Fire Down Below


1h 56m 1957
Fire Down Below

Brief Synopsis

Partners in a tramp steamer both fall for a mysterious lady passenger.

Film Details

Also Known As
Fire Down Under
Genre
Romance
Drama
Adventure
Adaptation
Release Date
Jul 1957
Premiere Information
London premiere: 30 May 1957
Production Company
Warwick Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Trinidad, Trinidad & Tobago; Elstree, England, Great Britain; Tobago; Trinidad
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Fire Down Below by Max Catto (London, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 56m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

On the island of San Juan, Felix and his partner Tony, two expatriate Americans who ply the Caribbean in their small craft the Ruby , are hired by a middle-aged American businessman to transport a woman named Irena to a neighboring island. The man explains that because the coldly beautiful and vaguely mysterious Irena has no passport, she is condemned to flee from country to country to stay one step ahead of deportation. The next morning, the shapely Irena boards the Ruby and is met with contempt by the callous, misogynistic Felix. Tony, an idealistic young rebel who fled the constraints of his family's middle-class existence, is infatuated with the world-weary Irena. As Tony's attraction grows more evident, Felix's antagonism toward Irena intensifies, resulting in the partners coming to blows. When an infuriated Felix lunges at Tony's throat, Jimmy Jean, who works aboard the Ruby , pulls them apart. After dropping anchor one night, they all go ashore to attend a carnival. There, Irena asks Felix why he hates women, and he replies that he deserted his wife of six months because she bored him. Later, after Irena returns to the boat, Felix bursts into her cabin, but when he passionately embraces Irena, she icily turns away, stating that she is waiting for someone to touch her with kindness. Upon reaching their destination, Felix brusquely orders Irena ashore, prompting Tony to call him a brute and dissolve their partnership. A few days later at the hotel in which Tony and Irena have taken up residence, the clerk threatens to expose Irena to the authorities unless she "sleeps" with him. That night, when Tony asks Irena to marry him, she recalls the incident with the clerk and says that she is "all used up." To earn enough money to start a new life with Irena, Tony seeks out Felix and proposes that they smuggle one last shipment of contraband, then sell the boat and split the proceeds. After warning Tony that Irena will destroy his life, Felix tells him to take the boat and go by himself. The next night, as Tony's contraband-laden boat rounds the coast, a Coast Guard cruiser appears and orders Tony to let them board. After jumping overboard to avoid arrest, Tony, certain that Felix betrayed him, signs on as a crewmember aboard a Greek freighter. Soon after, the freighter collides with an ocean liner, gashing a hole in the freighter's hull. In the crash, Tony is trapped below decks, pinned under a heavy metal beam. Dr. Sam, the port's physician, is summoned to treat Tony. Because Tony is uncommunicative when the doctor questions him about his family, Doc searches his bunk and finds a photograph of Felix, Irena, Tony and Jimmy Jean. As the freighter limps into port, a fire smolders in its cargo hold filled with rubber tires. In the hold next to the tires, is a shipload of nitrate, and while the firefighters struggle to keep the flames from spreading into the highly explosive nitrate, Lt. Sellers of the United States Navy tries to extract Tony from the debris with a hydraulic jack. When word comes that the fire will rage out of control within twelve hours, Doc proposes freeing Tony from the beam by amputating his legs. When Tony refuses, Doc realizes that he must give Tony a reason to live. After Doc returns to shore, Jimmy Jean anxiously questions him about the accident. Recognizing him from the photograph, Doc asks Jimmy Jean to take him to the others in the hope of persuading Tony to change his mind. When the harbor master orders the ship to be hauled out to sea and abandoned, Lt. Sellers begs for one last chance to free Tony. Although the jack briefly lifts the beam, it comes crashing back down, dooming Tony to certain death. After the ship is towed out of the harbor, Jimmy Jean, Felix, Irena and Doc arrive at the docks and Doc asks Felix to accompany him to the freighter. Irena insists on joining them, and after Jimmy Jean pilots the craft to the freighter, Doc and Felix climb onboard to talk to Tony. Once below decks, Felix tries to convince Tony to go through with the amputation, promising that he and Irena will take care of him. After Tony rebuffs his offer, Felix asks Doc to leave. Once they are alone, Felix confesses that as an outcast, he felt a kinship with Irena and admits that he reported Tony to the Coast Guard because he was jealous of his alliance with her. Just then, an explosion rocks the ship, knocking Tony free. Hoisting Tony onto his shoulders, Felix climbs through the gash in the hull, jumps overboard and swims to the waiting boat. After the unconscious Tony is pulled aboard, they cast off just as the ship explodes into flames. Some time later, Irena and Felix are seated at a bar when Jimmy Jean comes to warn them that Tony checked out of the hospital and is armed with a gun. Tony then enters, approaches their table and asks to speak to Irena outside. When Irena turns and kisses Felix, Tony realizes that he has nothing to say to her. After pouring a shot from the bottle, Tony pays for a round of drinks and then walks out.

