and Montel lead a patrol. Montel is puzzled to find relatively low levels of radioactivity, and suspects that they are on the wrong island. There are many soldiers and gas tanks, however, and during a gun battle, one of Jones's shots ignites the tanks. After capturing a Chinese soldier, the patrol reaches the sub, and Jones determines to return to Tokyo. Montel vetoes his decision, however, and orders him to continue to Kevlock Island, where the Chinese soldier, who is a pilot named Ho-Sin, was headed. Montel and Denise are disgusted by Jones's mercenary declaration that he is only interested in the $50,000, but he nonetheless follows Montel's orders. On the way to Kevlock, the sub is tossed by a storm and Montel is injured during a fall, then, because he cannot accompany Jones on a patrol of Kevlock, Montel insists that he take Denise to gather data. Jones reluctantly agrees, and Denise records an astonishing level of radioactivity. While they are hiding from Chinese soldiers, Denise is forced to shoot and kill one of them, and Jones drags her safety. Aboard the sub, Jones reveals that he saw an American B-29 bomber on the island's airstrip, and, needing to obtain more information, sends cook Chin Lee, dressed as a prisoner, to question Ho-Sin. Ho-Sin reveals that the Communists intend to drop an atomic bomb on either Korea or Manchuria and blame the United States, but before Chin Lee can escape, Ho-Sin deduces that he is a "plant" and beats him to death. Although Montel wants to return to Tokyo with the information, Jones refuses to allow the Communists to "pin the rap" of the bomb explosion on the U.S., and plans to go alone to the island, from which he will signal the sub when the B-29 takes off. The sub will then surface and shoot all available guns at the plane in the hope of destroying it. The next morning, before Jones can leave, Montel sneaks onto the island, where he assumes the lookout position. When Jones yells at Denise for allowing the elderly man to go, she tearfully reveals that Montel is her father. Upon receiving the signal from Montel, the sub surfaces and blows up the airplane, although the plane crashes into the island, rather than the ocean, and the island is destroyed. Knowing that her father died for the cause he believed in, Denise holds her head high, and Jones remembers Montel's remark that "each man has his own reason for living and his own price for dying."
Robert B. Williams
Norman Du Pont
Charles J. Conrad
James B. Clark
Rear Admiral Thomas M. Dykers
Raymond A. Klune
Edward B. Powell
Walter M. Scott
Best Special Effects
Hell and High Water - Richard Widmark in Samuel Fuller's HELL AND HIGH WATER on DVD
In truth, Fuller himself recognized Hell and High Water as a minor credit on his resume, calling it "easily my least favorite picture, though it wasn't a stinker." He wrote in his autobiography, A Third Face, that he felt this way because the movie didn't come from his own story. Instead he took the assignment as a personal favor to Darryl Zanuck. (More on that later.) Fuller did rewrite the script, however, to suit his style a little more.
Richard Widmark plays a former submarine captain lured to Tokyo by a group of scientists, businessmen, and ex-military officers. They want Widmark to take their salvaged Japanese sub and lead a mission to Arctic waters to investigate reports of an atom bomb being built by "the Communists." Widmark may choose his own crew from his old war buddies (Fuller stalwart Gene Evans among them), but two nuclear scientists will have to travel on board as well - a father-daughter team played by Victor Francen and Bella Darvi.
What follows is a straightforward submarine movie with the characters finding some trouble along the path to their destination, but the cat-and-mouse play with an enemy Chinese sub is handled OK, and Fuller keeps things more interesting than they deserve to be thanks to good pacing and occasional flourishes. Some examples: showing the opening credits over the mushroom cloud of an atomic explosion; one character getting his finger stuck in the hatch as the sub makes an emergency descent (only one way to solve that crisis...); and a crewmember being brutally bludgeoned to death after extracting information from a captured Chinese. When everyone learns the Reds are going to use an American plane to drop a bomb on Korea, it's all hands on deck to entertainingly drop said plane from the sky. In defense of this last sequence, consider Fuller's approach: "I reworked Hell and High Water into a stylized, cartoonish tale, like Spielberg would achieve later on with Raiders of the Lost Ark." Also worth a mention is that tracer rounds are shown firing from machine guns, an unusual (and cool) sight for a movie of this era.
