Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


HELL'S HALF ACRE (1954). Director: John H. Auer.

Donna Williams (Evelyn Keyes) has always thought that her husband of a short time died during the war. But then she sees a story about a man named Chet Chester (Wendell Corey) who has been arrested for murder in Hawaii and who greatly resembles the dead man. Chester is a deserter, black marketeer, and shady criminal, and when Donna confronts him he insists that he is not her husband. Can Donna get the man she apparently still loves to tell the truth? Meanwhile her poking her nose into Chet's business is bringing her to the attention of assorted nefarious elements. "Hell's Half Acre" refers to a dangerous, crime-infested section of Honolulu where much of the action takes place. While the movie has an intriguing premise, Hell's Half Acre isn't very good. Knowing what she knows about "Chet," it seems incredible that she wouldn't just walk away from the creep, especially when she finds out he was a deserter. The scenes between Donna and Chet don't work because the two actors just walk through their roles, perhaps because even they weren't convinced by the script. Philip Ahn plays a gangster who slaps around Marie Windsor, and Elsa Lanchester [Les Miserables] is a spirited lady cab driver. Keye Luke is the police chief, and Jesse White, annoying and unimpressive as ever, plays another hood who comes to a bad end. Windsor [Swamp Women] probably comes off the best with her typically vital portrayal. John H. Auer also directed The Crime of Dr. Crespi and quite a few melodramas and musicals.

Verdict: Not half as interesting as it sounds. **.


angelman66 said...

Wendell Corey is indeed an underrated actor--he's wonderful as Joan Crawford's husband in Harriet Craig, and even better as the evil PR hatchet man in The Big Knife, the Clifford Odets indictment of the film industry with Ray Milland.
Need to see this one too.

William said...

Corey was also notable in "The File on Thelma Jordan," not to mention "No Sad Songs for Me" and "Desert Fury."

I think you mean Jack Palance instead of Ray Milland for "The Big Knife." I only wish it had been Ray Milland in "The Big Knife," as he could have gotten across the weakness and confusion and vulnerability of the character (as in "Lost Weekend") that the overly macho Jack Palance completely misses.

angelman66 said...

Yes, of course I meant Palance...I own the film, so I should know. Milland would have been interesting in The Big Knife, but I actually like Palance's performance as well...he is very macho but I felt he played the tortured matinee pretty interestingly, with all those Method actor touches!

Gary R. said...

If he had lived (and not been blacklisted), I've always thought that John Garfield would've likely played the lead in the film version of "The Big Knife," having starred in the original Broadway production a few years before. I imagine Clifford Odets wrote the play with Garfield, his good friend, in mind.

William said...

I think you're right about that, Gary, and Garfield would have been excellent in the film version, just one of those might-have-beens ...