A man is framed and sent to the toughest prison in the territory.
Hellgate, the citadel of terror in the blazing heat of the Romara Desert. Hellgate is directed by Charles Marquis Warren who also co-writes the screenplay with John C. Champion, the latter of which also produces. Andrew V. McLaglen is the assistant director. It stars Sterling Hayden, Ward Bond, Joan Leslie, James Arness, Peter Coe, John Pickard and Robert Wilkie. Music is scored by Paul Dunlap and cinematography by Ernest W. Miller. "It is not for us to decide at this date that the man, Gilman Hanley, was the victim of a nations unintentional injustice. Rather, it is our duty to see that the fate that befell him can never again befall any man". Oliver Wendell Holmes, Justice, U.S, Supreme Court. Lets cut to the chase, there was no Hellgate Prison, no Romara Desert and no Gilman Hanley. The film is set in New Mexico but filmed in California. And, as the few reviews about it will attest to, this is ultimately The Prisoner of Shark Island remade as a Western. But what a treat for Western fans it is. Doorway of the Damned! The Curse of Convicts! The Shame of America! Sweaty, moody and full of testosterone, Hellgate is also compact and firmly dealing in the innocent good guy suffering at the hands of a pathetic justice system. Hayden is our good doctor Hanley, well veterinarian actually, who administers basic first aid to a Guerilla outlaw and gets sent to America's Devil's Island. The prison is out in the desert, surrounded by a rock formation and the cells are underground lock ups in the caves. Punishment for misbehaving is slow whipping or a stint in the baking oven! Even if the convicts get out of the rock valley, there's Pima Indians waiting to hunt them down and secure a bounty for their heads. Hanley is in trouble, sadistic Lt. Tod Voorhees (Bond of course) doesn't much care for him, as he tells him, "You'll find I have a special regard for Guerillas", not only that but he is in a shared cell with some right characters, including Redfield (Arness), one tough mother who doesn't much care for another guy taking up the monthly water ration. What will follow is machismo moments, fights, torture, battle of wills, death and escape attempts, while anyone who has seen Prisoner of Shark Island will know that disease enters the fray and gives us a finale of punch the air satisfaction. Not all the acting is first grade stuff, though Hayden is perfect for this role, and the abruptness of the key Typhus infection turnaround for the finale kind of feels like a cheat after having endured some quality claustrophobia for the previous 75 minutes. But this is still a tight and taut production, an unquenchable thirst of moody black and white 50s cinema. Which for anyone else like me who loves Westerns and anything prison based, is manna from heaven. 8/10