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

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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. 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.’

production details
UK | 113 minutes | 1957

Director: Michael Anderson
Writer: Eric Ambler (based on the book by Laurence Earl)

cast
Richard Todd as Lieutenant-Commander John Simon Kerans
William Hartnell as Leading Seaman Leslie Frank
Akim Tamiroff as Colonel Peng
Donald Houston as Lieutenant Weston
Keye Luke as Captain Kuo Tai
Sophie Stewart as Miss Charlotte Dunlap
Robert Urquhart as Flight Lieutenant Fearnley
Richard Leech as Lieutenant Strain
Barry Foster as Petty Officer McCarthy
Thomas Heathcote as Mr. Monaghan
Sam Kydd as Able Seaman Walker
Ewen Solon as ERA Williams
Kenneth Cope as Mr. McNamara
Alfred Burke as Petty Officer
Richard Coleman as Lieutenant Commander Skinner
Ian Bannen as Able Seaman Bannister
Gene Anderson as Ruth Worth
Bernard Cribbins as Able Seaman James Bryson
Brian Smith as Boy Martin
Ray Jackson as Telegraphist Jack Leonard French
Anthony Chinn as PLA Officer
Allan Cuthbertson as Captain Donaldson
Basil Dignam as Sir Lionel Henry Lamb, British Ambassador to China
John Paul as Staff Officer Operations
Ralph Truman as Vice Admiral
Jeremy Burnham as Flag Lieutenant
Cyril Luckham as Commander in Chief
Michael Brill as Lieutenant Peter Egerton
Ballard Berkeley as Lieutenant Colonel Dewar-Curie
Keith Faulkner as Signalman
Rhett Ward as Lieutenant Mirehouse
Philip Vickers as Surgeon Lieutenant Packard
Tsai Chin as Sampan Woman