Film Details

Also Known As
Fire Down Under
Genre
Romance
Drama
Adventure
Adaptation
Release Date
Jul 1957
Premiere Information
London premiere: 30 May 1957
Production Company
Warwick Film Productions, Ltd.
Distribution Company
Columbia Pictures Corp.
Country
Great Britain and United States
Location
Trinidad, Trinidad & Tobago; Elstree, England, Great Britain; Tobago; Trinidad
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Fire Down Below by Max Catto (London, 1956).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 56m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Fire Down Below


With publicity materials crowing, "3 of the biggest in 1 of the best!" Fire Down Below swept into theatres in 1957, heralding the return of Rita Hayworth after an almost four-year absence from films. Joining Hayworth was Hollywood's "bad boy" Robert Mitchum and then-rising star Jack Lemmon. A tropical tale of a torrid love triangle, Fire Down Below pitted Mitchum against Lemmon for the prize of Hayworth, playing yet again the sensuous temptress. Behind the scenes, however, crumbling marriages, firestorm remarks, and tabloid headlines set the stage for more excitement than the film itself!

Hayworth was a recent divorcee from her fourth marriage to singer Dick Haymes (her husbands in chronological order were Eddie Judson, Orson Welles, Prince Aly Khan, and Haymes). This is, after all, the woman who once mused, "What surprises me in life are not the marriages that fail, but the marriages that succeed." To add to her woes, her lawsuit against Columbia Pictures to release her from her film contract had just been thrown out of court. She finally agreed to do two more pictures for the studio for a combined $300,000 - a significant cut from her heyday pay, but with her finances embroiled in pending litigation with husband #2, Orson Welles, it was still a good paycheck. But until Columbia found a suitable vehicle for her, Rita sought refuge in Europe, preferring the relative anonymity it offered compared to America.

Producers Irving Allen and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli (best known for the James Bond film franchise) had originally wanted Ava Gardner for the lead role, but she turned it down. Screenwriter Irwin Shaw then suggested Hayworth for the role, and director Robert Parrish was charged with tracking the AWOL actress down. With the help of mutual friend Art Buchwald, Parrish found her at a hotel in Paris and convinced her to take the role. Parrish, a successful film editor turned director, was keen to work with Hayworth, observing, "She had a unique beauty, just the structure of her face was exciting to look at." Location work began in Trinidad, and Hayworth soon joined Lemmon and Mitchum on the journey.

Things got off to a flying start as soon as the plane landed; on the tarmac, someone asked Mitchum what he had in his luggage. He sarcastically declared, "two kilos of marijuana," practically setting off an international incident. From the Don Widener bio Lemmon, Jack recalled, "He damned near caused a riot. We were practically barricaded in our rooms for three days. The State Department got into the act and there was talk of throwing us off the island. Old Mitch couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. He said, 'Don't these people have a sense of humor?'" It was, however, only the beginning of Mitchum's hijinks.

Lemmon's marriage to Cynthia Stone was ending, and Mitchum was determined to show Jack a good time on the island. He soon introduced his friend to an attractive island girl and the two quickly hit it off. When Lemmon announced his intention to take his new girlfriend to a formal dinner at the governor's mansion, however, Mitchum decided to tell him the truth about the woman's dubious reputation, declaring, "She screwed the entire U.S. Navy!" Lemmon pondered this for a while, and then retorted, "The hell with it. That's their problem. She's my girl, now."

When filming moved to Tobago, the entire cast and crew lived aboard a chartered freighter. The days quickly became tedious, with the arrival of the daily mail the certified highlight. As Mitchum's bio Baby, I Don't Care, by Lee Server, explains, "The isolated, bored group then spent an hour or two sprawled about the vessel reading their forwarded letters, advertisements, and out-of-date copies of Variety and the Times of London. Rita Hayworth's mail, rerouted from Europe, New York, and Los Angeles, arrived all at once in a huge canvas sack and sat untouched. One day Lemmon and Parrish came upon Hayworth sitting by the railing, tearing up the unread mail piece by piece and tossing it into the sea. 'Rita, what in the hell are you doing?' they screamed. 'Aren't you going to open any of it? There may be checks inside!' Hayworth shrugged, smiling ruefully, 'There's bound to be more trouble than money.'"

