BLOOD ALLEY [1955 / 2017] [Warner Archive Collection] [Blu-ray] [USA Release]
A Vigorously Directed Action Picture!

“Powder your nose, baby,” the craggy-voiced skipper bellows. “We’re coming into Hong Kong.” Getting there wasn’t easy for wily Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder. But it’s exciting – and what an action fan might expect from a movie teaming legends John Wayne, Lauren Bacall and director William A. Wellman. Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder braves dangerous waters and pursuing Red Chinese forces while steering a boatload of Chinese refugees and a doctor’s daughter Cathy Grainger [Lauren Bacall] along a 300-mile waterway to freedom’s shores. Director William A. Wellman and his crew cram the CinemaScope frame with riches both scenic (Northern California locales authentically stand in for the Formosa Straits) and action-packed. This ship is under full steam. Destination: Blood Alley!

FILM FACT No.1: Awards and Nominations: 1956: Golden Globes: Win: Most Promising Female Newcomer for Anita Ekberg.

FILM FACT No.2: The screenplay for the film ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ was written by Albert Sidney Fleischman, based on his novel, and was produced by John Wayne's BATJAC Productions Company. Location filming took place in and near China Camp, a shrimp fishing village in the San Francisco Bay. Additional filming occurred at Point Orient shrimp camp, which is located on Point San Pablo, where the film crew was largely based in what is now known as Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor. The Chinese Communist soldiers who search the village are armed with the 3-line Model 1891 Mosin–Nagant rifle (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, having been exported to Mao's army during the Chinese Civil War. The Communist patrol boat that the villagers are trapped on the artificial reef was actually a rescue boat on loan to the film company by the U.S. Air Force.

Cast: John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Paul Fix, Joy Kim, Berry Kroeger, Mike Mazurki, Anita Ekberg, George Chan (uncredited), Spencer Chan (uncredited), Suey Chan (uncredited), Danny Chang (uncredited), W.T. Chang (uncredited), David Chow (uncredited), Chester Gan (uncredited), Lowell Gilmore (uncredited), James Hong (uncredited), Paul King (uncredited), Esther Ying Lee (uncredited), Edwin Luke (uncredited), Henry Nakamura (uncredited), Owen Song (uncredited), Walter Soo Hoo (uncredited) and Victor Sen Yung (uncredited)

Directors: William A. Wellman and John Wayne (uncredited)

Producer: John Wayne (uncredited)

Screenplay: Albert Sidney Fleischman (novel/screenplay)

Composer: Roy Webb

Cinematography: William H. Clothier, A.S.C. (Director of Photography)

Image Resolution: 1080p [WarnerColor]

Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1 (CinemaScope)

Audio: English: 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH

Running Time: 115 minutes

Region: All Regions

Number of discs: 1

Studio: Warner Archive Collection

Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ [1955] was the first film to be made by John Wayne's BATJAC Productions Company and the film is one of John Wayne’s most politically propagandistic films of the 1950s, and is based on A.S. Fleischman’s novel, and directed by William A. Wellman. On the surface, the film is about the escape of the Chiku Shan village in Red China to freedom in Hong Kong, and is a quintessentially a John Wayne action-adventure film.

The CinemaScope format was in common format used in the classic era of cinema for filming that were to be released in widescreen. This method of filming was known as the anamorphic lens series which first came to life in 1953 when Spyros P. Skouras, the president of Twentieth Century Fox, marked the beginning of the modern anamorphic format in both principal photography and movie projection. These anamorphic lenses allowed the process to create an image of up to 2.66.1 aspect ratio, which was almost twice as wide as the Academy format’s 1.37.1 aspect ratio. By 1967, CinemaScope was in decline. There has been an array of films being shot in CinemaScope during the years. Some of these films being crowned as some of the most memorable the world have known. Almost every star from the fifties and sixties has appeared in a CinemaScope production. But some studio’s started abandoning the CinemaScope format in previous years, but by now even 20th Century Fox had started to use the new format known as Panavision, which had a 2.40:1 aspect ratio.

The 1955 film ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ was shot in CinemaScope, which was directed by William A. Wellman, and stars Lauren Bacall and John Wayne. The film was shot in glorious WarnerColor, with China Camp, a fishing village situated on the San Francisco Bay serving as the location. Written by Albert Sidney Fleischman, and based on his novel, the film opened to critical reception, and was a moderate success, but as the years progressed, it is now hailed as one of the finest CinemaScope presentations.

