Plot: What’s it about?
Warner Bros has recently released two John Wayne films on Blu-ray: Blood Alley and The Sea Chase. I decided to start by watching Blood Alley because the title sounded more interesting to me and the cover showed that it also starred the legendary Lauren Bacall. I will review The Sea Chase next.
Blood Alley starts with American Merchant Captain Tom Wilder (John Wayne) imprisoned in China, his ship seized by the Communists. After two long years of imprisonment, Tom has begun talking to himself and to an imaginary friend he calls “Baby.” When a chance to escape presents itself, Tom find himself scurried away to a small Chinese village that needs his help. Tom had been busted out so that he could help a town of roughly 300 villagers take a 19th century ferry boat to Hong Kong and freedom from Communist rule. The problem is that to reach Hong Kong they will need to navigate Blood Alley, a particularly dangerous three hundred miles along the coast that is protected by the Red Chinese. Along the way Tom meets the feisty American woman Cathy Grainger (Lauren Bacall) who helps to organize the village’s escape. Tom also deals with certain factions of the village that may not want for the plan to succeed.
Blood Alley is entertaining, but my guess would be that anybody who watches it will pretty much forget the entire film by the time the credits roll. That is not to say that it is not enjoyable. The film has some striking cinematography shot in the ultra wide CinemaScope fashion, and the recreation of the Chinese village and coast that they shot near San Francisco was very well done. The problem really lies in the writing itself, which feels sloppy. The characters feel more like caricatures than real people, which plays against the film when their lines of dialogue don’t have any real legs to stand on. Also, the plot device of John Wayne constantly talking to “Baby” probably didn’t work then, but sticks out like a sore thumb now.
Blood Alley is entertaining but completely disposable. I enjoyed watching the Duke and Lauren Bacall on screen together, but the dialogue could have served them better with wittier banter. That said, the actual plot of the film was interesting enough to keep my attention. Blood Alley is not one of John Wayne’s best nor one of his worst films. Long time fans will be happy to see it in the new format, but I would recommend a rental before a purchase to anybody else.
Video: How’s it look?
Warner Bros. did a great job on the transfer of the film using an MPEG 4 AVC codec of a new 2K restoration. The film was shot in the Ultra-Wide Cinemascope format. This format really benefits from the Blu-Ray format, offering much more detail than a DVD would have been capable of just a decade earlier. The film retains a lot of grain and therefore a lot of detail. When the film is in motion it looks beautiful. That said, this film has numerous transitionary cuts (Fades and splices,) and whenever these cuts occur there is an extremely noticeable drop in clarity. This is not uncommon in other films, but this film makes it more obvious than most. Overall, another great effort by Warner.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Warner Bros. have provided a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that sounds very good. The front speakers are used for all of the mix, with other speakers used during compositions. Like other Warner Archive mixes, they get the most that they can out of a 2.0 mix with a lot to enjoy. The Asian-influenced score by Ray Webb is enjoyable, if but incredibly memorable. I did not detect any notable hiss. This is another job well done from the team at Warner.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Pathé Newsreel Footage – A selection of news clips featuring the Duke. The most interesting shows him launching some form of American outreach regarding “Freedom.”
- 1955 Promo on Blood Alley (#1) – This is an excerpt from the Warner Bros. Presents TV series hosted by Gig Young. Wayne tells some anecdotes about how he grew up before promoting the film.
- 1955 Promo on Blood Alley (#2) – In this second installment of Warner Bros. Presents, the Duke filming in the San Francisco Bay Area and his affinity for taking home movies while on set.
The Bottom Line
Blood Alley is an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable film. I really enjoyed the recreation of Chinese waterways that they pulled off with practical effects, and the cinematography was solid. That said, sloppy dialogue left the film feeling a little bit flat overall. Fans will be excited to see that the transfer by Warner is very good, but I highly recommend a rental prior to a purchase.