Movie Review: Between Heaven and Hell (1956)
“From the best-selling novel of young love in war!”
Between Heaven and Hell (1956)
Director: Richard Fleischer
Cast: Robert Wagner, Terry Moore, Broderick Crawford
Synopsis: an arrogant wealthy Southerner finds himself fighting among the sharecroppers he has exploited.
Robert Wagner (Broken Lance) plays a southern gentleman in Richard Fleischer’s Between Heaven and Hell; a young buck who inherited his father’s cotton empire, he’s married to the winsome Terry Moore (Black Spurs, Waco) and spends mornings kissing her in the pool instead of attending to business. She sees another side to him when he does the rounds of his sharecroppers and thoughtlessly treats them like dirt. He isn’t too bothered. His life is easy, his privileges cocooning him from the realities of the world. However, that insouciant arrogance is punctured when he learns that his entire national guard unit is being shipped out to some unnamed Pacific war arena, and he must fight alongside those sharecroppers he has so blithely exploited.
Wagner’s pretty good in this. I recently saw him in In Love and War, another war movie made around the same time, and he was nowhere near as good. Given his later screen persona, it’s kind of odd to see him coming over all mean and moody, but he pulls it off. He’s overshadowed by gruff old Broderick Crawford (Bad Men of Tombstone, Human Desire), playing a totally bonkers officer called Waco. Waco is paranoid about being picked off by a Jap sniper so dresses like his men and reprimands anyone who calls him ‘sir.’ The character’s a good one, interesting, and it’s a shame he doesn’t get more screen time. Crawford spits and snarls like a wounded grizzly with a headache on a Monday, and has a great final scene that is fairly brutal (in an understated way) for a 1950s movie.
The film’s structure is possibly its biggest drawback. After 20 minutes or so, Wagner reflects back for about half-an-hour on the events that led to him coming under the command of mad Waco before picking up again in the present. Usually you can see the reasoning behind a flashback structure, but it seems to me this would have worked just as well with a linear narrative. Anyway, it’s a small gripe. The film’s a good one and deserves to be better known.
(Reviewed 12th December 2011)