Thursday, 15 April 2021

Half Way To Hell

Mexican Stand Off

Half Way To Hell
Directed by
Victor Adamson as D. Dixon
(and Al Adamson, uncredited)
USA 1960 IIP/Severin Blu Ray Zone A

Warning: I guess, technically this thing has spoilers on it.

Well, if there’s one thing that starting to delve into Al Adamson’s body of work has done for me for certain then it’s made me trust the IMDB even less than I did before. I don’t know who’s filling this stuff in on Adamson’s films but, at the very least, their interpretation of the facts seems to be at odds with what you can see with your own eyes in Severin's amazing box set, Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection.

For example, Al Adamson is in this as, it turns out, the main bad guy. However, the character name listed for him in the IMDB is of another major character in the movie... who is also listed as another character. Seriously IMDB, sort yourselves out. I’m used to looking for movies which have no entry or a bare bones of an entry or often no information about a release whatsoever but, presenting the wrong information goes one step further. For something which is supposed to be an industry standard database to impart the facts about movies, the IMDB is pretty much the only game in town but it’s seriously lacking. Anyway... back to our main feature.

This is the first (and probably the last) time that Half Way To Hell has seen the light of day on home video. It’s been painstakingly restored as best they could do it by Severin... from what they could get. So, barring a couple of cuts where the odd snippet of dialogue may be missing along with some questionable damage to the film stock, this is pretty much the whole thing.

And it’s a black and white Western made by Adamson’s dad. Half Way To Hell is the last of literally hundreds of films that Victor Adamson produced and directed since 1910 (and after this he was still turning up in things as an actor and, not just in his son’s pictures, presumably because he was so well respected in the business). It’s written and co-produced by Al Adamson and, like I said, stars the younger Adamson as the lead villain.

And... it’s kinda terrible but also amazingly interesting.

Shot in black and white but in a widescreen aspect ratio, the films plays like a typical 1940s Monogram or Republic Western but, perhaps, with not quite the same high energy. Still, it has fairly fast plotting, the odd fist fight and a little intrigue on board. It also, I think, seems to be making a political point with its pro-Mexican uprising stance which, I suspect, was an unusual thing for some of the Westerns being made at the time.

The story is of a Mexican lady called Maria, played by Caroll Montour (the film is narrated by her as a voice-over as well) and her friend Joanne (played by Shirley Tegge, the final role in a very short career). They are trying to get across the border and out of Mexico to flea Maria’s former boyfriend Escobar (played by Lyle Felice), the leader of the group of outlaws who are orchestrating a revolution and fighting for the freedom of Mexico (as they see it). She wants nothing more to do with him and so they, with their armed escort, are getting out while the getting’s good. They pick up a hitchhiking prospector on the way, Jeff played by David Lloyd, who is right away set up as the hero of the tale, with Escobar firmly highlighted, at this stage of the game at least, as the villain.

Unfortunately, Lloyd is left for dead along with all the others that Al Adamson as Slade (billed as Rick Adams) guns down with his gang, on orders to take the girls back to Escobar. However, in the words of a famous villain from a well known space fantasy franchise, Slade and the gang want to ‘alter the deal’ and change the terms of their agreement by ransoming the women back to Escobar instead.

Slade and another gang member go to make some unsuccessful negotiations with the Mexican leader while, back from the dead, Jeff (the hero of the piece) returns and guns down, with the help of Maria’s new romantic interest gang turncoat, the remaining outlaws. About this time Slade catches up to them but then they are all caught and taken back to Escobar. There’s a whip fight between Escobar and Maria’s new guy, then another between Escobar and Jeff. Then Escobar sees the error of his ways and releases them all but Slade catches up with them after they leave so he can steal Jeff’s gold.

Yeah, it gets twisty and turny and there’s not a lot of great acting going on. Maria’s narrative seems to be striving to capture the hearts of a sympathetic Mexican audience but I don’t know if this film had much effect as a political bullet. However, a couple of really interesting things happen that  quite surprised me. The first and main one being that, in a fight with Slade, ten minutes before the narrative’s conclusion, Jeff the hero (who has literally just become romantically entangled with Maria’s friend Joanne) is punched off a cliff by Slade and falls to his death. David Lloyd seems to be one of those actors who has the uncanny power to let his bones turn to jelly and do a fair imitation of a flopsy dummy that has been dropped off the cliff instead. There seem to be a lot of those ‘actors’ in Adamson movies so far, I’ve noticed. ;-) End of the hero character and, yeah, wasn’t expecting that so it was a nice rug pull moment, far from the formulaic movie which houses it.

The other thing is that, by the end, Maria dumps her new boyfriend, decides that Escobar is okay after all and goes off to help fight in the revolution with him. Now you'll know, if you read this blog regularly, that I’m completely clueless about political issues but this seems to me to be, I dunno, some kind of bold statement and, again, not the kind of ending I would associate with those old oaters, to be honest. So, while it’s all humdrum but fairly watchable stuff for the most part, I found it to be a lot more interesting than I had at first expected it to be.

The framing in some of the shots is okay too and there are some high points. The film starts off with a really nice, speedy shot of the Mexican band of ‘revolutionaries’ riding their horses with a dog running at high speed between them and the camera and, well... cute dog. I like dogs. This was the absolute best thing in the movie for me. More shots of dogs running please studios!

Other than that, there are some really bad things about the film too. There’s a scene towards the end where it looks like Al Adamson’s character has been added in insert shots to maybe clarify some of the action or possibly to pad the time (the film runs for an hour and six minutes). So in the master shots, Slade has a nice bit of stubble under his chin. However, some of the closer shots of him in one scene have him looking almost unrecognisable as the character... with either too much fuzzy stubble of almost bear-like proportions or, even, clean shaven in another shot a few seconds later. So, yeah, definitely reshoots of insert scenes on different days I would guess. Also, in one scene where the romantic relationship between Jeff and Joanne is being superfluously developed, I’m pretty sure I can hear an aeroplane or possibly a car engine in the background sound for a few seconds so, yeah, I suppose not much, if any, re-dubbing was done in this one and the ‘wild sound’ tracks were relied on pretty much throughout. I guess that’s cheaper, right?

So, yeah, once again I’m left with a film which I didn’t think I was going to get much out of but which turned out to be entertaining enough and had some unexpected moments which I’m not going to forget in a hurry. For some reason, this Severin box set is rekindling my enthusiasm with film somewhat and, although Half Way To Hell is certainly not a great movie, or even a good one, I liked it fine and I appreciate Severin’s great efforts to get this one in a half way watchable state for people. It’s a good time to enjoy films. I suspect, when physical media finally dies, that options like seeing films of this nature just won’t be there for an audience so, yeah, make hay while the sun still shines, is my advice.

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