Yangtse Incident, The (British Lion 1957, Richard Todd, William Hartnell)

Two years after making The Dam Busters together, director Michael Anderson and actor Richard Todd teamed up once more for another real-life tale of British heroism with Yangtse Incident. This time the action takes place in China, on board a Royal Naval frigate, HMS Amethyst. The movie recreates a tense international incident that lasted for three months in 1949, and the film’s air of authenticity is aided by the use of the actual ship the Amethyst, which was specially retrieved from the breaker’s yard for filming.

With China overrun by communists, HMS Amethyst could not have picked a worse time to be delivering supplies to the British Embassy at Nanking. Under attack from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army lurking on the shore, the frigate runs aground and is badly damaged. With the captain dead and most of the crew injured, a destroyer tries to save the Amethyst.

When this fails, an officer, John Kerans (Richard Todd), is despatched from Nanking to try and save the day. He begins talks with the local communist leader, Colonel Peng (Akim Tamiroff), but soon realises that negotiations may not be enough.

Renamed Battle Hell in the US, Yangtse Incident is filmed in a semi-documentary style and depicts the never-say-die spirit of the ship’s crew (William Hartnell, Donald Houston) and the single-mindedness of the man in charge. Variety noted that the film’s “vivid battle scenes have been magnificently handled. All of them look like the real thing, while the on-board scenes are genuine enough, too. It’s a tribute to Michael Anderson’s direction that he succeeds in maintaining the tension even though the outcome has no suspense value.”

US Title: Battle Hell; aka: Escape of the Amethyst

  • Michael Anderson
crew details
  • Writer: Eric Ambler (based on the book by Laurence Earl)
    Cinematography: Gordon Dines
    Music: Leighton Lucas
    Producer: Herbert Wilcox
  • Year of Release: 1957
  • Country: UK | British Lion
  • Language: English
  • Runtime: 113 minutes

Richard Todd

Lt. Cmdr. Kerans, RN

William Hartnell

Leading Seaman Frank

Akim Tamiroff

Col. Peng

Donald Houston

Lt Weston RN

Keye Luke

Capt. Kuo Tai

Sophie Stewart

Miss Charlotte Dunlap

Robert Urquhart

Flt Lt Fearnley RAF

James Kenney

Lt Hett RN

Richard Leech

Lt Strain RN

Michael Brill

Lt Berger RN

Barry Foster

PO McCarthy RN

Thomas Heathcote

Mr. Monaghan RN

Sam Kydd

AB Walker RN

Ewen Solon

ERA Williams RN

Brian Smith

Boy Martin