Hell's Half Acre

City of Sin... toughest spot in the Pacific

Drama Mystery Thriller
90 min     5.7     1954     USA


A woman travels to Hawaii to find out if a man in prison there is actually her missing husband.


John Chard wrote:
Case History of Chet Chester. Hell's Half Acre is directed by John H. Auer and written by Steve Fisher. It stars Wendell Corey, Evelyn Keyes, Elsa Lanchester, Marie Windsor, Nancy Gates and Leonard Strong. Music is by R. Dale Butts and cinematography by John L. Russell. Filmed and set in Hawaii, one could be forgiven for thinking this couldn't possibly work as a piece of film noir. In fact, the opening credit sequences lends one to think this could well be a frothy Elvis Presley type of movie - but it most assuredly isn't. Cash or Cave in? Story has Corey up to his neck in femme fatales, shifty criminal acquaintances and coppers. Which is not bad for a guy who was apparently killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor! The Hell's Half Acre of the tile is what is termed in the film as a shabby tenement district, this is the seedy underbelly of what we know as the paradise island. The location makes for some excellent atmospheric noir touches, with the production line abodes and the ream of wooden stairs and banisters making for a moody backdrop. At night the shadows come in to play, hanging nicely off of the alleyways and tawdry bars. Dirty Rat! Though a little too contrived for its own good, the many characterisations on show make the annoying itches easily scratched. From two-timing dames and thugs in need of anger management - to alcoholic slobs and batty taxi drivers, this has a roll call of colourful people drifting in and out of Hell's Half Acre. There's even some censor baiting going on, though the whiff of violent misogyny could have been less pungent. Some serious noir credentials are found with the makers, Auer (City That Never Sleeps), Fisher (I Wake Up Screaming), Corey (The Big Knife), Keyes (The Prowler), Windsor (The Narrow Margin), Gates (Suddenly), Lanchester (The Big Clock) and Russell (Moonrise), and that's only really scratching the surface. With its distinctive setting and well controlled unfurling of noir conventions, this is well worth a look by the noir faithful. 7/10