|File:Blood alley poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William A. Wellman|
|Produced by||John Wayne|
|Screenplay by||Albert Sidney Fleischman|
|Based on||the novel
by Albert Sidney Fleischman
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Edited by||Fred McDowell|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Budget||$2 million|
|Box office||$2.2 million (US)|
The ship of Captain Tom Wilder, an American Merchant Mariner, is seized by the Chinese Communists and he is imprisoned by them for two years in the vicinity of Amoy Island. Captain Wilder is helped to escape from prison, dressed as a Soviet officer. The huge Chinese who transports him to Chiku Shan village (Big Han) will not tell him why he has been broken out of prison.
Once they arrive at the village, the village headman, Mr. Tso, explains all to the captain. He has been recruited to take the people of Chiku Shan village in Red China to then-British Hong Kong. To do this, he has a small, wood-burning sternwheel riverboat not intended for oceangoing service, his memory of the coast, a handmade chart he draws himself, an unreliable magnetic compass to navigate with, and the determination of the people of Chiku Shan.
The villagers have been setting up this plan for more than a year, gradually raising the bottom of the channel into their village harbor with stones so that once the local patrol boat is lured inside, sinking some of the village sampans loaded with rocks will cause it to run aground and trap it there, thereby delaying word of their escape. They have also been quietly accumulating arms, ranging from .30 caliber Browning machine guns to Mosin–Nagant rifles and Model 1895 Nagant revolvers, against the day they make their break for freedom. They need to deal with the complication of a family of dedicated Communists in the village, the Fengs, who must be brought along despite their ideology. If they are left behind, they will either inform on the rest of the villagers or be shot for allowing them to escape.
The villagers include the riverboat's Chief Engineer, a US Navy-trained marine engineer named Tack. He has sabotaged the riverboat, to force the ChiComs to install a steel boiler to replace the original cast iron boiler that is not up to the task of taking the ferryboat 300 miles along the coast to Hong Kong. He also helps the villagers who have come aboard as passengers when the escape is launched to pirate the sternwheeler by setting off smoke bombs to simulate a fire aboard. The freedom-loving Chinese take over the ferry and with Wilder in command bring her to the village.
Wayne's love interest is the tough and determined Cathy Grainger, whose father is a medical missionary. Dr. Grainger is murdered by the Reds after an operation he was performing on a political commissar went sour while the final preparations for the escape were being made. Wilder is forced to tell her of the murder just before the villagers leave their ancestral homes for the last time aboard the renamed Chiku Shan.
Following their carefully thought out plan, the villagers lure the patrol boat into the harbor and trap it there, ripping its bottom out on the artificial reef they have built. They then flee down the coast, bluffing their way past a Peoples Liberation Army Navy destroyer that has not yet learned about their escape and disappearing into a fog bank, hiding by day and sailing by night. Along the way, the Fengs first poison the food supply and then during a storm attempt to take the ship, an attempt that fails. It is during the storm that Cathy comes to terms with her feelings of love for the bluff Captain Wilder.
Forced by a shortage of wood and fresh water to pull into the Graveyard of Ships at Honghai Bay, Captain Wilder intends to strip wood for the fires and siphon water from the wrecks to fill his tanks and the boiler. While mooring, he picks up a heavy timber through the sternwheel that snaps one of the paddle blades, forcing him to stay there longer than he'd planned so Chiku Shan can be repaired. At the same time, Cathy leaves the ship to search for the truth about her father's death (without Wilder's permission or approval), returning after learning his death occurred exactly as Wilder had told her; and the Fengs are put off the ship, only to be taken back aboard (with the exception of their patriarch, killed by a 5-inch shell) when the destroyer they had slipped past earlier first shells the Graveyard and later sends her boats to search for the ferry in the maze of channels in the estuary where Wilder has sought refuge.
Unable to use the engine because the smoke from the boiler would give away their position, the passengers aboard Chiku Shan pole and tow their riverboat through the marshlands until they can reach the open sea beyond the range of the searching Red destroyer's boats. Tack fires up the boiler again and Chiku Shan triumphantly proceeds to Hong Kong Harbor with her 170-plus refugees aboard.
- John Wayne as Captain Tom Wilder of the Chiku Shan
- Lauren Bacall as Cathy Grainger, a medical missionary's daughter
- Paul Fix as Mr. Tso, the senior village elder and headman
- Joy Kim as Susu, Cathy's loyal housekeeper
- Berry Kroeger as Old Feng (as Berry Kroger), patriarch of the Communist Feng family
- Mike Mazurki as Big Han, Wilder's newly appointed First Mate
- Anita Ekberg as Wei Ling, Big Han's wife
- Henry Nakamura as Tack, the Chiku Shan's Chief Engineer
- James Hong as Communist Soldier (uncredited)
- Lowell Gilmore as British Officer (uncredited)
The film was written by Albert Sidney Fleischman from his novel, directed by William Wellman and was produced by Wayne's Batjac Productions. Location filming took place in and near China Camp, a shrimp fishing village in the San Francisco Bay.
The Chinese Communist soldiers who search the village are armed with Model 1891 Mosin–Nagant rifles (probably ex-U.S. Rifle, 7.62 mm, Model of 1916 rifles) rather than the more appropriate Model 91/30s the Communists would have carried, that were exported to Mao's army during the Chinese Civil War. The determination as to model can be made in the scene where Captain Wilder is shown watching Mr. Feng in his car with the Mosin–Nagant across his knees; the single blade front sight and thick barrel bands of the Model 1891 are unmistakable.
The real Blood Alley was located in Shanghai, where Fleischman had visited as a sailor on the USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447). He was paid $5000 for the rights for his novel and allowed to do the screenplay.
The Communist patrol boat the villagers trapped by building an artificial reef that ripped out its bottom was a rescue boat loaned to the film company by the U.S. Air Force.
Wayne plays a Merchant Marine captain in a role originally intended for Robert Mitchum prior to an altercation with the producers. Mitchum was fired from the production by Wellman. Wayne took over the lead after Gregory Peck turned the film down and Humphrey Bogart requested a large amount of money to assume the role.
Promotion and critical reception
The film was promoted by the appearance of Wayne on the number-one rated television show, I Love Lucy. In an unusual two-episode arc airing as the show's season opener on October 10, 1955, Lucy and Ethel steal Wayne's footprints from the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater the night before the premiere of Blood Alley, and complications ensue. At one point early in the episode, a studio employee interrupts Wayne in his dressing room to show him a poster for Blood Alley.
Despite the star power of its lead actors and director, Blood Alley received a lukewarm reception from critics. The New York Times said, "Blood Alley, despite its exotic, oriental setting, is a standard chase melodrama patterned on a familiar blueprint." Today's critics have focused on Blood Alley's anti-communist aspect. DVD Talk called it "preposterous but entertaining" and said, "Wayne and Bacall have no chemistry at all".
- 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
- Variety film review; September 21, 1955, page 6.
- "Blood Alley". Tales of Old Shanghai. Earnshaw Books. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
- pp 31-32 Freedman, Jeri Sid Fleischman 2003 Rosen Publishing Group
- "Blood Alley". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
- "In Formosa Strait". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Corp. October 6, 1955. p. 25.
- Galbraith, Stuart. "Blood Alley". DVD Talk Review. dvdtalk.com. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
- Blood Alley at the Internet Movie Database
- Blood Alley at AllMovie
- Blood Alley at the TCM Movie Database