In 1955, John Wayne had a series of movies which centered around dangerous voyages in open waters. The Sea Chase was released in theaters about 4 months before Blood Alley and explored similar themes. The Duke stars as Tom Wilder, a captain in the American Merchant Marine, who is spending his days locked away in a Chinese prison. He is broken out of prison by a village of peasants who need Wilder’s help in aiding them into Hong Kong, which was still under British control at the time. The villagers are seeking Wilder’s knowledge of the threatening waters that they must travel to get them to freedom. Starring alongside The Duke is Lauren Bacall, an American physician’s daughter who is awaiting her father’s return.
As someone who appreciates John Wayne’s classic western films, I didn’t find too much interest in The Sea Chase when previously reviewed it on Blu-ray but Blood Alley focuses on similar themes and is far more effective as it emphasizes the importance of Wilder’s trip and how it was crafted. Blood Alley spends a significant amount of time showing the planning of the voyage and building up each character’s relationships. Wilder wasn’t broken out of prison and then immediately ventured into the waters, instead the filmmakers spent time showing John Wayne preparing his maneuvers and taking his enemies into consideration. Through well-timed development, John Wayne’s voyage felt like a dire one.
John Wayne plays a rather convincing commander when he is steering his passengers to freedom. Here in Blood Alley, John Wayne is tasked with playing an American which really works for him. Lauren Bacall also plays her role fairly-well. Wayne and Bacall don’t have any special chemistry but it’s fun to watch her on-screen competition with Wilder’s imaginary girlfriend, Baby, who he made up in prison.
There are plenty of obstacles for Wilder and his crew to overcome that make Blood Alley a thrilling ride. Whether it is fuel shortages or perilous storms, the film is constantly introducing more exciting twists and turns. With these exciting sequences, the voyage down Blood Alley feels intense and important for the crew to complete. The widescreen camera work captures the ships involved nicely and showcases their role in the waters.
Blood Alley is now available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection and the transfer is decent but, at times, slightly disappointing. Warner Archive Collection released John Wayne’s The Sea Chase on Blu-ray around the same time as Blood Alley and both involve John Wayne traveling in water to save his fellow passengers. The Sea Chase really captures the sea and surrounding areas quite beautifully but Blood Alley feels less detailed in its transfer. Blood Alley is noticeably grainier even though it was shot by the same cameraman and had the same post-production process. Images throughout Blood Alley lacked sharpness when it explored the villages and John Wayne’s voyage down Blood Alley. However, the audio transfer in Blood Alley is far superior to The Sea Chase. Sounds of steamboats and Chinese destroyers are treated fairly well with enhanced range. Just like The Sea Chase, it may not sound like a new movie, but the audio is captured nicely for a film released in the 50s. The film arrives with a few bonus features, far more than The Sea Chase. The first is a selection of fifties newsreels clips featuring John Wayne visiting the set of Blood Alley. Also provided as special features are two promos of John Wayne describing his introduction to the movie industry and briefly describing Cinemascope and the set of Blood Alley. The Blu-ray release also offers the trailer for the film.
Blood Alley was a fun adventure film with a carefully crafted storyline that offered plenty of thrilling moments. John Wayne is believable in his role and sells his performance as a commander. Blood Alley isn’t as exciting as many classic John Wayne western films, but is certainly a pleasing film to watch.
The Warner Archive generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray of the film for reviewing purposes.