HELL BOUND. United Artists / Bel-Air Productions, 1957. John Russell, June Blair, Stuart Whitman, Margo Woode. Director: William J. Hole Jr.

   Hell Bound opens with voice-over narration that tells the viewer what is going on. It’s technique familiar to all of us who have watched numerous low budget 1950s crime films and police procedurals. Where the narrator instructs us as to what is happening on the screen, as if we needed some additional help. But in this Bel-Air Production, the narration goes on and on. And on. Or so it seems. All of which leads the viewer to wonder what exactly is going on? Is the whole film going to be like this?

   But eventually the narration ends. And as it turns out, what you were watching was a 16mm film within a film. A short movie that was filmed by a thief named Jordan (John Russell) in order to “sell” his vision to a businessman who could finance his latest criminal scheme: to steal narcotics from a ship set to arrive in the Los Angeles harbor. It’s a clever device, one that immediately lets the viewer know that this isn’t going to be one just another stodgy and formulaic police procedural.

   Hell Bound is a lot grittier than what most of those films even hope to offer. It’s soaked in sweat, oozes sexual innuendo, and has its fair share of odd, unsavory characters, including a blind heroin dealer who simply goes by the name Daddy (Dehl Berti). The film has a lot of visual signposts and trademarks of what has become known as film noir. There’s a gin-soaked nightclub with an exotic dancer, neon lights, and a ruthless degree of criminal brutality. There is also a stark, but exquisitely filmed finale in a junk yard filled with old trolley cars, one of the more creative endings I’ve seen in a while.

   Look for former Playboy Playmate June Blair as Jordan’s primary accomplice, and a for youthful Stuart Whitman as an honest hardworking ambulance driver who inadvertently gets mixed up in the whole affair. Les Baxter provides the soundtrack. Recommended.