Friday, November 16, 2012

Hell Boats (1970)

How exciting is the World War II thriller Hell Boats? Well, let me put it this way: Watching the movie took me four different sittings, because each time I started the flick, I fell asleep. Allowing that the picture may have fallen victim to my busy schedule and corresponding fatigue, I’ll be generous and say my head-dives weren’t entirely the film’s fault—but, still, “lively” ain’t exactly the right word for Hell Boats. Part of the problem is the meandering storyline, which tracks an American-born British Naval officer’s efforts to blow up some sort of Nazi encampment near Sicily, and part of the problem is the hopelessly bland persona of leading man James Franciscus. Handsome, lean, tan beyond reason, and suitably emphatic, he sure seems like he’s giving a performance, whether he’s quarreling with subordinates about strategy or romancing the cynical wife (Elizabeth Shepherd) of his superior officer, but every note Franciscus hits is painfully obvious. His brand of bad acting is particularly unfortunate, because he comes across as lacking not so much talent but imagination—it’s as if he can’t inhabit a moment without striking a pose he’s seen some other actor strike in another movie, so even though he always steers clear of embarrassing himself, nothing resonates. And so it goes for every other aspect of this movie, which throws together familiar elements--friction among soldiers that sorta recalls The Dirty Dozen; high-adventure military espionage in the mode of The Guns of Navarone; wartime romance reminiscent of From Here to Eternity; et cetera. Plus, the villains are interchangeable, the supporting characters are one-dimensional ciphers, and the technical execution is mediocre, with cheap-looking process shots taking the luster off otherwise adequate location photography. In sum, Hell Boats is that rare movie it’s possible to forget during a viewing. But, hey, we all need a nap sometime, right? (Available as part of the MGM Limited Collection on

Hell Boats: LAME


Guy Callaway said...

Regardless of the film quality, United Artists had the greatest poster art in this period hands down.

Ystafell Gynghori said...

I'm pleased to say I stayed awake through the whole film. Its no classic, of course, but a decent enough time-killer. As indeed were the other Oakmont war films of that period, such as 'Mosquito Squadron' and 'Attack On The Iron Coast'. If nothing else, they kept Les Bowie in gainful employment.