Filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson has certainly lived up to the hype as one of the most prominent action genre directors working today; Frankly, I’m almost curious to see how well he would bode in the horror or sci-fi genres. To this end, he’s also one of the most consistent when it comes to his distinctive style at times, and an adherence to bygone cinema, history and philosophy plays well here, especially with his most recent World War II thriller drama, Hell Hath No Fury.
The film sets sail at the tail-end of the war where we meet Marie (Nina Bergman), the former lover of an elite Nazi guardsman named Von Bruckner (Daniel Bernhardt). In the span of three years and with France gaining its freedom with remnants of Hitler’s army vacating, Marie finds herself in not-so-cozy bearings after spending three years in prison with her headshaven and a swastika painted on her forehead to brand her as a traitor before the viewing public.
That was the hand being dealt for Nazi sympathizers aplenty, specifically women meant to bare shame and embarrassment for betraying their country, and for Marie, a predicament she soon found herself a way out of in a moment of desperation before a quartet of salty U.S. soldiers led by Major Maitland (Louis Mandylor). The catch? A hidden bundle of Nazi gold bars stashed away in a remote cemetery in exchange for her safety, although it isn’t long before Marie’s theatrical attempts at halfway stalling compel Maitland and his jaded men to question just who exactly is using who.
The more important question, however, is “Who is Marie?”. Johnson plays the long game in unraveling the details for audiences in this film, introducing an unlikely heroine who stands for nearly half of the film as one big grey area. Cutting between current story moments with Maitland and his men interrogating Marie for the gold while fending off firefights from French revolutionary locals, and flashback scenes showcasing Marie and Von Bruckner in their intimate moments and waxing romantic keeps viewers on their toes while trying to figure out Marie’s true motives or waiting for them to reveal themselves.
Mandylor lends a fairly well performance to the role of Maitland with a Southern accent that doesn’t always sound as southern as intended. His casting here is great fanservice for anyone who’s seen three of Johnson’s last films or any of Mandylor’s, and the same goes for industry stunt multi-hyphenate and oft-actor Luke LaFontaine who gets a lot more screentime in a supporting role alongside Josef Cannon and Timothy V. Murphy. The same goes for Pit Fighter and The Mercenary star Dominique Vandenberg who plays Clement, a French rebel forced to come to terms with the personal tragedies and torment that curse him.
It’s Bergman who carries the film though, with a character based on a true story later followed up on through comics and independent film. Johnson’s implied take on the mystery and complexity behind the real Marie Dujardin beyond what’s immediately available on her Wikipedia page stirs ample curiosity and wonderment about who she is and what her role was in World War II and why it was so important.
Every twist and turn, and every vague progression is done intentionally to keep viewers interested in what happens next, and while at times the story does feel like a bit of a slag in the first half, it’s worth it for the payoff: A sticking message to what unbridled greed can do to anyone, regardless of whether or not they are heroes in their own story or not, with Marie front and center, an underdog in almost every way, all but reliant on her own cunning as a means of both survival, and dispensing her own brand of justice.
The film additionally lends credit to just how well the Johnson knows to get the most out of small budgets as he’s been doing for the better part of the last twenty-plus years in the director’s chair, notwithstanding the hits and misses along the way. Even if that means tapping back into his longtime skill as a stuntman and taking the hits on screen which Johnson elucidated to our own Matthew Essary in an interview late last year for this production:
…I was even one of the SS Officers in it who gets blown up and shot. I did a backward flip into a grave which I really shouldn’t have done. But I didn’t want anyone else to do it because it was quite a large stunt adjustment if we were doing it on a normal film. So, I jumped in...~Jesse V. Johnson via Film Combat Syndicate, November 13, 2021.
Johnson’s ingenuity here also includes the levels of violence to which he’s willing to convey, as he’s never one to shy away from the red stuff. Alas, you get just about everything you need from a Johnson-directed war pic, even some gory fisticuffs along with what might as well be Johnson’s signature “biting” fatal finish shot…
(Someone give this guy a vampire script already.)
Hell Hath No Fury stands as Johnson’s newest evolution in directing as fans follow on in hopes that he gets to direct larger productions. It’s a nod to vaugely-known hero and a serviceable incarnation of a subchapter in world history produced with poise and gravitas.
Hell Hath No Fury is now available on DVD and Digital in the UK from Dazzler Media.