The plot of ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ centres on the story of Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder [John Wayne], who is seized by the Chinese Communists, and is sentenced to many years in prison. On his release, and Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder is recruited to transport the people of Chiku Shan Village in Red China in a small sternwheeler Ferry Boat steamer to safety in Hong Kong. With efficient memory of the coast, and the help of a hand drawn chart, he is able to navigate successfully. At the village, Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder is met by Cathy Grainger [Lauren Bacall], a strong and obstinate young woman whose father is a medical missionary. When Dr. Grainger is murdered by the Reds after a fallacious error on an operation he was performing, Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder is forced to break the news of her father’s death to Cathy Grainger before they are set to escape from Chiku Shan, which Cathy Grainger does not believe and in the process is totally selfish and nearly causes a disaster on her return to the Ferry Boat steamer.

On their journey via the ancient Ferry Boat steamer to Hong Kong, they encounter a plethora of problems. Cathy Grainger doesn’t believe that her father is dead, and is persistent about getting off the boat at the Graveyard of Ships at Honghai Bay to find the whereabouts of her Cathy Grainger’s father. Tom Wilder is adamant by annunciating that nobody leaves the boat, but Cathy Grainger demands that he grants her permission to exit the vessel, which results in several altercations along the way.

Further down the river they are trapped in even more obstacles. First they pass the Peoples Liberation Army Navy destroyer that has not yet learnt about their escape. Then they discover that all their food has been poisoned by thugs on board the Ferry Boat steamer, leaving them with a diminutive quantity of food and water. Later the same people try to take the ship during a storm, but fails at their first attempt. Ever since they first met, Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder has been interested in Cathy Grainger, but doesn’t pursue any relationship. It is not until they are in the midst of the ferocious storm that Cathy Grainger comes to terms with her passionate feelings for Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder. One of the most dramatic scene we get to view is that the Ferry Boat steamer is a massive hurricane storm that nearly destroys the Ferry Boat steamer, but of course as always with these Hollywood films, things eventually calms down, but again the hurricane storm scene is so realistic and also the damage to the internal part of the Ferry Boat steamer, so making you feel part of the action with such dramatic effects, makes you nearly go green around the gills, meaning (of a person) looking or feeling very ill or nauseous.

This is the first of two films that Lauren Bacall appeared in with John Wayne, and while it is not one of Lauren Bacall’s most honourable roles, and one that showed her true acting ability, against the Right Wing Republican John Wayne and of course Lauren Bacall delivered a very commendable performance in her fine portrayal of Cathy Grainger, the doctor’s daughter and a sort of love interest for Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder. Sadly Lauren Bacall doesn’t get enough credit for her commendable presentation in the film, and is often overlooked and dismissed by many who think Lauren Bacall was miscast, but that is not true. Lauren Bacall was definitely first rate in everything this superb actress has done. John Wayne also had his moments in the film, and adds some sort of humour to his character which makes the film rather comical at certain intervals, but one thing that really annoyed and grated on me was when John Wayne kept looking up at the ceiling and keep on talking to a fictitious female he calls “BABY.”

What really makes this film exceptional are the settings and the great cinematography, which showcases vivid scenes of the Chinese coast, especially being substituted in having been filmed in the San Francisco Bay. A 1955 review in the New York Times praised William A. Wellman for his direction. “But in filming his story at China Camp in San Rafael, near San Francisco, and in San Francisco Bay, and William A. Wellman appears to have approximated, in flavour at least, the authentic hillside Chinese location as well as the reedy shores and choppy waters of the Formosa Strait. And William A. Wellman has added to that flavour of the film by employing scores of Chinese-Americans as realistic “extras.” The stunningly composed landscapes that are bathed in ravishing WarnerColor and lovingly splashed across the CinemaScope screen, is well worth viewing in themselves, especially in the capable and professional hands of auteur William H. Clothier (Director of Photography).

TRIVA INFO No.1: Robert Mitchum was originally cast as Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder and was fired from the film after an altercation in which he shoved the film’s transportation manager into the San Francisco Bay. Director William A. Wellman complained to John Wayne that the star “was on dope, always walking about six inches off the ground.” Director William A. Wellman said either he or Robert Mitchum had to go. Gregory Peck subsequently turned down the role of Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder, and Humphrey Bogart wanted a $500,000 salary, which would have put the film over budget. Without a major male star involved, Warner Bros. contacted producer John Wayne, threatening to pull out of their distribution deal for the film unless he took the role himself. To keep his new production company Batjac afloat, John Wayne agreed to play Merchant Marine Capt. Tom Wilder. There was some surprise when Lauren Bacall agreed to make the film since she was a left-wing Democrat and the film was right-wing Cold War propaganda.

