AVAILABLE ON REGION A
RUNNING TIME: 83 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In post-war Berlin, British Major Haven recruits members of a returning German bomb disposal unit Hans Globke, Peter Tillig, Wolfgang Sulke, Franz Loeffler, Karl Wirtz and Eric Koertner to defuse unexploded Allied bombs scattered throughout the city. Delighted by the well-paying position, Karl bets Eric that he will outlive him. Although initially taken aback by the wager, the other men soon agree that half of their salaries will go to the survivors of the dangerous mission in three months’ time. Karl volunteers to lead the unit, but the men vote for the reluctant Eric instead. Several weeks go by in which the men successfully and safely defuse numerous bombs; but then young Hans is killed while defusing a British 1000-pound bomb, and Eric falls for his landlady….
It’s perhaps odd that the acclaimed director of Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? signed on to do a Hammer film, and one that, in collaboration with United Artists, was shot in Germany, but that’s what happened, his career not going very well at the time. The film, adapted from the book The Phoenix by Lawrence P. Bachmann, was in fact was a very troubled production, with disputes between Aldrich, who was taking forever to film and shot a huge amount of footage, and the producers leading to Aldrich punching Hammer honcho Michael Carreras and the three hour-plus film being taken off his hands and cut down several times by others. Therefore it’s something of a surprise that the film works well, even if there are places where footage appears to be missing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the missing footage had much more detail about the other men in the bomb disposal team besides the two main characters, and I doubt that Aldrich was responsible for the intrusive voice-over that you hear in places, but this forerunner to The Hurt Locker, while it falls down in certain areas like the poorly written romantic subplot, is still a good watch with quite a strong doom laden feel, two fine, tough performances from Jack Palance and Jeff Hunter, and some very suspenseful bomb scenes with a twenty minute climax that almost had me wetting my pants, the tension was so strong!
The film’s point of view – our main protagonists are six German soldiers who are helping to try and rebuild their shattered country – is unusual, though elements of the story are very predictable – within the first couple of minutes, for example, you know who the last two men standing will be. The screenplay by Aldrich and Teddi Sherman is mostly intelligent but does seem to have been written with a few concessions which diminish the film’s overall effect, though Ernest Lazlo’s superb monochrome cinematography gives us a memorably grim version of a destroyed city that is a reflection of the shattered lives of most of the characters, while we also get some interesting compositions in some scenes. Ten Seconds To Hell is necessarily compromised, being not in the form its director would have wished it, though it’s still full of Aldrich’s cynicism and remains an interestingly offbeat and often genuinely edge-of-seat war movie.