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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

HELL'S HALF ACRE (1954)

Not every film boasts Don the Beachcomber as Technical Advisor!, but when you’re making one of the first shot-on-location Hawaiian films noir, you want that real tropical atmosphere. And, for about a reel & a half, that’s what you get as soft island music plays, and wounded war vet Wendell Corey lets himself take the rap for a murder he doesn’t commit. But don’t get your hopes up, this little crime drama from Republic Pictures goes to pot right after that promising prologue. Turns out, Corey’s hiding from his past; specifically, deserted wife Evelyn Keyes, just landed in Honolulu and hoping to track him down with the serendipitous help of local cabbie Elsa Lanchester. “Underworld info, dearie? I know just the place.’ And we’re off to Honolulu’s ultra-seedy district, Hell’s Half Acre, where Keyes goes to work as a Taxi Dancer, waltzing with lowlifes and hoping to catch a clue. But do the bad guys like to dance? And what if they’ve already got a date? Key Luke, Charlie Chan’s Number One Son, is fine as the local ‘oriental’ police chief*, but no one else comes thru, not even Elsa, normally a dependable loony bird. Only lenser John L. Russell, who’d shoot PSYCHO/’60, does much with the cool Hawaiian opportunities, though patient viewers are rewarded with a late appearance by noir standby Marie Windsor, apparently married to tough guy Jesse White, the old Magtag Repairman!

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *No one calls anyone Asian in this film. ‘Oriental,’ now only used for rugs, seems to have been the preferred race designation. At least, in movies at the time.

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