It’s hard to place, timewise, adult books that I read before I was able to properly comprehend them, but here is one of them. It is of no literary significance whatsoever, and only a quirk in my memory allows its present exulted status.
The book was Fire Down Below by Simon Kent which was a pseudonym for Aussie Max Catto. Even the double-meaning of the title escaped my mental grasp for many years longer than it should have. It’s a mean little pot-boiler set in Martinique where a ship-load of explosive material catches fire at the dock and the ship is towed offshore to be scuttled, but a man is trapped by the leg in the bow and all attempts to rescue him fail. The local priest tries to find his friends and learns the interesting tale that is the basis of the story, of two smugglers who fell out over a beautiful woman and are now mortal enemies. They made a movie with Robert Mitchum and Jack Lemmon fighting over a remarkably pasty-faced Rita Hayworth, redoing her lady from Shanghai thing and not helped by glorious Technicolor. Mitchum wins and an embittered Lemmon ends up trapped in the ship. Of course, Mitchum rescues him in the end, very reluctantly, but that doesn’t mean there is forgiveness. The power of a woman to come between two men seems to be the point. It was a memorable film but hardly great—over-acted, over-heated pot-boiler, and the helplessness of those trying to save Lemmon was very frustrating.
It was made by Irwin Allen, horror of horrors, and proves that not all his films were total disasters, if you’ll forgive the pun. But I was halfway through the film and the ship was burning at the dock and Bernard Lee and Herbert Lom were scratching their heads by the time I remembered I had read this. How could it have taken me an hour of film time to recognise it?
I suspect the blame lies with the film-maker. Irwin Allen was one of a number of Hollywood people who were the bane of my life. The main reason for that was that he had a rather bad habit of making very silly films based on some of my favourite books, beginning with Jules Verne’s first book, Five Weeks in a Balloon.