Hellfighters is a film released in 1968 starring John Wayne, Katharine Ross, Jim Hutton, Bruce Cabot, Jay C. Flippen, and Vera Miles. The movie, directed by Andrew McLaglen, is about a group of oil well firefighters, based loosely on the life of Red Adair. Adair, "Boots" Hansen, and "Coots" Matthews, served as technical advisors on the film.
Hellfighters was not received well. Reviewers described it as boring and insignificant. The few good comments about
the film concerned the humorous cast.
Chance Buckman (John Wayne) is head of an oil fire-fighting outfit. Along with a team that includes wheelchair-bound Jack Lomax (Jay C. Flippen), Joe Horn (Bruce Cabot), and Greg Parker (Jim Hutton), he travels around the world putting out blazes
to the East Indies
. While Chance enjoys the thrills of the job, he still holds a place in his heart for his wife, Madelyn (Vera Miles), who left him 20 years earlier taking their daughter Tish (Katharine Ross) with her, because she could not bear to see her husband risk his life.
Chance's life gets more complicated when he suffers a near fatal accident, and his daughter comes to see him against his wishes. He is further dismayed when he discovers that his assistant Greg has married her a mere five days after meeting her. In spite of this, Buckman does not have any hard feelings toward the two, and he warmly accepts the marriage.
However, Greg suspects that his new father-in-law is growing increasingly protective of him after the marriage. Also, Tish wishes to personally see the fires that her husband and father are fighting, something that neither of them encouraged. But Tish is persistent, and she usually gets what she wants. After some time, Buckman resigns from the company and takes a job at an oil company, leaving Greg as the head. Madelyn is happy to see her husband in a safe job and marries him.
Meanwhile, Greg is encountering problems with an oil well fire in Venezuela
, problems made worse by guerillas
trying to undermine the operation. He asks Chance to come back and help fight the fire, something Chance needs no permission to do. Madelyn faces the truth that Chance will never be able to resist the lure of fighting fires. Chance goes to Venezuela, and try as he might, he cannot keep Madelyn and Tish from going also. Thanks to the combination of careful planning and the help of the Venezuelan army, the fire-fighting team manages to beat back the fire.
- John Wayne as Chance Buckman
- Vera Miles as Madelyn Buckman
- Katharine Ross as Tish Buckman
- Jim Hutton as Greg Parker
- Jay C. Flippen as Jack Lomax
- Bruce Cabot as Joe Horn
received mostly negative reviews, garnering a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes
(one "Fresh" rating and seven "Rotten" ratings). Dennis Schwartz of Ozus' World Movie Reviews summarized the film as "a dull adventure tale about macho men who fight oil fires". Roger Ebert
, a film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times
, described the movie as a "slow moving, talkative, badly plotted bore".
On a more positive note, A. H. Weiler of the New York Times noted that John Wayne made "actionful, if not stirringly meaningful, child's play of exotic disasters". He remarked that "the unrestrained cast and director maintain a welcome sense of humor".