Fire Down Below, 1957. Starring, Rita Hayworth (Irena), Robert Mitchum (Felix), Jack Lemmon (Tony), and directed by Robert Parrish
This movie that got extremely mixed reviews, but took me with complete surprise, beginning with its joyous Limbo Dance, by the dance troupe of Julia Edwards; a dance troupe which was made famous by the film. It was shot on location in Trinidad and Tobago (a visceral portrayal of the dual-island Caribbean nation near Venezuela, with their distinctive Creole traditions and cuisines, hosting a boisterous carnival featuring calypso and soca music – all flaring in the film with colorful abandon). The word that came to mind (and still does) when I think back on this profoundly enjoyable movie is “alive!”
It is a 1957 film that appeared, at first impression, almost like a fun grade B movie, but excelled way beyond it’s the exotic setting and the love triangle genre. I loved the acting, the directing, the dance, the costumes, the frenetic Mardi Gras scene, all the wild dancing, the Gorgeous Rita Hayworth, strong yet vulnerable and, in my opinion, at the pinnacle of her performance and career. (The film was Rita Hayworth’s return to motion pictures after a four-year absence.) The dance scene is just terrific in her self-giving abandonment. Just fantastic! The discord between the two conflicted men, portrayed by a very young Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum, has real bite and depth. They go at each other, yet expose a deep friendship, heavily strained by their divergent personalities, morals and fates.
There is a crackling chemistry between these two actors and the sailors they portray. Every aspect of this movie was a pleasure to experience. It was not a large spectacle of a movie, nor was it a huge production, but it felt like an epic and of epic scope. The title/metaphor of the “fire down below,” appears as so many levels within the story; the literal fire below in the unstoppable burning rubber of a doomed ship; sexual undertones, the differing fires in the hearts of Tony, Felix, the woman, Irena, whom they both fall in love with, the black market underground that brings Tony to the brink and facing a drawn out death, trapped in the belly of the burning ship.
This movie drew me into itself. I let go to its inner drive and passion. It has an innocence, as well as grit or what in Yiddish is termed, “Chutzpah!” It was an unabashed pleasure to watch. I will watch it again.
– Norman Babbitt
who is Norman Babbitt ? Norman Bates & Sinclair Lewis’ progeny ? PARISH’S fire down below —read the max canto novel in 57, sorta sexy, liked Robert Mitchum….. thought the movie was not very involving….”turgid” – “sluggish” — then say again a few week ago courtesy of streaming —-& not much better than in 1957, which is rare because Mitchum is good in almost anything from back then……no question the fire burned below in both Mitch & Jack for Rita, with the metaphor of Jack being trapped by it on the ship, while Mitch is the one with it under control…..i don’t think it’s worth seeing a 3rd time to see if a 4th will be enjoyed, but maybe i’ll see 🙂
Norman is a Subud Portland member who reviews movies for SICA. He likes to review movies that may have been overlooked, in his view. Great man.
that’s super – i’d had the idea he was you using a made-up-name (can’t immediately spell “pseudonym”) 🙂 —- & i sincerely apologize for my inappropriate humor—-dumb me—i should have looked in the SUSA Portland directory before putting my fist in my mouth 🙂 BTW, I like your non-facebook posting—-however the reply like is very hard…….very tiny & hard to read what one is writing 🙂
oops……..one can make it larger by command/+ keys, as usual…..but i can’t see a way to edit after it’s posted 🙁
Norman, I had not seen your review of Fire Down Below until just now. I have always enjoyed and greatly admired this film. As you express in your review, the sexual undertones, the vying within the love triangle with the three actor leads performing superbly. The movie has all that it “should’ have for 1957 post-war B (sort of) picture. But that aspect adds to its power in my view. And as you say the shooting of the movie on location in Trinidad and Tobago lent a more modern reality that evolved or progressed to another level that B picture category. Robert Parrish’s direction was excellent I thought. – Coincidental comment. I was in West Hampton in the late 1980’s and actually met Mr. Parrish at an event. I said to him how much I loved Fire Down Below. And he was perfectly charming in his response of thanks while in the same moment shooting off this wry throwaway line accompanied with an all-too “Ah, the past” smile: “Those days are long gone.” Kind of bittersweet, but he held his smile with genuineness. Nice man. – Gonna run Fire Down Below again. Haven’t seen it for some time. Thank you for your review!
To add…. still dislike that one cannot edit here to correct mis-spellings or auto-corrections that are themselves incorrect 🙂 However, need to mention that FIRE DOWN BELOW is now available in BD (Blu-ray Disc) from Amazon France (L’enfer des tropiques) in English & the French subs are not likely forced 🙂 Parrish is a relatively little known director, whose THE PURPLE PLAIN, SADDLE THE WIND and THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY i think are super & far better than the above 🙂 i’ve also just read his two delightful memoirs about Hollywood & his career: “Growing Up in Hollywood” & “Hollywood Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” & also heartily recommend them 🙂 Discovery those were the result of the wonderful commentary by Nick Redmond (God bless him) & Julie Kirgo on the Twilight Time edition of Parrish’s IN THE FRENCH STYLE that we are mainly keeping simply because their commentary is so good, while the movie is mostly worthwhile for its ‘new wave’ view of Paris in the early 1960s 🙂 —-& Michael, speaking of the great MONK, last night we watched the new BD of Vadim’s LES LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, another document of the Europe (Euro-trash?) of 60 years ago, that to me is not only the best telling of the 18th century story but also Vadim’s best movie, featuring one of the finest movie jazz scores mostly by Monk & at one point Gérard Philipe flashes one of Monk’s albums 🙂 Norman, in retrospect, i think what bothers me about FIRE DOWN is the nasty betrayal by Mitchum’s character, which i feel is insufficiently dealt with 🙂 it’s a movie that’s OK to see once, but not enduring like Parrish’s other works mentioned above, all worth seeing repeatedly, which is why we have them in our disc collection (my big & major endulgence) 🙂 please forgive me if i’ve said anything offensive or out of place 🙂