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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Hell's Five Hours (Blu-ray)
Hell's Five Hours (Blu-ray)
Olive Films // Unrated // July 14, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted July 24, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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P R I N T
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Hell's Five Hours (1958) is low-budget but uniquely atmospheric thriller about a rocket fuel refinery threatened by a suicidal former employee determined to blow the plant - and everything else for miles around - to kingdom come. It was, apparently, the only feature of producer, writer, and director Jack L. Copeland, a World War II combat photographer who got the idea while shooting industrial films, supporting this reviewer's contention that the movie's unusual atmosphere, an antecedent of later movies like Antonioni's Red Desert (1964) and David Lynch's Eraserhead (1978), wasn't accidental.

Further, the suicidal man, both in terms of the writing and the performance of the actor playing him, a young Vic Morrow, is unusually believable, shaded, and unnervingly unpredictable.

Produced by Copeland's Muriel Corporation for release through Allied Artists (usually on the same bill with William Castle's Macabre, a real mismatched double-bill), Hell's Five Hours is almost completely unknown, making this Blu-ray release through Olive all the more welcome.


Oddly, the TCM Database reports that contemporary reviews praised Hell's Five Hours opening ten minutes, "presented without dialogue." However, the Blu-ray version of the film opens with a long prologue consisting of stock footage of rocket launches accompanied by portentous, prolix narration by an uncredited Marvin Miller. After the credits, the movie does continue with a mostly but not entirely wordless sequence with fired employee Burt Nash (Morrow) breaking into the plant late at night, but security guards talk to one another while giving chase. This and other evidence suggest that maybe Hell's Five Hours exists or once existed in a slightly different form. More on this below.

Nash escapes, but not before shots fired at a guard hit a gas tank behind him, causing an explosive blaze. Later, he anonymously calls plant manager Mike Brand (Stephen McNally) threatening to blow up the entire plant, but a search of the grounds suggests Nash broke in earlier to steal just ten sticks of ordinary dynamite.

Fear that a major explosion could release toxic clouds of cyanide gas, the area is evacuated for a radius of several miles. During the evacuation, however, Nash, who has rigged dynamite strapped to his chest to explode should he slump over or fall to the ground, takes Mike's wife, Nancy (Coleen Gray) and son, Eric (Ray Ferrell), hostage.

The rocket fuel refinery in the movie was actually a steam plant in the San Fernando Valley, north of Hollywood, but the night-for-night photography throughout give it the quality of some sort of sinister alien moonbase, like the "food" production plant in Quatermass II (1957). Virtually the entire movie takes place there; even Brand's ranch house, outside its borders, rests in the shadows of the refinery's four towering smokestacks. Evacuated for most of the story, the plant's colossal humming machines generate a strange eeriness, while harsh lights flooding certain parts of the plant and others on the smokestacks, acting as warning beacons to aircraft, make it seem almost alive.

In this oppressive environment it's easy to imagine Nash going over the edge, pushed further into madness by a bully of a foreman (Robert Foulk) who earlier had struck Nash when he caught him smoking in a dangerous area.

Morrow's performance and Copeland's writing are impressively authentic. Nash is determinedly suicidal but otherwise skittish and unpredictable. The screenplay gives Nash a backstory that explains much of his unhappiness, and why the foreman's bullying finally set him off. Brand and others try to buy themselves some time by offering Nash $5,000 (a lot of money in 1958) but he doesn't believe them and with good reason: they have no access to the nearby bank's time-locked vault until morning. With creepy verisimilitude he tells Nancy that his father spoke to him in a dream, suggesting blowing up the plant was a good idea and, if innocent people had to die along the way, so be it. And yet, conversely, Nash is also sympathetic, even tragic.

As noted above, the movie might have at some point existed in a slightly different form. The Blu-ray version opens with a mixture of stock scenes of rockets taking off, along with some new footage specifically shot for the movie. All of it initially looks terrible; while the stock footage is expectantly variable, everything, including the new footage, looks unnaturally soft and ghostly, almost like an old analogue video transfer. Later, after the opening titles, the movie pops back into reasonable high-def clarity, but later still more short scenes revert to this weird, analog-like softness.

Additionally, Allied Artists may have replaced some of the understated wordlessness that original reviewers liked with incessant voice-over work featuring actor Miller. He must voice at least 20 different characters during the film as Miller is heard everywhere: over police radios, public address systems, dubbing helicopter pilots and various cops, news announcers, etc. Maybe distributor Allied Artists thought these additions were needed.

Video & Audio

Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, approximating its presumed 1.85:1 original aspect ratio, the transfer for Hell's Five Hours varies from terrible to good for reasons surmised above. Overall though, it's still a decent presentation, especially considering the film's obscurity. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono is also fine for what it is. No subtitles or alternate audio options, and the disc is Region A encoded. Alas, no Extra Features.

Parting Thoughts

An interesting, very unusual and intriguing little movie, Hell's Five Hours is Highly Recommended.



Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian and publisher-editor of World Cinema Paradise. His credits include film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features.

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