Hayworth's melancholy only intensified when reviled studio boss Harry Cohn sent one of his foot soldiers to keep tabs on her. According to Server in his Mitchum biography, "Mitchum immediately began calling him 'Spy,' as in, 'Hello, Spy,' 'Out of my way, Spy.' The man was well known to Hayworth from her years at the studio, and she treated him like the plague and fell into an even deeper despondency." Mitchum felt protective towards the vulnerable actress; Parrish's wife Kathie recalled of the actor, "He described her as a rather lost little girl. She wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and everyone took her for something. But Mitch and Jack and my husband loved her, and they were very sweet with her." Their bond of friendship endured past filming; when Rita married a fifth time in 1958 (producer James Hill), she invited all three men to her wedding.

With all of the drama swirling about, it was easy to forget a film was being made! After location filming wrapped, the company traveled on to London to finish up with the interior shots and begin post production. The original cut of Fire Down Below began with the last scene presented first as one long flashback, eventually returning to the present in the final frames. The studio, however, reedited the footage, placing everything in chronological order much to Parrish's consternation. As a result, critics noted an element of disconnect and stiltedness when reviewing Fire Down Below, obviously due to its significant retooling.

The experience of Fire Down Below brought out the hidden talents of the stars. Lemmon ended up composing a harmonica theme used in the film, and Mitchum really got into the local music scene, hanging out at live shows and snapping up every record he could find. But he wasn't done yet: a few months before the film opened, he released his own record of island tunes, Calypso – Is Like So. In 1995, the album was remastered, reissued, and enjoys a popular following today.

Producer: Irving Allen, Albert R. Broccoli, Ronald Kinnoch
Director: Robert Parrish
Screenplay: Max Catto (novel), Irwin Shaw
Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson
Film Editing: Jack Slade
Art Direction: Syd Cain
Music: Arthur Benjamin, Vivian Comma, Douglas Gamley, Kenneth V. Jones, Jack Lemmon
Cast: Rita Hayworth (Irena), Robert Mitchum (Felix Bowers), Jack Lemmon (Tony), Herbert Lom (Harbor Master), Bonar Colleano (Lt. Sellars), Bernard Lee (Dr. Sam Blake).
C-116m. Letterboxed.

