In the last six issues of film magazine CINEMA RETRO, I’ve been writing a series titled MISSION ACCOMPLISHED about Oakmont Films’ series of World War II B-movies from the late 1960s/early ‘70s. Previous features have looked at ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST, MOSQUITO SQUADRON, SUBMARINE X-1, THE THOUSAND PLANE RAID and THE LAST ESCAPE.
The latest issue of CINEMA RETRO, #30, looks at the last film in the series, 1970’s action-packed HELL BOATS, which was set (and filmed) in the Mediterranean. HELL BOATS is mainly set on Malta, which was an Allied stronghold and the island was fiercely fought over during World War II. In recognition of the resolute Maltese defence, King George VI awarded the island the George Cross for bravery in 1942. HELL BOATS depicts the sea war and commando action on Malta and Sicily, and pitted German E-boats against the Allies’ speedy Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs). Set in 1942, HELL BOATS has Lt Commander Tom Jeffords transferred to Valletta on Malta. There he’s assigned to plan an attack on a well-fortified former Italian submarine base at Augusta on Sicily. Augusta’s submarine pens are now being used by the Germans to store radio-controlled glider bombs. Jeffords must get his men and his MTBs in close enough to destroy the weapons dump – he decides on stealing an E-boat and entering the harbour disguised as Germans. Matters are further complicated when Jeffords begins an affair Alison Ashurst, the wife of Jeffords’ commanding officer.
HELL BOATS was directed by Paul Wendkos, who had also worked in the same capacity on Oakmont’s ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST. The film stars James Franciscus as Tom Jeffords, Elizabeth Shepherd as Alison and Ronald Allen as Jeffords’ love rival and superior officer Roger Ashurst. The actors’ performances are good, with this central trio enacting the love triangle romance of two officers in love with the same woman, the clichéd feature of so many World War II movies. You can’t beat a good location and artful cinematography to give a film a lift and HELL BOATS has both. This Oakmont production was filmed in its entirety in Malta, including Fort Manoel in Marsamxett Harbour (see below).
Other Maltese locations, including ruins, a harbour, a railway bridge and a village were used for a Sicilian cove, the fishermen’s village and the submarine base at Augusta. The scene where Jeffords first meets Alison was filmed on the Delimara Peninsula, on the southern tip of Malta. The Mediterranean magnificence as a backdrop to Tom and Alison’s dalliance is perfect and the romantic scenes are well played, on beaches or overlooking the harbour, in appealingly photogenic Maltese tourist board tableau. If the Oakmonts are of their time, with the glossy aesthetics of late-1960s cinema sometimes at odds with the serious, occasionally tragic, subject matter, they survive today as entertaining B-movies.
The titles of the six-part CINEMA RETRO series and their issue numbers are:
Issue #25 STEADY AS SHE GOES: BOY’S OWN ADVENTURE IN ‘ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST’
Issue #26 BOMBS AWAY! THE WOODEN WONDERS OF ‘MOSQUITO SQUADRON’
Issue #27 LOCH AND LOAD: SUB-AQUA XCAPADES ABOARD ‘SUBMARINE X-1’
Issue #28 DEATH FROM ABOVE: TAKING THE FLAK ON ‘THE THOUSAND PLANE RAID’
Issue #29 BOOM BOOM! A BRUSH WITH DANGER IN ‘THE LAST ESCAPE’
Issue #30 HEAD ON, DEAD CENTRE! DAMN THE TORPEDOES WITH ‘HELL BOATS’
Back issues can be ordered here from eBay:
By coincidence, UK DVD company 101 Films is releasing SUBMARINE X-1, THE THOUSAND PLANE RAID and ATTACK ON THE IRON COAST on DVD as part of ‘The War Collection’, which also includes PLAY DIRTY and the rarity HORNETS’ NEST.
SUBMARINE X-1 is out on Monday 8 September 2014, with more to follow in October and November. The DVDs are Region 2.