• Hell And High Water

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: June 13th, 2017.
    Director: Samuel Fuller
    Cast: Richard Widmark, Victor Francen, Bella Darvi
    Year: 1954
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    The Movie:

    1954's HELL AND HIGH WATER may be a bit forgotten today compared to the likes of RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP or the more recent DAS BOOT, but its grand entertainment in the old school sense and a fine example of what I call the "skulking tin fish" genre.

    Solidly dependable Richard Widmark stars as former Navy submarine commander Adam Jones, who's currently enjoying making a half-assed living but itching for some excitement. When a mysterious letter arrives with $5,000 in cash and instructions to meet some shadowy potential employers in Tokyo, Jones is intrigued enough to show up. Turns out that this clandestine consortium is related to the recent disappearance of renowned French nuclear scientist professor Montel (Victor Francen). The academic was thought to have defected to the Soviet Union but in reality was dropping off the radar to assist this international group of scientists, businessmen and other big kahunas. The highly secretive group is tasked with finding out whether the communist Chinese are building a secret atomic base on a remote island in the Sea of Japan.

    This is top secret stuff, and so sensitive that the USA can't really let it look like the government is on a fishing expedition. So the plan is to put Jones and a handpicked crew on a retrofitted Japanese WWII sub and have him follow the mysterious Asian freighter that keeps making suspicious deliveries to the island in the Sea of Japan. Professor Montel needs to be on board for Geiger counter readings (a huge part of the mission is related to tracking radioactivity levels) and further complicating things are the presence of his very female and very attractive multilingual assistant - scientist Denise Gerard (Bella Darvi). Apparently, there are some pretty intensely doom-laden superstitions surrounding women on board submarines. And here I was thinking it was just old fashioned sexism!

    HELL AND HIGH WATER is that most stolid of film genres - the men on a mission movie. With a hot babe thrown in. The plot is both preposterous and oddly believable. It's a Cold War thriller involving unscrupulous red Chinese seeking to detonate a nuclear device killing innocent civilians but making it look like the work of the USA. The cast is uniformly excellent with the inevitable sexual sparks flying between Widmark and the deliciously sexy Darvi. The supporting cast of rivetheads and sub rats is terrific with a standout turn by a young Cameron Mitchell who turns sexual harassment into charming puppy dog antics with his hapless pursuit of Darvi.

    The main thing that distinguishes HELL AND HIGH WATER is its relentless drive to pack all the cliched but highly effective excitement it can into its running time. Once the sub leaves port, it's all guns blazing. Crash dives, torpedo attacks, submarine ramming? You got it. Playing possum on the sea bed? The chain of sailors frantically filling buckets to avoid a sinking? All present and accounted for. The film even manages some deftly executed gunplay during a minor island invasion at the end of the film. And yes, the viewer gets their mushroom cloud - but you'll need to watch this for just how that pans out.

    A note about filming. This was shot by director Samuel Fuller in CinemaScope. The widescreen format is put to excellent use here - in both the panoramic shots and the claustrophobic parts aboard the submarine.


    Twilight Time's 2.55:1 framed 1080p AVC MPEG-4 presentation of the film is excellent. This appears to be a pretty recent transfer with a very strong color palette (especially noticeable in the interior submarine shots with red lighting). Black levels and fine image detail are strong with the only deficits being that some of the optical effects look a bit rough but true to their source material. Film grain looks subtle but natural and no digital fingerprints were noticed. Strong, natural and organic are the key descriptors here.

    The surround sound English DTS-HD MA 5.1 and English DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks are both some of the best in the Twilight Time catalog (and considering this label's focus on audio excellence that's saying something). I'm usually not a fan of after the fact surround mixes but this one is unusually well done. I listened to both the surround and stereo mixes and found the 5.1 to be beautifully balanced and more immersive. The 2.0 track is no slouch either though, with robust bottom end and no distortion. Alfred Newman's exciting score also gets a lovely lossless separate audio track (as per most of Twilight Time's releases) that should be a treat for the soundtrack hounds out there.

    In addition to the film's theatrical trailer, an A&E 44 minute episode of Biography on Richard Widmark has been included in standard definition. I found this immensely enjoyable and filled with fascinating tidbits like Widmark's travels to pre-WWII Nazi Germany as a young man and his deep friendship with fellow actor Karl Malden and his struggle to escape the "psycho role" box after his breakout performance as killer Tommy Udo in KISS OF DEATH. Finally you get those top shelf Julie Kirgo liner notes - a great read as always.

    The Final Word:

    This is a great Cold War thriller that looks like a million bucks on Blu-ray. If you love sub movies from THE ENEMY BELOW to DAS BOOT and CRIMSON TIDE, you'll dig this. If you like Richard Widmark, classic Hollywood films and exciting fare, you'll dig it. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!