by Eleanor Quin
Fire Down Below

Fire Down Below

With publicity materials crowing, "3 of the biggest in 1 of the best!" Fire Down Below swept into theatres in 1957, heralding the return of Rita Hayworth after an almost four-year absence from films. Joining Hayworth was Hollywood's "bad boy" Robert Mitchum and then-rising star Jack Lemmon. A tropical tale of a torrid love triangle, Fire Down Below pitted Mitchum against Lemmon for the prize of Hayworth, playing yet again the sensuous temptress. Behind the scenes, however, crumbling marriages, firestorm remarks, and tabloid headlines set the stage for more excitement than the film itself! Hayworth was a recent divorcee from her fourth marriage to singer Dick Haymes (her husbands in chronological order were Eddie Judson, Orson Welles, Prince Aly Khan, and Haymes). This is, after all, the woman who once mused, "What surprises me in life are not the marriages that fail, but the marriages that succeed." To add to her woes, her lawsuit against Columbia Pictures to release her from her film contract had just been thrown out of court. She finally agreed to do two more pictures for the studio for a combined $300,000 - a significant cut from her heyday pay, but with her finances embroiled in pending litigation with husband #2, Orson Welles, it was still a good paycheck. But until Columbia found a suitable vehicle for her, Rita sought refuge in Europe, preferring the relative anonymity it offered compared to America. Producers Irving Allen and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli (best known for the James Bond film franchise) had originally wanted Ava Gardner for the lead role, but she turned it down. Screenwriter Irwin Shaw then suggested Hayworth for the role, and director Robert Parrish was charged with tracking the AWOL actress down. With the help of mutual friend Art Buchwald, Parrish found her at a hotel in Paris and convinced her to take the role. Parrish, a successful film editor turned director, was keen to work with Hayworth, observing, "She had a unique beauty, just the structure of her face was exciting to look at." Location work began in Trinidad, and Hayworth soon joined Lemmon and Mitchum on the journey. Things got off to a flying start as soon as the plane landed; on the tarmac, someone asked Mitchum what he had in his luggage. He sarcastically declared, "two kilos of marijuana," practically setting off an international incident. From the Don Widener bio Lemmon, Jack recalled, "He damned near caused a riot. We were practically barricaded in our rooms for three days. The State Department got into the act and there was talk of throwing us off the island. Old Mitch couldn't understand what all the fuss was about. He said, 'Don't these people have a sense of humor?'" It was, however, only the beginning of Mitchum's hijinks. Lemmon's marriage to Cynthia Stone was ending, and Mitchum was determined to show Jack a good time on the island. He soon introduced his friend to an attractive island girl and the two quickly hit it off. When Lemmon announced his intention to take his new girlfriend to a formal dinner at the governor's mansion, however, Mitchum decided to tell him the truth about the woman's dubious reputation, declaring, "She screwed the entire U.S. Navy!" Lemmon pondered this for a while, and then retorted, "The hell with it. That's their problem. She's my girl, now." When filming moved to Tobago, the entire cast and crew lived aboard a chartered freighter. The days quickly became tedious, with the arrival of the daily mail the certified highlight. As Mitchum's bio Baby, I Don't Care, by Lee Server, explains, "The isolated, bored group then spent an hour or two sprawled about the vessel reading their forwarded letters, advertisements, and out-of-date copies of Variety and the Times of London. Rita Hayworth's mail, rerouted from Europe, New York, and Los Angeles, arrived all at once in a huge canvas sack and sat untouched. One day Lemmon and Parrish came upon Hayworth sitting by the railing, tearing up the unread mail piece by piece and tossing it into the sea. 'Rita, what in the hell are you doing?' they screamed. 'Aren't you going to open any of it? There may be checks inside!' Hayworth shrugged, smiling ruefully, 'There's bound to be more trouble than money.'" Hayworth's melancholy only intensified when reviled studio boss Harry Cohn sent one of his foot soldiers to keep tabs on her. According to Server in his Mitchum biography, "Mitchum immediately began calling him 'Spy,' as in, 'Hello, Spy,' 'Out of my way, Spy.' The man was well known to Hayworth from her years at the studio, and she treated him like the plague and fell into an even deeper despondency." Mitchum felt protective towards the vulnerable actress; Parrish's wife Kathie recalled of the actor, "He described her as a rather lost little girl. She wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, and everyone took her for something. But Mitch and Jack and my husband loved her, and they were very sweet with her." Their bond of friendship endured past filming; when Rita married a fifth time in 1958 (producer James Hill), she invited all three men to her wedding. With all of the drama swirling about, it was easy to forget a film was being made! After location filming wrapped, the company traveled on to London to finish up with the interior shots and begin post production. The original cut of Fire Down Below began with the last scene presented first as one long flashback, eventually returning to the present in the final frames. The studio, however, reedited the footage, placing everything in chronological order much to Parrish's consternation. As a result, critics noted an element of disconnect and stiltedness when reviewing Fire Down Below, obviously due to its significant retooling. The experience of Fire Down Below brought out the hidden talents of the stars. Lemmon ended up composing a harmonica theme used in the film, and Mitchum really got into the local music scene, hanging out at live shows and snapping up every record he could find. But he wasn't done yet: a few months before the film opened, he released his own record of island tunes, Calypso – Is Like So. In 1995, the album was remastered, reissued, and enjoys a popular following today. Producer: Irving Allen, Albert R. Broccoli, Ronald Kinnoch Director: Robert Parrish Screenplay: Max Catto (novel), Irwin Shaw Cinematography: Desmond Dickinson Film Editing: Jack Slade Art Direction: Syd Cain Music: Arthur Benjamin, Vivian Comma, Douglas Gamley, Kenneth V. Jones, Jack Lemmon Cast: Rita Hayworth (Irena), Robert Mitchum (Felix Bowers), Jack Lemmon (Tony), Herbert Lom (Harbor Master), Bonar Colleano (Lt. Sellars), Bernard Lee (Dr. Sam Blake). C-116m. Letterboxed. by Eleanor Quin

Quotes

Trivia

Inspired by their location shoot in Trinidad/Tobago, Robert Mitchum recorded a calypso album, and Jack Lemmon scored a harmonica theme for the movie.

Notes

The working title of this film was Fire Down Under. The opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. According to February and March 1956 Hollywood Reporter news items, Ava Gardner and Anita Ekberg were considered for the role of "Irena." Rita Hayworth joined the project after her lawsuit to end her contract with Columbia was thrown out of court. As part of the settlement between the studio and the actress, Hayworth agreed to appear in Fire Down Below and Pal Joey (see below), according to a April 6, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item. Fire Down Below marked Hayworth's return to the screen after a three-year absence.
       A February 1955 Daily Variety news item notes that Richard Widmark was originally to star. An April 1956 news item adds that Trevor Howard was considered for a supporting role in the film. A May 1956 news item in Trinidad Guardian adds Andrew Worker to the cast, but his appearance in the released film has not been verified. Location filming was done on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, according to a June 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item. A May 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that seventeen members of the U.S. naval base in Trinidad were cast as extras in the scene in which "Tony" is trapped below decks. A modern source notes that the original script began with Tony trapped below decks, with the rest of the story then told in flashback.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Summer July 1957

CinemaScope

Released in United States Summer July 1957