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JACK NICHOLSON IN MONTE HELLMAN'S 'BACK DOOR TO HELL'

Title: BACK DOOR TO HELL Director: Monte Hellman Year: 1964 Rating: ***1/2

Following existential Westerns THE SHOOTING and RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND, Monte Hellman had initially directed Jack Nicholson in BACK DOOR TO HELL, a low-budget war programmer, actually starring real life crooner Jimmie Rodgers as one of three soldiers, including Nicholson's radio operator Burnett...

Who, during one conversation with the square-jawed, old school militaristic type, Jersey, played by co-writer John Hackett (he'd sporadically work with Nicholson until 1996), they discusses Rodger's character, Lt. Craig... 

Jack Nicholson and John Hackett in BACK DOOR TO HELL

He's the man in charge of a strategic venture into the Philippines via WWII... and how he hesitated before firing his gun, which could jeopardize this important and dangerous secret mission... 

One of two overseas projects directed by Monte Hellman and co-starring Nicholson including FLIGHT TO FURY followed by, back in the States, the aforementioned 1966 Western double-feature, proving their eclectic collaborative worth... 

Jack Nicholson and John Hackett in BACK DOOR TO HELL

In 1964's BACK DOOR TO HELL, the creative auteur builds tension with the camera quick-shifting to the right or left, a sort of horizontal push-zoom gaining popularity during the latter '60s and throughout the Renaissance '70s, when Hellman remained a subliminal influence while his once struggling-actor partner Nicholson, as everyone knows, became a top-billed superstar thereafter...

Despite Jack's intrepid gun-toting image headlining the film's artwork post-EASY RIDER, he's really the philosophizing brains of the trio, remaining a moral compass while preparing to intercept a radio transmission as Rodgers, working with scene-stealing Guerilla leader Paco (Conrad Maga), continues to move forward behind enemy lines while a gallant war score plays, peppered with frantic bongos...

Jack Nicholson and John Hackett in BACK DOOR TO HELL

Which is a distinct hybrid of 1940s to 1960s soundtracks underlined by anti-war sentiment that's never too preachy and, as local Paco gives Lt. Craig motivation, the passive American becomes tougher and braver on the field: concluding with an explosive stock reel of archive footage to ultimately seal the deal...

And because of the obvious attempt to be a legitimate war picture instead of a passion project indie... not bombastic enough to be genuine or artistic enough for a cult following... this HELL remains an obscure, mostly forgotten curio that's pretty worth watching for the cast and direction.

Jimmie Rodgers in BACK DOOR TO HELL
Jack Nicholson and John Hackett in BACK DOOR TO HELL
Jack Nicholson and John Hackett in BLOOD AND WINE
John Hackett in BACK DOOR TO HELL
Jack Nicholson and Jimmie Rodgers in BACK DOOR TO HELL
Jack Nicholson and Conrad Maga in BACK DOOR TO HELL
Jack Nicholson and Jimmie Rodgers in BACK DOOR TO HELL
Jack Nicholson in BACK DOOR TO HELL

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