Ten Seconds to Hell

Ten Seconds to Hell

Theatrical poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Michael Carreras
Written by Robert Aldrich (writer)
Lawrence P. Bachmann (novel "The Phoenix")
Teddi Sherman
Starring Jack Palance
Jeff Chandler
Martine Carol
Robert Cornthwaite
Virginia Baker
Richard Wattis
Wesley Addy
Dave Willock
James Goodwin
Nancy Lee
Music by Muir Mathieson
Kenneth V. Jones
Richard Farrell
Cinematography Ernest Laszlo
Edited by Henry Richardson
Distributed by United Artists (USA) (1959, original) MGM (current) Kino Lorber (under license from MGM) (2015, Blu-Ray DVD)
Release dates
16 June 1959
Running time
93 min.
Country United Kingdom
West Germany
Language English
Budget $1.1 million[1]
Box office 331,938 admissions (France)[2]

Ten Seconds To Hell (released in the UK as The Phoenix) is a 1959 British and West German film directed by Robert Aldrich and based upon Lawrence P. Bachmann's novel, The Phoenix. The Hammer Films/UFA joint production stars Jack Palance, Jeff Chandler and Martine Carol.

Set in the aftermath of World War II, the film focuses on a half-dozen German POW's who return to a devastated Berlin and find employment as a bomb disposal squad, tasked with clearing the city of unexploded Allied bombs. Their fatalistic duties lead them to form a macabre pact; they donate a part of their individual paychecks into a pool that those still surviving at the end of three months divide the money. Eventually, only two men are left, and they are both in love with the same woman.

Robert Aldrich's direction is noted for its meticulous attention to the techniques of bomb deactivation and disposal.[3]


In post-war Berlin, British Major Haven (Richard Wattis) recruits members of a returning German bomb disposal unit, Hans Globke (James Goodwin), Peter Tillig (Dave Willock), Wolfgang Sulke (Wesley Addy), Franz Loeffler (Robert Cornthwaite), Karl Wirtz (Chandler) and Eric Koertner (Palance), to defuse unexploded Allied bombs scattered throughout the city.

Delighted by the well-paying position, Karl bets Eric that he will outlive him. Although initially taken aback by the wager, the other men soon agree that half of their salaries will go to the survivors of the dangerous mission in three months' time. The British provide the men new uniforms and equipment, and assign Frau Bauer (Virginia Baker) as their liaison. Karl volunteers to lead the unit, but the men vote for the reluctant Eric instead.

Later, Karl and Eric move into an Allied-approved boarding house run by pretty young widow Margot Hoefler (Carol), a French woman whose German husband died during the war.

Several weeks go by in which the men successfully and safely defuse numerous bombs; then the men are stunned when young Globke is killed while defusing a British 1000-pound bomb. Suspecting that the bomb has double fuses, Eric asks Haven to request information from British armaments on its design. At the boardinghouse, Karl continually flirts with Margot, to Eric's annoyance. One evening when Margot loudly protests Karl's drunken advances, Eric bursts into Margot's room to help her and Karl retreats, ridiculing Eric for his motives. Deducing that Eric disapproves of her behavior, Margot explains that her uneasy situation as a traitor to the French and an outsider to the Germans has left her jaded and willing to take happiness wherever she can find it. When Eric remains critical, Margot accuses him of denying his own desires.

A few days later, Frau Bauer receives a report that Tillig has been trapped under a live bomb by the partial collapse of a ruined building. With the other men away on assignments, Eric and Karl race to the site, and despite Tillig's protests, inspect the bomb. After Eric defuses the bomb safely, a doctor arrives and upon examining Tillig declares there is no chance for his survival. Refusing to accept the pronouncement, Eric hurries outside to request equipment to lift the bomb, but as Karl expresses his doubts, the building collapses on Tillig and the doctor. Distraught, Eric returns to the boardinghouse where he seeks solace from Margot. The next day, Eric takes Margot to another ruined section of the city and reveals that before the war he was an architect. Eric struggles to conceal his growing feelings for Margot, admitting that he is confused about becoming romantically involved while his life is in danger daily.

