Have you ever heard of a crook making an infomercial to try to get financial backing for a heist? I suppose you could make a case that the folks behind some of those infomercials that run late night on the USA Network are crooks…but this is completely different. It’s an odd way to start the 1957 B-movie “Hell Bound.”
The film begins with this infomercial that details a plan to swipe a supply of narcotics from a ship returning from the far east. It’s all very complicated and involves the ship picking up a man who appears to be the sole survivor of a fishing boat accident floating in a life raft (he’s actually in on the plan). This causes the ship to have to be put under quarantine when it arrives in LA. The health inspector who comes on board (in on the plan, too) is a diabetic and he begins to feel ill while on board. Then, the fisherman finds the drugs and stuffs them in the inspectors coat…meanwhile, the inspector gives himself an overdose of insulin, causing him to go unconscious. An ambulance is then dispatched and the on-board nurse (in on the plan, too) grabs the coat as the inspector is carted off. Nobody even knows what happened.
This little film was all produced by the criminal mastermind Jordan (John Russell) to get some financial backing for the plan from big time crook Harry Quantro (Frank Fenton). I guess Quantro is just plain wowed by Jordan’s cinematic talents, so he decides he’s in…that is, if his girl Paula (June Blair) gets to be the nurse. This will make sure he’s got one of his people keeping an eye on the operation.
Jordan’s girlfriend, Jan (Margo Woodle), was originally supposed to be the nurse, but with Paula around, she’s out of the picture. Somehow, Paula is able to just jump into Jan’s nurse job and take over…but Jan warns her to be careful since the ambulance driver, Eddie (Stuart Whitman) is not in on the heist. It doesn’t take long for Paula to not only experience the difficulties of being an ambulance nurse, but to also start falling for Eddie.
Meanwhile, Jordan works on the other elements of the plan. In one scene he meets a seaman in a secluded location to get a diagram of the ship’s cargo hold and a key to the storage area. After paying the man a hefty sum, Jordan then runs him down with his car…and doesn’t even go back for the dough! He also recruits a druggie, Stanley Thomas (George Mather), to play the fisherman and Herbert Fay (Stanley Adams), a diabetic port health inspector willing to go along with the plan. But soon, things begin to fall apart. Stanley begins to fall back into his drug abuse, and Fay is told by his doctor that taking his insulin could cause a heart attack. Worst of all, Paula wants out. She tries to tell Eddie about who she really is, but can’t get it out. Then, one night after Eddie leaves, she tells Jordan she wants out. His response is to knife her in the gut. Now, Jan is back in…but Jordan ends up getting more than he bargained for as the plan moves forward.
“Hell Bound” starts off really shaky. The “informercial” that starts the whole thing is pretty silly. It does help the audience understand the plan when it’s all breaking down toward the end of the end of the film…but I fear that this lengthy sequence may succeed in causing many viewers to shut off the film before it even gets started. Too bad for them, because once you get through the first 8 minutes, the film really takes off!
The cast is great! John Russell as Jordan makes a smooth but vicious villain. At first you think he’s just the brains of the operation…never getting his hands dirty. But then he starts to show his affinity for vehicular homicide and he becomes incredibly evil. It sounds terrible to say it this way, but the scene where he stabs Paula is great! June Blair is also very good as Paula. Her introduction is really sexy and seeing her character break down as she deals with the horror of being an ambulance nurse is quite convincing.
The whole plot to steal the drugs is really contrived, as many movie criminal plans are. But as the whole thing starts to fall apart, the movie does manage to surprise the viewer. Just when you figure out what’s going to do Jordan in, another twist sends us off in another direction. It’s a B-flick, but there are a lot of interesting filmmaking on display. The photography is creative, especially in the closing chase which takes place in a junkyard where old LA trolley cars have been stacked up for demolition. One of the coolest locations ever!
“Hell Bound” is a great little movie with a truly creepy villain…and a groundbreaker in the field of criminal infomercials.