- Directed by Jack Smight
- September 1977 (Japan) / October 21, 1977 (US)
After a nuclear war a handful of survivors trek through ‘Damnation Alley’ towards a radio signal from Albany, New York that may indicate more who have survived.
I’m not sure who thought Damnation Alley was a good idea. This has TV movie written all over it and not theatrical release. I was very young when I first saw it and thought it was an old TV movie. Nope! This came out in 1977 and was expected to be the big movie of the year. Some space movie beat it out by leaps and bounds though.
Damnation Alley feels like a cross between a bad Outer Limits episode and a B grade science-fiction film from the 50s or 60s. The acting is hammy and the dialogue and characterization over the top at points. Yet there is a certain charm to it. It’s bad but it got so bad that it crossed over into being good.
The special effects were probably adequate for the time and at points still hold up but some of it looked like they put a halfhearted effort forward. What they did was not even good for the time and they were just trying to get it over with.
Maybe some of the issues are from this movie having been so edited down from the original rough cut. Subplots were removed and characters that had something to do were completely silenced. If you read up on the missing material it hints at a superior film.
Jan-Michael Vincent stars as 1st Lt. Jake Tanner, a cool and cocky smartass Airforce officer stationed at a missile silo in the desert. George Peppard is Major Eugene “Sam” Denton who is Tanner’s superior officer. The relationship between Denton and Tanner waffles between antagonistic and friends but it never really affects the story. Denton comes off as begrudgingly proud in the same way as the dad in a bad comedy does.
The narrative feels like several stories piece together into one. I’m not sure if it’s still done today but back in the past short-lived TV shows could get slapped together into films. Probably one of the better known ones that this happened to is The Planet of the Apes television series but others did it as well. The narrative in this film feels like somebody edited together a few episodes of a forgotten show and released it as a film. This is probably a sign of the large story chunks that were removed that brought the story down to around 90 minutes.
Damnation Alley is divided up into distinct sections. There is the time at the base before the bombs, the time spent after the bombs, the trip to Vegas, their time in Vegas, and so forth. The story does not flow from one to the other as part of an overarching narrative, but each section stops and feels as if a new story has begun. The story are the side quests they have on their way through the wastelands. Again, this is probably due to the editing.
Characters are not really defined and honestly when they die nobody really cares. Oh look! Paul Winfield’s character died. Kip Niven’s character died. So sad…
This is just a bit of idiotic fun. George Peppard‘s accent is odd. The special effects are bad. The acting is hammy. It’s just done poorly but done poorly by people who gave it their best. And somehow that effort to do good helps to make it good. Not great but good.
Damnation Alley is not great art. Somehow though it manages to entertain you with its pure badness. I won’t recommend this to you unless you like cheesy movies done by people who thought they were making quality.