A Hollywood blockbuster about a variety oilfield fires around the globe sounds like an exciting prospect. Unfortunately, it boils down to standard-issue heroics with director Andrew V. McLaglen helming his second John Wayne saga "The Hellfighters," a tribute to troubleshooters Red Adair, 'Boots' Hansen, and 'Coots' Matthews. The high-octane explosions are more interesting that the lackluster action that surrounds them. Indeed, "The Hellfighters" could have been a television series because everything is so episodic. Somewhere, an oilfield fire erupts, and our heroes schedule their flights and check up on the equipment that they will need. Sadly, the characters and the predicaments that they find themselves in when they aren't battling infernos are bland. Chance Buckman (John Wayne) and his closest associates, Greg Parker (Jim Hutton) and Joe Horn (Bruce Cabot of "King Kong"), wear distinctive red coveralls so they can signal their co-workers. At one point, after he suffers an injury, Wayne drops out of the film to return later. Mind you, it is always good for an actor to stretch his thespian talents and take on a role that he has never tried. Somehow, John Wayne isn't as much fun unless he is fighting a military engagement, like either "The Longest Day" or "The Green Beret," or saddled atop a horse with his Stetson and handy six-shooter holstered on his hip.
"War Wagon" scenarist Clair Huffaker has penned a predictable script but does a fine job parceling out the exposition about how Buchman and his men handle their fires. The idea of snuffing out a fire with nitroglycerin is intriguing, and the fires grow more complicated as the film unfolds. The only way to generate tension and suspense emerges from the soap operatic shenanigans that the heroes and heroines contend with between the blazes. For example, womanizing firefighter Greg likes to take women to watch him perform his dangerous job so he can win their sympathy and have his way with them. These antics abruptly end after the opening fire when Chance has an accident. An energetic television news reporter charges in to interview Chance after his team has extinguished a conflagration, and a bulldozer swerves to miss the reporter. Surprisingly, the operator misses the report, but he smashes his shovel into an unsuspecting Chance. Our hero winds up in the hospital with broken ribs, but one rib has punctured a lung. Everybody wonders if Chance will survive his wound. Fearing the worse for him, Greg flies to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for Chance's estranged adult daughter, Tish (Katherine Ross of "The Graduate"), and brings her back. Initially, Tish is reluctant to leave. The last time that she saw her father was as a youngster. One of Chance's longtime oilfield pals, Jack Lomax (Jay C. Flippen of "Cat Ballou"), confined to a wheelchair because he broke his back in a fire, brings not only Tish but also Greg up to date about Chance's condition as well as their history. Chance's doctor has to keep Chance sedated to see that the 'hellfighter' gets adequate rest so he can recover from his injuries. We learn from Lomax as well as in a previous expository passage that Chance's wife Madelyn (Vera Miles of "The Searchers") left him because she couldn't handle the suspense once her husband went off to battle a bonfire. Incredibly, but obviously to keep things in the family and promote anxiety, Greg and Tish start out abhorring each other. Since opposites always attract in Hollywood, Greg and Tish wind up wedding. Appropriately enough, Chance is sorely upset when he learns that not only did Tish witness a dangerous oilfield fire, but also that Greg is now his son-in-law. This is one of those traditional scenes where Wayne doles out a knuckle sandwich that spins Grey around. Throughout this two hour plus epic, the characters are largely one-dimensional and nothing complicated crops up about them that would alienate audiences. William Clothier's widescreen cinematographer is fantastic, and the production values are first-rate as usual for a Batjac production. "The Hellfighters" also benefits from Leonard Rosenman's terrific orchestral score. Andrew V. McLaglen keeps this nonsense moving along at a brisk clip so that it doesn't bog down and wear out its welcome.
Action / Adventure / Drama / Romance / War
Action / Adventure / Drama / Romance / War
The telling of Chance Buckman an oil rig fire fighter who becomes hospitalized and has to come to grips with how his job interfered with his marriage, after being laid up in a hospital bed after an accident with a news man running in front of a bulldozer causing it to swirve into Chance, and forcing him to allow veteran oil fire fighter Greg, a cocky but knowledgeable Greg becoming his son in law and he has to learn tolerance for not being able to control his daughter wanting to visit oil fires and learn how to rekindle the spark that went out with his ex of more than 25 years and the fear of losing her daughter as well as her husband to the oil fighting.
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April 16, 2016 at 12:56 AM