Tuesday, 27 January 2009


The Duke delivers the bad news!

Until its recent DVD release, William Wellman's 1954 THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY was one of the films most sought by Wayne enthusiasts. The Wayne heirs at Batjac continually blocked its release (along with ISLAND IN THE SKY) for reasons best known to them. But here it is in all its 1950's Hollywood star-studded glory. Is it the lost masterpiece ? Well, no. Is it a great film even ? Well, no. But is is, arguably, the precursor of such distaster movies as the AIRPORT fanchise and countless films since. To be honest, I didn't find the film particularly suspenseful and it lacks a sense of urgency, but, on the other hand I found it wonderfully entertaining in a comforting Hollywood embrassing way. I watched it late at night, alone except for my dog streched out before the fire and a cup of hot chocolate. Like all the imitators that came after it, this film about a DC-4 en route to San Francisco from Hawaii that suffers techical problems and looks like it might have to ditch in the ocean, is populated by such luminaries as Robert Newton, Claire Trevor, Jan Sterling, Paul Kelly, Phil Harris, Laraine Day, John Howard, Paul Fix and John Qualen. The crew is headed by Robert Stack (an actor who only has to go near a plane in any film for disaster to loom) and co-pilot John Wayne (giving a fine understated performance). The one problem for me (the lack of urgency may worry modern viewers but didn't spoil my enjoyment) was that the back stories of the chacters (seen in flashback) just weren't dramatic or interesting - they were all much more interesting on the plane. Very much a film of its time, if THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY catches you in the right mood and you can accept it on its own terms, it has a lot to offer. Rating ***

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