183. Escape From Hell Island (1963)
Director: Mark Stevens
Writers: T.L.P. Swicegood based on the novel by Robert Sheckley
From: Cult Cinema
A boat captain is contracted to smuggle rebels out of Cuba, but the job lands him in the middle of a love triangle.
Welcome people to a movie that has no idea what it’s actually about. We start with Captain James played by director Mark Stevens, the greatest, gutsiest sea captain to ever live and you get one guess as to the story arc awaiting this aged Brylcreem-and-shoe-polish-headed hero. A rich Cuban emigree hires James to do an unsanctioned run to Cuba to smuggle out revolutionaries including the man’s daughter. James agrees because the daughter is cute.
The Navy gives him proprietary information cause he’s just so awesome, and he goes to do the job. He successfully picks up the people, but attracts the attention of the Cuban Coast Guard who open fire on him. He, instead of fleeing, turns the boat around and single-handedly kills all the Cubans. His first mate dies, but he has successfully helped the refugees, including the beautiful daughter, escape from the titular “Hell Island.” THE END
of the first act. Because not only did James save the daughter, he saved the daughter’s husband, so now it’s a love triangle movie with the husband being jealous of the attention James is getting and the daughter telling James all about her husband’s cowardice and moments of sucking up to Che and Castro. The father who funded the rescue, by the way, who was played up as a gangster of some kind, is gone from the movie as the daughter will soon be once we get to
Act III where the husband charters James’ sailboat (James’ other boat being seized by the State Department as part of their investigation into an international incident that left two boatloads of Cubans dead) for no readily discernible purpose. It’s not clear if he’s trying to ingratiate himself to James or to rub his money and power in James’ face. Regardless, he gets the idea of killing James on the boat and stealing both the boat and the traveling business for himself. He kicks James overboard in the middle of the ocean, but can’t get the engine to start, so has to sit and wait for him to drown.
This is literally the last half of the movie. The husband on deck starting to go stir-crazy and hallucinate because of the sun while James treads water in a swimming pool, periodically trying to climb back on board. Inevitably he does, gets into a fight with James, who gets stabbed and then falls overboard where he’s eaten by sharks. THE END. For real this time. No return to the daughter, no resolution about the initial raid, no reaction to the husband’s death. Just the boat in the water and THE END. Fabulous.
To its credit, the movie does have some hilariously bad elements. The husband has a great terrible monologue in a bar where he claims he stood up to Che. Also, that same bar gets the phone call announcing the death of the first mate before the first mate’s wife. The bar is notified of his death before his wife! That said, those moments are too few and far between.
The movie sells you a false bill of goods. It’s supposed to be about a smuggling/rescue operation from Cuba potentially funded by gangsters or drug runners. Instead, it feels very piecemeal, like they were filming as they went and kept checking to see if they’d made a feature-length piece yet. “The refugees are safely ashore, is it 90 minutes yet? Get the love triangle in there. 90 yet? He rents the boat!” I kind of wanted every movie they promised instead of the one they gave me.
So it’s not a recommend. There’s not a lot that’s particularly special about it and the best part can be found by searching “Escape From Hell Island” on YouTube. The movie’s not in the public domain, so I can’t share a copy of it, but it’s not worth the effort of trying to find anyway.