HELL’S HORIZON, a bargain basement Korean War aviation nosedive, blips the radar only as one of the first credits for a director who later would do much better and for the presence of some of the cast members.
During the Korean War, a US bomber crew takes off from their stormswept base on Okinawa (sprinklers and dry-ice fog effects are one way to avoid costs on sets, equipment and personnel) to raid a target in North Korea. Left behind to fret is Eurasian bombshell ‘Sami’, who’s coveted by the plane’s surly captain and one of his Sami-struck sergeants. Can the aircraft, battered by enemy fire, make it back across the typhoon-tossed sea? Will they all return? Is every other Korean War movie better than this one?
Written & directed by Tom Gries as his second feature gig (after the cheeseball Serpent Island) ; in neither capacity does it hint at the skill that would eventually do justice to the excellent Will Penny and such quality items as Breakheart Pass, The Glass House and Helter Skelter. Though he had at his disposal an able cameraman (Floyd Crosby) and composer (Heinz Roemheld), the budget was so scant that the sets look like they’d blow away if someone coughed and the copious use of mismatched stock footage kills thrills and substitutes altitude sickness. Other than the guys being able to easily down one Commie MIG after another the more vital score is marked by the spliced archival footage trying to fool (kids?) with not just some Korea-captured film, but jamming in WW2 shots of Japanese and German fighters getting pasted. Pretty bad.
On to the cast, and your flak-happy navigator’s personal reason for bothering with such a hurtling turkey. Displaying bare interest in the dopey script, John Ireland logs the captain as if on autopilot. Steady fella Hugh Beaumont gets hard case duty here: besides being a wee old at 46 for active duty, note that Hugh’s busy but unexciting career was still two years shy of starting 234 episodes as America’s Dad on Leave It To Beaver. The dish who has non-combat nerves in a twist is played by Marla English, a 20-year-old looker with about as much dramatic range as a door. Her vapid vavoom eventually stuck her as The She-Creature and Voodoo Woman before she quit to raise a family. On the way she was seen quite a bit around La-town with the film’s 5th-billed actor, one who actually delivers a decent performance, 27-year-old newcomer Larry Pennell. Movie mags pushed their linkage like hotcakes, but Larry ended up not with the cult’y she-creature but instead with my class-act sister Patti; they married in 1959 and stayed together until he passed away in 2013.
“Bud” (to family and friends) was a great guy, a larger-than-life character with a droll sense of humor about some of the less-than-stellar productions he toiled in (anyone who’s endured Our Man In Jamaica has my family’s sympathies). To part of a generation he will always be ‘Dash Rip Rock’ from The Beverly Hillbillies, but to those of us who knew and loved him Bud defined “a hard act to follow”. He’s pretty good in this lame programmer, one that at least is a mercifully short 80 minutes.
Jazz fanciers will perk up that the cast roll announces “…and introducing Chet Baker and his trumpet.” Others on the mission: Bill Williams, William Schallert, Jerry Paris (irritating), Stanley Adams.