Blood Alley (1955): 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 Wayne’s 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.

John Wayne plays a courageous merchant Marine captain, rescued from a Red jail by the villagers who need his knowledge of currents and ports to guide them in their escape. He is intrigued, as he says, by the idea of “a whole village scratched off the Red map and put down in Hong Kong.”

Wayne’s condescending, paternalistic attitudes are demonstrated 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 it was “a good comic-strip adventure and far more effective as anti-Communist propaganda than “Big Jim McLain.”   The movie was also better received than Wayne’s preceding vehicle, Sea Chase, another sea adventure, which despite bad reviews was 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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