A man is accused of a murder he did not commit while half a country away, a woman hears his voice on a record and believes it is her husband, long-dead from the war. She flies to Hawaii hoping to find him and instead discovers a lie, but she recognises it for what it is and uncovers that which was buried, much to the man’s discomfort. Factor in some gangsters who just so happen to be former friends and partners of the man and some money at the heart of the matter and it all leads to a conclusion where nobody really comes out on top.
John H. Auer’s film noir about a man whose life is turned inside out by events he is not fully in control of is a good one, if somewhat slow at times by some very measured pacing. It never really lacks for keeping one’s interest, but it does take its time getting to where it is ultimately headed – the first being a realisation of the truth and the second a showdown between the hero and the villain. The movie stars Wendell Corey as Chet Chester, a name as fake as the life he built for himself, but one that has become more real to him than anything that came before. Out of the past comes Donna Williams as played by Evelyn Keyes, a woman who is determined to bring that past kicking and screaming into the present whether Chester likes it or not, but she is also a wife and she recognizes that some things are best left buried, no matter the pain associated with it. The cast, not including Corey and Keyes, do a great job in bringing this tropical thriller to life with Marie Windsor, Leonard Strong, Philip Ahn, Jesse White, Nance Gates and the Bride of Frankenstein herself – Elsa Lanchester rounding out the supporting players. Despite some lackadaisical moments, there are quite a few tense scenes throughout as the audience follows Keyes on her quest; especially once she encounters those that wish Chester more than just a little harm.
Taking place in Honolulu, Hawaii gives the film an added air of mystery and provides the audience with a locale most may not be familiar with. It is both wonderful and frightening as cinematographer John L. Russell does his best to showcase the best of both worlds – that which most are used to seeing like the beautiful women and vistas of the island and the seedy underbelly present in every city across the planet. A literal game of cat and mouse takes place throughout, with the roles of each rotating between Corey and Ahn. What is most depressing about the entire situation is the fate of Chester, who in the beginning of the film essentially sacrifices himself for his lady-love and does so yet again during the final act – like a man that cannot escape his destiny, having done so once before during the war. It is a dark bit of characterization, much like the places Chester hides out in, but apt given the genre.
Altogether, Hell’s Half Acre is not a film many talk about when discussing the great noir movies of the past and while it is not wholly memorable, it is extremely interesting given the setting and the performances of those involved.
3.5 out of 5