Note: images do not reflect the contents of the Blowing Wild Blu-Ray.
Over the past couple of years, Olive Films has been the classic film lover's best friend. They've already reissued several lesser-known but generally worthwhile films from the archives of Paramount and Republic, along with independent ventures such as the John Garfield boxing flick Body and Soul. The heated 1953 action melodrama Blowing Wild is among a slate of Olive releases originally released by Warner Brothers (technically, it was made as an independent production from a company run by Harry Warner's son-in-law, distributed by Warner's). The Gary Cooper/Barbara Stanwyck vehicle may have some serious flaws (explained below), but the film is given a polished presentation on disc in line with Olive's other stuff.
It's easy to see the potential Blowing Wild had for 1950s audiences. The oil rigging drama boasted a taut screenplay by Philip Yordan (who also wrote Johnny Guitar), action-filled set pieces and torrid love scenes in an exotic setting (filmed in Mexico, according to the poster), a florid theme song by popular singer Frankie Laine, and the marquee appeal of Cooper and Stanwyck, headlining together for the first time since 1941's Meet John Doe and Ball of Fire. It should have worked, even in a campy way, but the whole enterprise suffocates from a constant air of fatigue. This has all been done before, and it shows.
Blowing Wild's sweat-drenched intrigue opens in a Latin American jungle, where Cooper's Jeff Dawson is constructing an oil rig with his old buddy and business partner, Dutch Peterson (Ward Bond). Before they get the chance to yield some black gold, however, the area is seized by a pack of gun-wielding banditos who destroy the oil rig. Out of cash, Jeff and Dutch get to the nearest port city and attempt to get back to the U.S. It is there that they meet another stranded American, Sal Donnelly (Ruth Roman), whose plan to get a discounted boat ticket by posing as Jeff's wife fails. The two men also happen upon an old friend of theirs, Mexican entrepreneur Ward "Paco" Conway (Anthony Quinn). Eventually, they take on a dangerous job transporting sensitive cans of nitro glycerin through the countryside. Before you can say "didn't Yves Montand do this already?," the same banditos from earlier in the film ambush the guys' truck, injuring Dutch as the two men and their precious cargo barely escape. While Dutch recovers in the hospital, Paco appeals to Jeff to have a slice of his own successful oil drilling operation. Being an oil rig foreman under Paco's employ involves Jeff getting back in touch with Paco's fiery wife, Marina (Stanwyck). While Jeff is long over their one-time affair, Marina finds her passion rekindled - especially once she finds out that Jeff has fallen for Sal (the stranded American, remember her?). On top of that, the banditos are making outrageous demands on Paco and his oil wells, leading to explosions, falling horses, and an epic battle between a sword and a rusty metal pipe.
No doubt about it, there's a lot of pleasure to be had in juicy, pulpy dramas from the '40s and early '50s. Blowing Wild's take on melodrama is too overripe to be entertaining, however, leaving the cliches out in the sun until they melt into an indecipherable sludge. One of the biggest mistakes it makes lies in how it misuses its stars. Both dynamic, charismatic performers, Cooper and Stanwyck come across as too hamstrung by their roles' limitations to even bother. The same goes for Ward Bond, who attempts to flesh out his simple character by acting obnoxious and dumb. In all fairness, the hoary dialogue in the script could be to blame, as well. In contrast to the leads, director Hugo Fregonese actually procures some lively, interesting work from Anthony Quinn and Ruth Roman. There's also a few nice action sequences, in between the drawn-out dialogue scenes. Blowing Wind might keep you diverted for 97 minutes, but for the most part it's a draggy, dispirited mess.
The Blu Ray:
Olive Films' Blu Ray edition of Blowing Wild follows in the same mold as the company's other vintage film reissues, with nice packaging and good mastering. This particular release uses a more degraded source print than many of the others, however, with one early scene sporting a flurry of scratches and skips. The second half fares much better, with an adequate transfer containing a pleasant light/dark range. The picture's 1.37:1 aspect ratio preserves the original image with no crops.
A perfectly adequate mono soundtrack is the only audio option here, a serviceable job which only gets noticeably distorted when the scoring gets portentous (often, in a flick like this). Except for a few early scenes when the damaged print sounds raggedy, dialogue is clear and kept at a pleasant level throughout.
But it's a dry heat - sparks flew when Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck got together for two memorable 1941 films, Meet John Doe and Ball of Fire. Another lesser-known teaming came with 1953 South-of-the-border flick Blowing Wild, with the more matured duo as world weary ex-lovers who tangle over oil wells and sexual politics. Although it sports some decent action scenes and good work from Anthony Quinn and Ruth Roman, this thoroughly routine melodrama grinds along mercilessly - as if everyone involved is marking time, waiting for the paycheck to arrive so they can go home. Skip It.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist and sometime writer who lives in sunny (and usually too hot) Phoenix, Arizona. Among his loves are oranges, going barefoot and blonde 1930s movie comedienne Joyce Compton. Since 2000, he has been scribbling away at Pop Culture weblog Scrubbles.net. One can also follow him on Twitter @4colorcowboy.