Newcomer Bella Darvi was a Polish model and concentration camp survivor whose Hollywood career ended quickly and whose life ended tragically. Darryl Zanuck and his wife Virginia discovered her while in Europe and brought to Hollywood. They even came up with her screen surname, "Darvi," by combining the names "Darryl" and "Virginia." But before too long, Virginia discovered that Darryl was having an affair with the young beauty. After three American films, Darvi returned to Europe, acted in some more movies and racked up severe gambling debts before committing suicide in 1971 in Monte Carlo. In Hell and High Water, she's a pretty girl with not too much to do, but she does hold her own on screen against Richard Widmark.
The ad campaign of the day heavily promoted the fact that Hell and High Water was shot in CinemaScope, a very new process. The film was very much an experiment for Fox to see how 'Scope would work in confined settings like the interior of a submarine. (Obviously it was a perfect format for the exteriors.) Fuller wrote, "Like other directors, I was initially suspicious of CinemaScope." He met with the inventor of the process, Henri-Jacques Chretien, who gave him an anamorphic lens for Fuller's own 16mm camera so that Fuller could practice. Fuller also noticed that the films which had been shot in 'Scope so far contained very little camera movement and felt overly stagy.
He wrote, "I told Zanuck I was going to have a lot of camera movement. 'Do whatever you want with the darn camera,' Darryl told me. 'Just make people forget it's CinemaScope.' ...So I had the camera moving all the time. I panned it. I put it on boom. I did dolly shots inside the submarine. I even staged the final fight scene like a ballet, with the goddamned camera swinging all over the place."
Fuller spent some time aboard a real sub as research. "I wanted to give the audience the visceral emotion of being cooped up underwater," he recalled. "I'd spent no more than fifteen hours under the Pacific on that U-boat, yet it was like being buried alive. Weeks on end would drive you completely nuts."
Fuller seems to imply in his autobiography that Zanuck wanted him to direct Hell and High Water, a blatantly anti-Communist tale, as a result of J. Edgar Hoover's personal disapproval of Fuller's previous film, Pickup on South Street (1953), in which the main character (also played by Widmark) is far more interested in himself than in any flag-waving. In the memoir, Fuller recounts a lunch meeting in Hollywood with Zanuck and Hoover in which Hoover personally complained about Pickup.
But Fuller did not consider this film political. "I don't make propaganda films," he wrote. "I'm only interested in one thing: a good story. If the story has conflict, there's action. If there's action, there's emotion. That's what I call a movie."
Fox has packaged Hell and High Water with the following extras: a trailer, a stills gallery, an interactive original pressbook and a 1999 episode of Biography on Richard Widmark. The widescreen transfer maintains the 'Scope ratio and the sound is in stereo, just as in the original release, making Alfred Newman's overwrought score even more so.
For more information about Hell and High Water, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order Hell and High Water, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Hell and High Water - Richard Widmark in Samuel Fuller's HELL AND HIGH WATER on DVD
Each man has his own reasons for living, Mr. Jones, and his own price for dying!- Prof. Montel
The last time I tailed a freighter, my price was 650 a month, and I bought my own uniforms!- Captain Adam Jones
Before this film's written credits, an offscreen, voice-over narrator states: "In the summer of 1953, it was announced that an atomic bomb of foreign origin had been exploded somewhere outside of the United States. Shortly thereafter it was indicated that this atomic reaction, according to scientific reports, originated in a remote area in North Pacific waters, somewhere between the northern tip of the Japanese Islands and the Arctic Circle. This is the story of that explosion." In his review of the film, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther misquoted the foreword, implying that the film was based on a true story in which announcements about an explosion had been made by the White House and Atomic Energy Commission. According to a February 24, 1954 Variety article, the mistake happened because the studio sent Crowther, who wanted to quote the foreword, a final shooting script of the picture, in which the White House and Atomic Energy Commission were mentioned, rather than a cutting continuity.
According to an April 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item, Charles Boyer was originally cast as "Prof. Montel." Hell and High Water marked the feature film debut of French model Bella Darvi, whose stage surname was a combination of the first names of Twentieth Century-Fox production chief Darryl F. Zanuck and his wife Virginia. According to a May 1954 Daily Variety article, the film was banned in France "on political grounds." The article noted that France had also banned Soviet films with political themes, and that "a number of European countries are sensitive to films with political themes and refuse them exhibition permits rather than rouse the ire of either the U.S. or Russia." On December 24, 1954, however, Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column stated: "Despite elimination of the anti-red angle from Hell and High Water, film is breaking records in Paris." The picture was nominated for an Academy Award nomination in the Special Effects category.
Released in United States July 25, 1991
Released in United States Winter February 1954
Released in United States Winter February 1954
Released in United States July 25, 1991 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum: Sam Fuller Retrospective) July 25, 1991.)