TRIVA INFO No.2: In an interview Lauren Bacall said that she took the role when Robert Mitchum was to be the male lead. When John Wayne took the role after Robert Mitchum was fired Lauren Bacall expected to clash with him since Lauren Bacall was a left-wing Liberal and John Wayne was a right- wing Conservative. Lauren Bacall said that he was warm and friendly and they did not discuss politics and Lauren Bacall later starred with him again in his last film ‘The Shootist’ [1976]. Lauren Bacall related in her autobiography that gossip columnist Hedda Hopper had, for some reason, campaigned to keep John Wayne from hiring her for in ‘BLOOD ALLEY.’ Lauren Bacall had given Hedda Hopper the cold shoulder after that until a party where Clifton Webb corralled the two of them and insisted that they make up. Bacall, who had been drinking martinis, told Hopper she'd been "a bitch to try and keep me from working." Hedda Hopper agreed and suggested that, to even the score, Lauren Bacall l should give her a good kicking. "Whereupon she turned around and I kicked her in the ass – most unladylike, but very martini-like," Lauren Bacall wrote. "Whereupon everyone laughed out loudly and a truce was declared."

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Blu-ray Image Quality – Warner Archive Collection has once again brought us a stunning 1080p WarnerColor image presentation and equally impressive is the 2.55:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio for added spectacular visual enjoyment, and showing off the film in the best way possible and it looks spectacular and despite being filmed in the so called Formosa Straits, which of course was filmed in the Northern California location to authentically stand in for so called China landscape that looks really fantastic and totally excellent, especially viewing the great fine grain of a WarnerColor visual experience for a film that was released in 1955. But most important there is a generous amount of nice saturate colours, which includes some very nice splendid primary reds, greens, and blues. Never too intense, and the WarnerColor is very accurate for the flesh tones. As far as I can see there I did not notice any visible signs of age-related wear and tear, so all in all this is an all-around terrific looking visual transfer and is another big winner for another Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray disc release.

Blu-ray Audio Quality – Warner Archive Collection have sadly only been able provided a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio experience, which of course was the only sound recording available when the film was released in 1955, compared to what is available today and handles it very well, despite the age of the film. Dialogue is really clear and carries surprisingly very well and articulate at most points in the film and highly responsive to the environments throughout the film. The music score by composer Roy Webb is robust and handles the ambient sounds rather well. So all in all Warner Archive Collection has done a really splendid job overall.

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Blu-ray Special features and Extras:

Special Feature: Warner Pathé Newsreel Footage [480i] [1.37:1] [3:56] Here we a get to view four individual Warner Pathé Newsreel footage [unknown date], which are as follows:

Hollywood Foreign Press Awards in Santa Monica, California: Title card: FOREIGN PRESS ASSN. AWRADS “HENRIETTAS” superimposed over awards ceremony attendees seated at tables and applauding at the Club Del Mar in Santa Monica, and actor Vincent Price stands at table with several Henrietta statuettes. Vincent Price and Gene Wilson award it to actor Dick Wesson for an international stardom award and are seen being handed the statuette, and Vincent Price and Gene Wilson attendees applaud. Actor William Holden presents Susan Hayward with a Henrietta for most popular motion picture actress; both smile as she takes it and attendees applaud. Actress Greer Garson presents John Wayne with the most popular motion picture actor with a Henrietta. Male and female photographers are seen taking photos and John Wayne smiles as he holds his Henrietta as Greer Garson looks on.

CRUSADE FOR FREEDOM: Here we get to see the actor John Wayne making a speech apparently during production on ‘Operation Pacific’ which we see co-star Patricia Neal is in costume. Unfortunately you get several intermitted no sound happening, very strange. The “Crusade for Freedom” was an American propaganda campaign operating from 1950 – 1960. Its public goal was to raise funds for Radio Free Europe; it also served to conceal the CIA's funding of Radio Free Europe and to generate domestic support for American Cold War policies.

JOHN WAYNE BEGINS LEGION POPPY SALE: Here we get to see John Wayne smiling and enjoying himself promoting the sale of the said poppies and two old unknown ladies were roped in for this little promotion. For some unknown reason this is completely without sound.

AIR FORCE HONORS CAST OF BLOOD ALLEY: Here we get to see quite a bit of behind-the-scene filming of ‘BLOOD ALLEY,’ that mainly consisted of scenes on the ancient Ferry Boat steamer. We also get to view clips from the film ‘BLOOD ALLEY.’ We also get to see John Wayne taking the oath for the “The United States Air Force Recruiter Service to Cast & Crew of ‘BLOOD ALLEY.” Sadly we are not given a lot of detail about this event.

