Hell Below Zero (1954)
Like many actors in the fifties, Alan Ladd went overseas for a period of eighteen months to do a succession of films abroad due to tax loop holes. While there he appeared in a trio of films of which this one is the closest in character that Ladd was best known for.
We first meet our would be hero on a plane bound for Capetown from England. Sitting next to him is a woman who will be in need of his help as the plot develops. Joan Tetzel as the leading lady is on her way towards the Antarctic to discover just how her father has died. He was the Captain of a whaling ship and apparently jumped overboard to his death. The story just does not sit well with her. Especially when the second in command is played by the rather unsavory Stanley Baker.
Once arriving in Capetown Ladd is off to see a mining partner who it seems has taken off with his investment. This is a scene that fans paid for when going to a Ladd film way back in the day. It turns in to a rousing fist fight with Ladd landing enough solid blows to call his financial losses even.
Moving forward he seizes the opportunity to put his seamanship to work signing on as first mate to the trawler that is delivering the lovely Tetzel to the Antarctic. This conveniently allows Ladd to do what Hollywood stars are supposed to do. Guide the ship out of the harbor and let the aged sea dog of a Captain sit by and watch. Unfortunately for that same Captain, he is injured during a raging storm leaving Alan in full command.
After settling out the romantic issues with his leading lady, Ladd is secure in the knowledge that he`s not only commanding his own sea vessel but has his love life straightened out. Before Ladd came along Tetzel had once been engaged to the man they are heading for a showdown with. The nasty Mr. Baker.
Once the ships make contact things move rapidly along with Ladd and Baker taking an immediate dislike towards each other. Ladd gets to engage in plenty of action from fisticuffs with men that are loyal to Baker as well as a chase on skis over ice covered waters. While there`s no doubting just how this is going to come out, Ladd delivers the goods for his fans in this quickly paced 90 minute actioner.
The film is directed by Mark Robson who had a steady hand at filming action sequences. He had already done so on Champion and would move on to do the underrated Sinatra war film Von Ryan`s Express in 1965 among many others. The backdrop for the film is where it lets us down with the back screen projection shots of the antarctic. When it comes to the whaling footage, it`s become passe. It`s not a pretty sight by today`s standards and I for one take no pleasure in it.
The film was actually produced by Albert R. Broccoli and for anyone that knows anything about movie producers, they should know that it is the Broccoli name that has been associated with the James Bond series from Dr. No forward.
While overseas the other two films that Ladd made while abroad were The Black Knight in which he is admittedly miscast and The Red Beret aka Paratrooper. Before returning to the U.S. he made one more stop in Canada to film Saskatchewan rounding out his 18 months away from his homeland.
While no classic it does offer Ladd fans the opportunity to see him as a man of action who can pack a punch when cornered.