Back at headquarters, Haven tells Eric that because of the post-war chaos, they have been unable to gather information on the thousand-pound bombs. When Haven discloses that he knows of Eric's former profession, Karl, unaware that his colleague was an esteemed architect, expresses surprise. Eric tells Haven that he was forced into demolitions when he fell into disfavor for making anti-Nazi political statements. Karl and the other men were all pressed into demolitions as punishment for some indiscretion and all vowed to do everything they could to survive the war. Mocking Eric's growing anxiety, Karl urges him to quit the unit and give up the wager, but Eric refuses.

A month before the wager's deadline, Sulke is killed while defusing a double fused bomb. Eric, Loeffler and the men agree to adhere to the terms of the wager but discuss giving the salaries to Sulke's widow and child. When Eric presents the proposal to Karl, he scoffs at the suggestion, explaining that his motto has always been to look after himself. The next day Loeffler is called to defuse a bomb found in a canal. Later, Eric learns that Loeffler has drowned in the attempt. That afternoon when Margot urges Eric to give up the bet and quit the unit, Eric explains he must know whether he can triumph over Karl's greed and selfishness.

A few days later, Karl is assigned to defuse a thousand-pound bomb and Eric joins him at the site to make an inspection. The men discuss a strategy to avoid the potential second fuse, then Eric departs, but worriedly hovers nearby. After removing the top of the bomb, Karl gently handles the cap then abruptly calls for help, claiming the detonator pin has slipped. Eric rushes in and provides a pencil, which he offers to hold in place of the pin while Karl retrieves his tools from the landing. Moments later, Eric is stunned when the rope Karl used earlier to remove the top pulls tautly across his hand, forcing him to release the pencil. The bomb does not explode, however, and Eric realizes that Karl has tried to kill him. Eric punches Karl in the face. Once Karl gets back on his feet, he says, "Guess it's still my bomb." Eric replies, "Still your bomb." Eric then gets his coat and walks away. Karl resumes defusing the bomb. Once Eric is a safe distance away, the bomb explodes, killing Karl.

The film closes after saluting the efforts of the ordnance removal teams, which have allowed Berlin to rebuild.



Robert Aldrich had just been fired from making The Garment Jungle:

I couldn't get a job. Now that year was over, and I couldn't get a job. It goes back to staying at the table. Anybody that stays away for awhile, voluntarily or involuntarily, risks never coming back. Then somebody brought me The Phoenix. I figured I might as well get out of town, so I rewrote it much to its detriment and went to Germany.[4]

It was only the second film from the newly formed Seven Arts Productions.[5] The original title was The Phoenix[6] and it was also known as 6 to 1[7] and The ExtraEdge.[8]

Filming took place in Berlin over a teen week period.[9]


Ten Seconds to Hell was released to Blu-ray DVD by Kino Lorber (under license from MGM) on February 24, 2015 as a Region 1 disc.


  1. Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 252
  2. French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  3. "Ten Seconds to Hell (1959)". Spout.com. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  4. mr. film noir stays at the table Silver, Alain. Film Comment8.1 (Spring 1972): 14-23.
  5. HEARTIER HORSE OPERA HEROINES By JAMES W. MERRICKLONE PINE, Calif.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 10 Aug 1958: X5.
  6. WALD WILL FILM NOVEL OF SCHOOL: Acquires 'Temptations of Spring,' by Salemenca -Little Theatre Afoot By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 29 Apr 1958: 26.
  7. CHANDLER SOUGHT FOR FILM ON NAZIS: Actor Near Signing for Lead of '6 to 1'--Jan Sterling Buys Comedy for Screen Actress Turns Buyer Of Local Origin By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 02 Dec 1957: 32.
  8. JEAN KERR BOOK BOUGHT BY M-G-M: ' Please Don't Eat the Daisies' Set for Summer -- Palance and Chandler to Co-Star By THOMAS M. PRYORSpecial to The New York Times.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 06 Jan 1958: 26.
  9. PHOENIX' OBSERVED IN ICY BERLIN: Drama Filmed in Capital Ruins Despite Snow And Other Hazards By MIKE KAPLANBERLIN.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 11 May 1958: X7.
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