Special Feature: Warner Brothers Presents: Promo on ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ #1 [1955] [1080i] [1.78:1] [7:30] "My dad was a great man, but he wasn't a rich man," Marion Mitchell Morrison (aka John Wayne) laments to host Gig Young in the first of two appearances on this show to promote his film ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ that also co-starred Lauren Bacall and we are shown several clips from the film, but unfortunately the image has been enlarged to the 1.78:1 aspect ratio and so certain scenes lose their impact. Gig Young asks John Wayne how did get the idea for the film ‘BLOOD ALLEY,’ so John Wayne hands Gig Young a piece of paper, that he has to read out and was a copy of a news wire message that read, HONG KONG BULLETIN [AGP] AN ENTIRE VILLAGE HAS VANISHED FROM THE COAST OF RED CHINA. ACCORDING TO AN UNCONFIRMED REPORT REACHING HERE TODAY. IN WHAT MAY BE THE MOST DARING MASS ESCAPE OF MODERN TIMES and here John Wayne tells Gig Young that this was a four line news dispatch, which was hot off the news wire and from this John Wayne and his BATJAC Productions Company was able with the help of director William A. Wellman kick start the making of the film ‘BLOOD ALLEY.’ John Wayne also discloses that at one time his dad was in business driving a horse-drawn ice cream wagon and further reveals that the actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., was his boyhood screen idol. John Wayne also informs us that first job on a Hollywood movie set was less than glamorous job in Tinsel town, where director Jack Ford had hired John Wayne to toss leaves via a big fan so that they "flew" onto the actors in a film scene set in the Bavarian Autumn season. John Wayne also discloses that Hollywood had once tried to cast him as a singing cowboy, but that also did not work out, since John Wayne did not have many musical bones in his body; even his "Whistling Dan" character in ‘THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY’ had to have his tunes "looped in" by an off-screen lip-purser, so much for so called glamorous side of Hollywood.

Special Feature: Warner Brothers Presents: Promo on ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ #2 [1955] [1080i] [1.78:1] [7:40] This second Warner Bros. Promos presentation for ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ and is a much more technical aspect than the first. Here once again Gig Young introduces himself in a different location and before he introduces John Wayne again he introduces "The Monster of Movieland," which is in fact a 35mm Mitchell BNC-R type Camera that was used to film ‘BLOOD ALLEY.’ But with this second Warner Bros. Promos presentation it focused primarily on host Gig Young shooting the breeze once again with ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ star John Wayne. Here we get to see John Wayne talking to Gig Young about the 35mm Mitchell BNC-R type Camera that filmed ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ in "Cinemascope" and explaining the squeezed film process of this widescreen format when filming and then when the film is shown in the cinema. Next John Wayne has set up his home projector to show rare behind-the-scene filming of ‘BLOOD ALLEY,’ which he informs us that this his habit of always taking "home movies" and shows us the actual much smaller hand-held camera that he films on the movie sets and what scenes we see being projected also gives John Wayne an opportunity to display some background footage of their ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ film set of so called "China" that we view on the small projector screen, and John Wayne especially talking about how they went about building the sets to look like China, which in fact was substitute for the Richard Bay area near San Francisco. Anyway, all in all both these Warner Brothers specials with John Wayne and Gig Young are quite rare and I enjoyed watching them, as it gave another side of John Wayne’s private personality in a much more relaxed situation.

Theatrical Trailer [1955] [1080i] [2.55:1] [2:36] This is the Original Theatrical Trailer for the film ‘BLOOD ALLEY.’ They proclaim . . . “Where the SEAS RUN RED with DANGER!” It also proclaims, “The Stormiest Romance, Two People Ever Had! Adventure That’s High, Wide and Mighty! Despite the quality is not as good as the film, it is still a brilliant presentation that certainly gives you a flavour of what you will view when you watch the film.

Finally, ‘BLOOD ALLEY’ is a much underrated film, and deserves more accolades than what it has achieved during the years. It’s a highly entertaining film that offers a conglomeration of action, suspense and romance. What really makes this film exceptional are the settings and the great cinematography, which showcases vivid scenes of the Chinese coast which was substituted by having been filmed in San Francisco Bay. A 1955 review in the New York Times praised William Wellman for his direction. “But in filming his story at China Camp in San Rafael, near San Francisco, and in San Francisco Bay, Wellman appears to have approximated, in flavour at least, the authentic hilly Chinese locales as well as the reedy shores and choppy waters of the Formosa Strait. And he has added to that flavour by employing scores of Chinese-Americans as realistic ‘extras.'” The stunningly composed landscapes that are bathed in ravishing WarnerColor and is splashed across the epic CinemaScope aspect ratio screen, is well worth viewing. Highly Recommended!

Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado 
Le Cinema Paradiso 
United Kingdom

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