Rita and director Robert Parrish Fire Down Below (1957)

A Warwick-Columbia Picture

Producers: Irving Allen and Albert R. Broccoli
Director: Robert Parrish

Screenplay: Irwin Shaw,
based on the novel by Max Catto

Rita Hayworth as Irena
Robert Mitchum as Felix Bowers
Jack Lemmon as Tony
Herbert Lom as Harbor Master
Bonar Colleano as Leuitenant Sellers
Bernard Lee as Doctor Sam Blake
Edric Connor as Jimmy Jean

Song, "Fire Down Below"
By Lester Lee and Ned Washington

Miss Hayworth's costumes by Balmain (of Paris)
and Bermans (of London)
Dance staged by Tutte Lemkow

Color, 116 mins. running time

Following Miss Sadie Thompson in 1953, Rita took a hiatus from the screen that was to last four years. The ill-fated Joseph and His Brethren didn't make it very far into production, so it was not until Fire Down Below in 1957 that fans could enjoy Rita on the screen once more. Staying in Paris at the time, she was lured back to work by the director, Robert Parrish. He brought her the script and offered her the role of Irena, which was originally intended for Ava Gardner. The bulk of filming took place on location in Trinidad, and interiors were shot at Warwick Films' studio in London. If Rita was apprehensive about stepping before the cameras again, her tensions were surely alleviated by the warm friendships she developed with Parrish and her co-stars, Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon.

Seafaring smugglers Felix (Robert Mitchum) and Tony (Jack Lemmon) make their living carrying illegal cargo between the islands of the Caribbean. Irena (Rita Hayworth) is a still beautiful, but world-weary woman with a vague past whose troubles began in Europe during the war when she became involved with the black market. She's had to evade the authorities from country to country ever since. The latest wealthy gentleman whose sympathy Irena has won hires Felix and Tony to transport her to Santa Nada.

Irena becomes the sole passenger aboard a dingy boat run by Felix, Tony and their engineer, Jimmy Jean (Edric Connor). The brutish Felix regards her with disdain while the clean-cut, youthful Tony treats her with respect. He senses Irena's innate vulnerability and before long falls in love with her. This causes a growing rift between he and Felix, who becomes increasingly hostile towards Irena. They make a brief stop on one of the islands to enjoy the carnival festivities. There for the first in certainly a very long time, Irena lets loose and enjoys herself, dancing to the rhythmic island tunes. In spite of his perceptions of what kind of woman Irena is, Felix can't deny his attraction to her. But she is unresponsive to his advances.

The following day they reach Santa Nada. Tony decides to remain with Irena as Felix goes off on a bender. Once again the authorities close in on Irena. Tony asks her to marry him. Irena feels he's too young and too nice to get mixed up with her, explaining, "I'm no good. I'm all worn out…Armies have marched over me." Tony insists he loves her no matter what. But they need money to leave Santa Nada, so he decides to take on another smuggling assignment.

Tony leaves Irena behind and sets sail with Jimmy Jean. As they approach their destination, the Coast Guard catches up with them. They jump ship and make it to shore. Tony is certain Felix tipped off the Coast Gurad. Felix knew he planned to marry Irena when he came back. Besides wanting her for himself, Felix shares her belief that Tony is too innocent for her. Jimmy Jean makes it back on his own and Tony climbs aboard the Ulysses, a freighter bound for Santa Nada. En route, the Ulysses collides with a liner. The freighter remains afloat but Tony gets trapped in the bow. When the ship reaches the port, sailors try all they can to extricate Tony but it proves impossible. And the Ulysses faces another problem. A rubber fire has begun on board that threatens to blow up the ship and all that surrounds it if the flames should reach the cargo of nitrate. Unable to bring the fire under control, they have no choice but to set the Ulysses out to sea to meet its demise -with Tony still inside.

The doctor attending Tony learns of his past with Felix and Irena from Jimmy Jean. The doctor tells them what's become of Tony. They take a speedboat to the Ulysses and make a final attempt to rescue him. Felix tells Tony he knows he's betrayed him, that he wanted Irena all along, and that he's been a rat all his life. Then the ship begins to explode. The pieces that bound Tony fall away. Felix carries him to the safety of the launch waiting nearby. Tony recovers quickly, intent on killing Felix for the wrong he's done him. But when Irena shows him that it is her decision to be with Felix, he has a change of heart. They are better suited for each other. Tony takes off, perhaps back to Indiana, the place he left two and a half years before in search of adventure.

Though Rita had been away from movies for four years, her troubled marriage to Dick Haymes kept her name in the headlines continually. She was still a big name and the public was anxious to see her again, so Fire Down Below did okay at the box office. The critics were kinder to Rita then they had been in the past. It was difficult for them to continue to ignore the fact that she was an actress of considerable talent. There was depth to her performance. She seemed unfeeling at times, but also sympathetic as the aging beauty who had seen more than her share of bad times. Rita had long excelled at making the combination of strength and vulnerability work.

Rita primps herself for the next scene
Rita checks her makeup on the set. That's Jack Lemmon on the left.

More "Fire Down Below" photos>>>

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