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Blood Alley
Blood alley poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam A. Wellman
Screenplay byAlbert Sidney Fleischman
Based onBlood Alley
1955 novel
by Albert Sidney Fleischman
Produced byJohn Wayne
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byFred McDowell
Music byRoy Webb
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • October 1, 1955 (1955-10-01)
Running time
115 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[citation needed]
Box office$2.2 million (US)[1]

Blood Alley is a 1955 American seafaring Cold War adventure film produced by John Wayne, directed by William A. Wellman, and starring Wayne and Lauren Bacall. The film was distributed by Warner Bros. and shot in CinemaScope and Warnercolor.[2]


Captain Tom Wilder, an American Merchant Mariner, is taken prisoner after his ship is seized by the Chinese Communists. After two years in prison, he is helped to escape with bribery and by disguising him as a Soviet army officer. A large Chinese man transports Wilder to Chiku Shan village without divulging why he was broken out of prison.

The village leader, Mr. Tso, tells Wilder has been recruited to transport nearly 200 Chiku Shan residents out of Red China to the British port of Hong Kong. Captain Wilder must pilot a stolen, wood-burning, flat-bottomed, 19th Century stern-wheel riverboat. He will need to utilize his detailed memory of the China coast to draw a chart and navigate using an unreliable magnetic compass. Finally, he must rely upon the villagers' determination and resources to escape.

The villagers have been planning their escape for more than a year, gradually raising the harbor channel's bottom with stones in order to trap the local Red Chinese patrol boat once it has been lured inside. Sinking sampans loaded with rocks at the channel mouth will cause the patrol boat to run aground while the village escapes. The villagers have also been secretly accumulating arms, ranging from Browning machine guns to Mosin–Nagant rifles and Nagant revolvers. Their plan is complicated by having to bring along the Communist Feng family so they cannot inform on the remaining villagers who would be shot for allowing the escape.

The villagers include the riverboat's Chief Engineer, a U.S. Navy-trained marine engineer named Tack, who helps steal the steamboat. Tack and Wilder bring the stern wheeler to Chiku Shan village where it is loaded with furnace firewood, boiler water, and provisions; it is re-christened with the village's name.

Wilder meets and is attracted to a tough and determined American woman named Cathy Grainger, whose father is a medical missionary in the village. Dr. Grainger was recently executed by the Red Chinese following unsuccessful surgery on a political commissar. To prevent her staying behind, Wilder tells Cathy about her father's death just before the villagers leave Chiku Shan, though she refuses to believe him.

Following their plan, the villagers lure the patrol boat into the harbor and trap it there. They flee down the coast, bluffing their way past a People's Liberation Army Navy destroyer. They disappear into a fog bank, then hide by day and sail at night. The Fengs attempt to sabotage the escape, first by poisoning the food supply, then attempting and failing to take over the boat during a storm. Cathy comes to terms with her attraction to the gruff Captain Wilder.

A shortage of wood and fresh water forces the Chiku Shan to pull into the Graveyard of Ships at Honghai Bay. Captain Wilder orders the wrecks stripped of wood for fuel and water siphoned from depressions and tanks to use for the boiler and for drinking. A heavy timber plows through the stern wheel while mooring the steamboat, snapping one of its paddle blades. Wilder is forced to stay in the Graveyard longer than planned for repairs. At the same time, Cathy goes ashore and returns after learning of her father's death. The Fengs are put ashore, only to be taken back aboard when the pursuing Red Chinese destroyer shells the Graveyard and sends its powered boats in search of the ferry.

The Chiku Shan makes a run into a marshy estuary and disappears. Because smoke would reveal their position, the villagers both pole and tow the riverboat through miles of marshlands until reaching the open sea beyond the destroyer's search area. Tack fires up the boiler, and the steamboat proceeds to Hong Kong with the refugees. Their triumphant arrival is hailed by steam whistles and ship sirens from every vessel in the harbor.



The film's screenplay was written by Albert Sidney Fleischman, based on his novel, and was produced by Wayne's Batjac Productions. 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 (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 Model 1891 Mosin–Nagant rifles (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 determination as to model can be made in the scene where Captain Wilder is shown watching Mr. Feng in his car with the Mosin–Nagant laid across his knees. The single blade front sight and thick barrel bands of the Model 1891 are unmistakable.

The real Blood Alley was located in Shanghai,[3] where Fleischman had visited as a sailor on the USS Albert T. Harris (DE-447). He was paid $5000 for the rights for his novel and was allowed to write the screenplay.[4]

The Communist patrol boat that the villagers trap on their artificial reef was actually a rescue boat on loan to the film company by the U.S. Air Force.


Wayne plays a Merchant Marine captain in a role originally intended for Robert Mitchum prior to an altercation with the producers. Mitchum was fired from the production by Wellman. Wayne took over the lead after Gregory Peck turned the film down and Humphrey Bogart requested a large amount of money to assume the role.[5]

Swedish actress Anita Ekberg, veteran actor Paul Fix, and film thug Mike Mazurki all play Chinese roles in Hollywood "yellowface".


Award Category Subject Result
Golden Globe Awards Most Promising Newcomer – Female Anita Ekberg Won

Promotion and critical reception

The film was promoted by the appearance of Wayne on the number-one rated television show, I Love Lucy. In an unusual two-episode arc airing as the show's season opener on October 10, 1955, Lucy and Ethel steal Wayne's footprints from the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre the night before the premiere of Blood Alley, and complications ensue. During the second episode, a studio employee interrupts Wayne in his dressing room to show him a poster for Blood Alley.[6] The film was also promoted during the closing credits.[7]

Despite the star power of its lead actors and director, Blood Alley received a lukewarm reception from critics.[8] The New York Times said, "Blood Alley, despite its exotic, oriental setting, is a standard chase melodrama patterned on a familiar blueprint."[9] Today's critics have focused on Blood Alley's anti-communist aspect. DVD Talk called it "preposterous but entertaining" and said, "Wayne and Bacall have no chemistry at all".[10]

See also


  1. ^ 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1956', Variety Weekly, January 2, 1957
  2. ^ Variety film review; September 21, 1955, page 6.
  3. ^ "Blood Alley". Tales of Old Shanghai. Earnshaw Books. Archived from the original on October 11, 2008. Retrieved September 18, 2010.
  4. ^ pp 31-32 Freedman, Jeri Sid Fleischman 2003 Rosen Publishing Group
  5. ^ Olson, James S. & Roberts, Randy John Wayne: American: American Simon and Schuster, 11 Sep 1995
  6. ^ "Stolen Footprints: Lucy and John Wayne". Michael's TV Tray. 21 March 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2020.
  7. ^ "Lucy and John Wayne". I Love Lucy. Season 5. Episode 2 (Paramount DVD 2005 ed.). 10 October 1955. 25:53 minutes in. Mr. Wayne's latest picture is Blood Alley, released through Warner Brothers, soon to be seen at your local theater.
  8. ^ "Blood Alley". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster, Inc. Retrieved September 19, 2010.
  9. ^ "In Formosa Strait". The New York Times. October 6, 1955. p. 25.
  10. ^ Galbraith, Stuart. "Blood Alley". DVD Talk Review. Retrieved September 19, 2010.

External links

This page was last edited on 22 November 2021, at 18:10
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