Blood Alley (1955): William Wellman’s Propaganda Tale of John Wayne in Red China with Lauren Bacall

One of John Wayne’s most politically propagandistic films in the 1950s, Blood Alley, based on A.S. Fleischman’s novel, was produced by his own company Batjac and directed by William Wellman.

On the surface, the film, about the escape of the Chiku Shan village in Red China to freedom in Hong Kong, is supposedly a quintessentially Wayne action-adventure. However, in actuality, Blood Alley is a blatant message film, replete with anti-Communist slogans.

Blood Alley
Blood alley poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Grade: C (*1/2* out of *****)

John Wayne plays courageous merchant Marine captain Tom Wilder, who’s rescued from a Red jail by the villagers,  They need his knowledge of the currents and ports in guiding their escape.

He says he is intrigued by the idea of “a whole village scratched off the Red map and put down in Hong Kong.”

Wayne’s condescending, paternalistic attitudes toward people of other races and nationalities are manifest throughout the movie.  For example, he is extremely considerate with a pro-Communist family that had poisoned the food on the ship. “Your China is misguided,” he tells them. But he’s gentlemanly enough to give them the opportunity to continue to Hong Kong, which all but one take. At the end, Wayne guides the villagers through the 300-mile blood alley and is praised for accomplishing his mission.

Blood Alley was not received favorably by the critics, though some thought that it was “a good comic-strip adventure and far more effective as anti-Communist propaganda than Big Jim McLain.

Even so, the movie was relatively better received than Wayne’s preceding vehicle, Sea Chase, another sea adventure, which despite bad reviews was a bonanza at the box-office.

Once again, the West Coast reception of “Blood Alley” was more positive than that of its Eastern counterpart.  The critic Philip Schewer described it as “a good movie of the old epic school,” (Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1955).

In the end, Blood Alley was less popular at the box-office than either Big Jim McLain or Sea Chase, grossing in domestic rentals $2 million.

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Credits:

Directed by William A. Wellman
Produced by John Wayne
Screenplay by Albert Sidney Fleischman, based on Blood Alley, the 1955 novel by Albert Sidney Fleischman
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography William H. Clothier
Edited by Fred McDowell
Distributed by Warner Bros.

Release date: October 1, 1955

Running time: 115 minutes
Budget $2 million
Box office $2.2 million

Cast
John Wayne as Captain Tom Wilder
Lauren Bacall as Cathy Grainger, a medical missionary’s daughter
Paul Fix as Mr. Tso, the senior village elder and headman
Joy Kim as Susu, Cathy Grainger’s housekeeper
Berry Kroeger (Berry Kroger), as Old Feng, the Communist Feng family patriarch
Mike Mazurki as Big Han, Wilder’s First Mate
Anita Ekberg as Wei Ling, Big Han’s wife