All at Sea
If "Hell Boats" had been made in the 50s I would have said it was insulting, but this is a 1970's movie which was more about boy's own action & adventure than war realism. In fact that is all that "Hell Boats" is, a boy's own action & adventure which sees an MTB (motor torpedo boat) Comdr sent on a dangerous mission to Malta to blow up a German glider bomb depot on nearby Sicily. It is all very stereotypical, with by the book action and of course a love triangle so that it can sex things up a bit but it isn't a lavish affair only a workman like war movie.
After recovering from being shot during action in the English Channel Lt. Comdr. Jeffords (James Franciscus - The Valley of Gwangi) is sent to Malta on a top secret mission. That mission is to take command of the flotilla of MTB's and use them to destroy a German glider bomb depot on Sicily. But matters are complicated when Jeffords meets and falls for Alison (Elizabeth Shepherd - Let Me Call You Sweetheart) whose marriage to Comdr. Ashurst (Ronald Allen) has hit the rocks.
The biggest problem that "Hell Boats" has is that it is too stereotypical and workman like, delivering nothing more than typical boys' own style action and adventure which dominated 70s war movies. As such during the course of 95 minutes we have scenes which include an undercover mission to Sicily to scout out the base, which ends in a gunfight and escape and then an equally stereotypical moment of action when they capture a German E-Boat to use as a Trojan horse. And as mentioned there is the sexing up of this as we not only have Alison and Jeffords falling for each other, starting with a scene where he discovers her naked in the sea but we also get a sexy Italian resistance fighter. It is all too text book and none of it has any flare, just working through the cliches and adding nothing new to them.
Now for some this will be very disappointing because to my knowledge there are not a great deal of movies which revolve around MTB's and trust me if this had been made in the 1950s it would have been terrible. But this is a product of the 70s which came two years after "Where Eagles Dare" and as such it is not concerned with realism but action and adventure. Having said that the whole romantic triangle subplot whilst in my eyes is only there to sex things up does have an interesting angle when it comes to why Alison's marriage is failing even though it is a poorly explored depth.
As for the acting well James Franciscus is tanned, blonde and heroic as Jeffords but it is a cardboard cut out character which lacks personality. That criticism goes for all the acting and characters because like the action there is no flare to it, just actors going through the motions and getting a suntan whilst filming in Malta. And in truth whilst we do get Elizabeth Shepherd sexing things up, firstly naked in the sea and then in a wet shirt the real beauty of the movie is Malta itself which looks magnificent.
What this all boils down to is that "Hell Boats" is a boy's own action/adventure movie which works through the playbook but does so with no flare or ambition. It means that it ends up both dull and unmemorable with maybe the exception of Elizabeth Shepherd sexing things up in a wet shirt.