Back Door to Hell (1964) (NTSC)

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Released 2-Mar-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Destination Gobi
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1964
Running Time 69:14
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Monty Hellman
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Jimmie Rodgers
Jack Nicholson
John Hackett
Annabelle Huggins
Conrad Maga
Johnny Monteiro
Joe Sison
Henry Duval
Ben Perez
Vic Uematsu
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $14.95 Music Mike Velarde

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     In December 1944, shortly before the U.S. invasion of Luzon in the Philippines, three American soldiers are landed on the coast. They are Lieutenant Craig (Jimmie Rodgers) who is in command but has seen too much action and doubts his ability to kill again, gung-ho Jersey (John Hackett) who has no such qualms, and radio operator and part time philosopher Burnett (Jack Nicholson). Their job is to scout the Japanese positions and radio back information to the invasion forces. But when their Filipino contact does not arrive they are forced to travel with a guerrilla group led by the hostile and suspicious Paco (Conrad Maga). Even worse, the Japanese local commander is aware of the presence of the Americans; he collects the children of a nearby village and threatens to kill one child per hour until the guerrillas turn in the Americans. More troubles occur when the Americans’ radio is rendered inoperable. All the time fighting his own demons, Craig must decide whether he can trust the Filipino fighters while obtaining the information he needs and, even more important, getting it back to the U.S. invasion forces.

     Filmed on location in the Philippines, Back Door to Hell is a taut, suspenseful wartime thriller from director Monty Hellman. Its short running time, less than 70 minutes, means that the film wastes no time in getting into the action and seldom strays from there. The plotting is sparse yet each main character is well differentiated. The acting is also excellent, the standouts being Conrad Maga as the Filipino leader and Jack Nicholson in an early role. Nicholson amassed twelve Oscar nominations in the course of his long, continuing career, winning three, the first for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976. Here he is thinner, with more hair, but the charisma and cheeky grin are there and he lights up the screen. The film’s dialogue is fun and the set piece action sequences, of which there are a couple, are tense and well executed.

     Back Door to Hell has a great cast and good locations; it is never less than interesting, frequently suspenseful and always entertaining during its short running time. It is well worth picking up for a look.

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Transfer Quality


     Back Door to Hell is presented in the NTSC format in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. The original theatrical ratio was 1.85:1.

     This black and white film looks fine. It is reasonably sharp with acceptable contrast and detail, although the shadow detail, especially in the earlier parts of the film, could be better. In the final battle, shot in the day for night, detail is much better. Brightness does sometimes vary, but is never too bad and blacks are reasonably good. There are some small dirt marks but they are not frequent or noticeable. Heavy grain is evident in some scenes.

     English and Spanish subtitles are available in a clear yellow font. From the portion of the English subtitles I sampled, they are timely and accurate to the spoken word. There is some Filipino and Japanese dialogue in the film that the subtitles do not translate.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is choice of English or Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps. This is a mono track, with all sound in the centre front speaker; not a loss as the original theatrical sound mix was mono.

     Dialogue is mostly clear, and when it isn’t there are the subtitles. Effects such as jungle insect sounds or gun fire are understandably a bit flat but not overly so. The audio did become slightly distorted with some of the music.

     The score by Mike Velarde uses staccato notes from horns plus percussion to help build the tension without ever overwhelming the visuals. It is an excellent score, as sparse as the film itself, and very effective.

     Lip synchronization is mostly fine.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



     Trailers for Back Door to Hell (1:48) and Destination Gobi (2:54) can be selected from the main menu.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 1 US release appears to be identical to ours, except we have the extra Destination Gobi trailer. I can find no record of a Region 2 version. There is no reason to go past the local Region All NTSC release of this film.


     Back Door to Hell is a taut, suspenseful wartime thriller that wastes no time in getting into the action and seldom strays from there.

     The audio and video are good for a 45 plus year old print. A couple of trailers are the only extras but there is nothing more in other regions.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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