Fire Down Below [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (8th July 2021).
The Film

"Fire Down Below" (1957)

Felix (played by Robert Mitchum) and Tony (played by Jack Lemmon) are two American men working in the Caribbean sea. Their boat is fairly small, and is used for small scale menial work in smuggling throughout the area with the help of their local shipmate Jimmy Jean (played by Edric Connor). They suddenly find themselves with an unusual request of transporting a mysterious and gorgeous European baroness named Irena (played by Rita Hayworth) to a differing island. While initially reluctant, $1,200 is an incredibly generous sum for the job and they decide to voyage forward with the deal.

First and foremost, "Fire Down Below" is a gorgeous film. Shot mostly in Trinidad and Tobago, every location shot is exquisite in nature with the sunny skies and clear blue seas, and the sands of the beaches. The wardrobes of Hayworth whether in dresses or swimsuits are breathtaking, as well as the dancehall scenes with the various dancers and patrons with their costumes for the occasions. But other than that, a lot of "Fire Down Below" falls painfully flat. Based on the 1954 novel of the same name written by Max Catto> under the pseudonym Simon Kent, the main characters in the film are very one dimensional and not very engaging, as backstories are glossed over, relationships are hinted at, and there is not much to grip the audiences with emotionally. Mitchum is fine playing it tough and dirty in his role of Felix, with his demeanor being slightly aggressive yet soft when it needs to be. Lemmon on the other hand sometimes tries to play it tough and ends up being more on the awkward side. He is the softer one, but doesn't seem to fit the role very well in the casting. Possibly too clean cut, but the casting here is off with Lemmon. With both lead men their backstories are only glimpsed at. Tony talks about ending up in the Caribbean after returning home from the Korean War, Felix talks about a past marriage not working out, and only a few minor details scattered on how they ended up together after a drunken night. As for the character of Irene, she is also a mystery with her background and where she is going being basically an afterthought rather than a plotpoint. There is third party told backstory about her life before wartime in Europe but it is unreliable and shoddy. As of how she ended up in the Caribbean without a passport and how she is able to have so many perfect clothing choices for every scene are also never explained. Character backstories are lean, therefore development is also fairly thin as well.

As for how the story develops it's almost as if there are two separate movies pieced together. The first half shows how Felix and Tony's relationship gets strained due to the presence of Irene in their voyage. The second half on the other hand has mostly Tony on his own on a cargo ship that gets into an accident, pinning him down and unable to escape. It's suddenly here that new characters are introduced awkwardly, with actors Bernard Lee, Herbert Lom and Peter Illing suddenly appearing in supporting roles. In addition, the cinematography by Desmond Dickinson is almost a wasted effort in terms of early Cinemascope. Granted it may look beautiful overall, but there is rarely a sequence with tracking or other camera movements, leaving a very stilted looking production with little movement, relying on the few dance sequences to give a feel for motion. On a positive note, the dance sequences such as the opening limbo scene are great highlights of music and dance that certainly look wonderful with the vibrant colors and costumes in the setpieces. The direction by Robert Parrish also seems by the book with little that can be said about technical creativity or anything particular to set it apart from other productions.

Produced by Columbia Pictures with Warwick Films, the UK based production company led by Albert Broccoli and Irving Allen, this Warwick's their most expensive production to date at $2.3 million. But there was also some behind the scenes trouble with Hayworth and her contract with Columbia, as in 1955 she unsuccessfully sued to be released from her contract, and "Fire Down Below" was her first film in four years. She was in her late thirties during production and tabloid stories were more regularly written than reviews of her performances. "Fire Down Below" did showcase her sexy image but the role was a far cry from her peak days at Columbia in the 40s. How much influence she had on the production isn't known but like the other leads, she doesn't seem to be putting in her very best, and this would be her second to last performance for Columbia Pictures, with the musical "Pal Joey" being released in the same year. The pacing and structure are not well balanced, the characters are underwritten, leaving a forgettable taste for viewers overall.

"Fire Down Below" was theatrically released on May 30, 1957 in the UK and on August 8 in the US. Grossing just $2 million at the US box office, it wouldn't break even which led to Warwick Films having to scale back production costs of their upcoming schedule. The film is a very basic footnote in the careers of the cast and crew involved, but is more of an innocent failure of a film being too basic rather than being completely terrible.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the theatrical 2.55:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. This HD transfer from Sony Pictures is stunning to say the least. Shot in Cinemascope in a very wide frame, the color cinematography shot on location in many sequences in Trinidad and Tobago looks exquisite throughout, with beautiful wardrobes, bright locations at sea and on the beaches, as well as the interior locations. Speckles, scratches, and other damage are absolutely non-existent, with the restoration looking shockingly clean yet not having any sort of digital artifacts. An absolutely first rate restoration for the film.

The film's runtime is 115:12

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono
The original mono track sounds very good throughout, with dialogue sounding clear and well balanced. The music and effects can be slightly flat, but the track sounds quite nice with the various music cues. Like the picture, the track sounds very clean with no issues with hisses, pops, or other damage, keeping a very clear audio track.

There are no subtitles for the feature.

Extras

Unfortunately there are no extras provided. Once the disc is played the film starts without any menu options. Once the film ends, the disc stops.

The film was previously released on Blu-ray in the United States by Mill Creek as part of the "Rita Hayworth: The Ultimate Collection" alongside 11 other films, and also in France by Elephant Films. The French release included a French language featurette about the director Robert Parrish as its sole extra. Strangely none of these releases or the older DVD releases included the theatrical trailer. Nothing on YouTube or "Trailers from Hell" either.

Packaging

The packaging states "region B" only but is in fact region ALL.

Overall

"Fire Down Below" may look wonderful visually, but is a very lackluster production with a weak script and bland direction. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray features an excellent transfer in video, great audio, but sadly lacking any extras.

The Film: D+ Video: A Audio: A- Extras: F- Overall: C

 


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