[box cover]

Blood Alley

So how do you like your Duke? Cowboy, flyboy, soldier, sea captain … no one stepped into roles dripping with machismo better than John Wayne. In Blood Alley (1955), Wayne plays Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder, obligated to pilot a village-load of Chinese refugees along the Yangtze to freedom after they break him out of prison. Produced at the height of the Cold War, it's a transparent piece of propaganda, designed to elicit sympathies for Chinese citizens suffering under Communist rule, with painfully acted stereotypes which are often hilariously miscast (three key Chinese characters are played by 6'5" bruiser Mike Mazurki, craggy Caucasian Paul Fix, and leggy Swede Anita Ekberg). Wayne — who replaced Robert Mitchum after director William Wellman fired Mitchum for tossing the film's transportation manager into the San Francisco Bay — is at his stiffest and most swaggering, oozing testosterone and all-American derring-do as he talks to his dead wife "Baby," bosses around his simpering female servant, and warns Lauren Bacall (doing her usual Bacall shtick as the American woman who arranges for Wilder's help) that he's a heapin' helpin' of all-male trouble: "You're a nice kid, and so far I've managed to keep my hands off ya. But don't press yer luck and don't kid yerself about me — I hate the Reds because they've closed a lot of Chinese ports where I have dames. Chinese, Eurasian, and White Russian. If we ever get back to Hong Kong, you can step back up to your world where you belong … and I'll get back down to mine." Wellman's photography, presented in CinemaScope, alternates between gorgeous location shots (all shot on and off the Northern California coast) and stuffy, claustrophobic, three-wall soundstage interiors, while the music by Roy Webb is loud, over-insistent, and ladled with a heavy hand. Nonetheless, there are some excellent action-packed set pieces, most notably a beautifully filmed attack on a bridge and a scene where Wilder's passenger-packed steamboat is set upon by a Chinese frigate. Presented as part of the "John Wayne Legendary Heroes Collection," it's far from the best movie in The Duke's filmography, but certainly not the worst — and Warner's DVD release offers the title in a nice package. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.51:1) preserving the original CinemaScope ratio, the transfer is clean but very soft, with super-saturated colors that almost make up for the sometimes filmy look to the picture. The DD 5.1 audio (in English, with optional English, French or Spanish subtitles) is loud, clear, and clean. A couple of promotional films shot at the time of the film's release are included, an odd one with Wayne being interviewed by Gig Young (7 min.) as Duke talks about how he sold ice cream as a boy to buy movie tickets, and another (also hosted by Gig Young) with behind-the-scenes footage supposedly shot by Wayne during filming (7:40). Trailer gallery, keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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