Thursday, November 11, 2010


John Wayne made a lot of movies in his career - well over 100 - and I think HELLFIGHTERS(1968) is my all-time favorite John Wayne movie. I feel it was different than his usual cowboy or soldier role. Chance Buckman (John Wayne) is the head of a Houston, Texas–based oil-fire fighting outfit. With a team that includes Joe Horn (Bruce Cabot), Greg Parker (Jim Hutton), and George Harris (Edward Faulkner), Chance travels around the world putting out blazes at well heads from industrial accident, explosion or terrorist attack. Chance enjoys the thrills, but longs for ex-wife Madelyn (Vera Miles), who left him 20 years earlier, taking their daughter Tish (Katharine Ross) with her, because Madelyn could not bear to see her husband risk his life.

While extinguishing a burning wellhead, Chance suffers a near-fatal accident when he is nearly crushed by a bulldozer blade. Against his wishes, his daughter visits. He discovers that his assistant Greg has married his daughter five days after meeting her. Greg has a notorious reputation for using fires to pick up women. Generally, any woman he takes to a fire ends up in bed with him; in the case of Buckman's daughter, he apparently fell in love and they married instead. In spite of Greg's reputation, Buckman comes to trust his daughter's choice. He accepts Greg into the family.

Greg suspects that his new father-in-law is growing increasingly protective after the marriage, in an effort to protect his daughter from heartbreak should her new husband be harmed or killed. Tish wishes to see the fires that her husband and father fight, something that neither man has encouraged. Her father relents and allows her to accompany Greg into the field.

Chance, trying to re-unite with his ex-wife, resigns to take a safer job at Lomax's oil company as a way to win her back. Chance gives his company to his son-in-law as a "wedding present", although Greg's pride forces him to tell Buckman he "doesn't want any gifts" and that he will "pay double for it." Greg and Tish begin traveling the world to put out oil-well fires. Soon the older couple announce that they will re-marry, to the delight of Tish. Chance accepts an executive position from his old friend Jack Lomax (Jay C. Flippen) to serve on the board of directors for Lomax Oil. Madelyn is happy to see her husband in a safe job; but in time Chance begins to grow bored with the corporate environment and longs to be back in the field.

Greg encounters problems with an oil well fire in Venezuela, further compounded by guerrillas who are trying to undermine the operation. He asks Chance to return and help fight the fire. He does so without hesitation. Chance goes to Venezuela, unaware that Madelyn and Tish are going as well. Madelyn declares "This is it for me," in the sense that it will either make or break her ability to deal with the fires once and for all. The team puts out the fires with the help of the Venezuelan army while under attack by rebel aircraft that strafe the oilfield. Madelyn explodes in anger at what she perceives as the Venezuelans' inability to protect the team from unexpected airplane attacks, at which point Chance pulls her away during her tirade. She snaps, "I'll be damned if I understand your attitude!", to which he replies, "It's very simple -- you'll do!"

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