Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Monte Hellman: Back Door to Hell

Monte Hellman's Back Door to Hell (1964) delivers an incisive and exciting tale set in the Philippines during World War II.  This black and white "B movie" is thoughtful and interesting, punctuated with bursts of war-related violence. Thank God for B movies like Back Door to Hell and for everyone involved in this particular low-budget project, shot on location.

The battle episodes are on a par with the assault on the airbase scenes in Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), with an almost documentary-style feel to them (with both shot in black and white).

Hellman's observing eye is neutral enough that we can perceive what it's like to be on all sides of the fighting, whether Filipino guerillas or other villagers, Japanese or American soldiers or even bandits. The matters brought up are questions that we still grapple with -- how to treat POWs, whether to use torture to gain information, deliberately targeting civilian adults and children, and collateral damage. Back Door to Hell is remarkably nuanced for such a concise film.

I love the cast, ranging from Jack Nicholson and Jimmie Rodgers (the Elvis-like singer) to Conrad Maga and Annabelle Huggins, John Hackett to Joe Sison.

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.        


1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Love THE COCKFIGHTER and BLACKTOP ROAD. Never seen this.