She led them into temptation. They took her to salvation.
Not to be mistaken with the 1997 Steven Seagal film of the same name [Editor's Note: Aww!], Fire Down Below deals with two West Indies smugglers, soft hearted Tony (Jack Lemmon, The Apartment) and the rougher Felix (Robert Mitchum, Cape Fear), as they take on their most dangerous cargo yet: Irena (Rita Hayworth, Pal Joey), a sensuous itinerant who seemingly leaps from lover to lover, living off them until she's caught in some sort of trouble (with the law, most likely). Tony is instantly smitten with Irena, while Felix, the dog that he is, regards Irena as nothing more but a piece of meat. Of course, Irena falls under Felix's animalistic charms, culminating in a heated fistfight between the two men. When Tony attempts to start his life anew working elsewhere on the sea, he and Felix's "friendship" is put to the ultimate test when tragedy strikes in the most unlikely of places.
The only folks I can think of that may truly appreciate Fire Down Below—a double entendre if I've ever heard one—are crusty old sea salts. That's not to say the film isn't without merit; Rita Hayworth is a smoldering delight while Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum both give well honed performances. The only trouble is that Fire Down Below doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be. Quite literally, half of it is a ménage a trois (in French tern that means "viva la Three's Company")—in the cleaner sense of the word—between Lemmon, Hayworth, and Mitchum. A love triangle featuring two guys a-fightin' over the same girl. Then the film suddenly switches gears and becomes a disaster picture with Lemmon's fate hanging in the balance. Does this make for a good movie? Depends on which part of the film you're interested in. If you're big on manly men smacking each other around while a woman watches helplessly in the background, you may enjoy the first half of Fire Down Below. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Mitchum angrily dances one of Hayworth's would-be suitors right out of the bar. If you're into Irwin Allen's The Poseidon Adventure, then the second act may be up your alley—nothing like waiting for a ship to blow up while folks are trapped inside to make for a tense moviegoing experience. Either way, Fire Down Below is an only mediocre story, bogged down by the schizophrenic nature of the screenplay. And so it's the performances that save the film, and as usual Lemmon is a joy to watch. While pinned underneath a large steel beam Lemmon tosses off a great performance of a man resigned to his fate—and since this film was made in the 1950s, it's not hard to estimate what that fate will be. When Mitchum, Lemmon's nemesis at this point in the film, enters the picture you can feel the electricity crackle through the screen, even if it's only for a few brief moments. And Hayworth gives what is probably one of her best (and sadly final) performances as the woman who comes between the two men. Fire Down Below may not be a quintessential golden oldie, but it's worth it if only for the well executed performances by its stars.
Fire Down Below is presented in its original aspect ratio 2.55:1 in anamorphic widescreen. If nothing else, Fire Down Below looks fantastic—this beautifully rendered print sports majestic blues, reds, and golden yellows, while the black levels are all rock solid. Though there are a few minor imperfections in the image (including a small amount of grain), overall I think this picture looks excellent. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in English. Nothing exciting to report here—this track is uniformly flat and uninspired. Though this may not rock out your home theater system, at least all the dialogue, music, and effects are clear of any distortion. Thank the good Lord for small favors. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Japanese subtitles.
One of Columbia's recent catalog titles, it's no surprise to find little in the way of extra features on Fire Down Below—the only supplement available on this disc are a few theatrical trailers for other Columbia DVDs.
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