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High and the Mighty
Island in the Sky

High and the Mighty on DVD



From the book by Ernest K. Gann

Directed by William Wellman

John Wayne as Dan Roman
Robert Stack as John Sullivan
Claire Trevor as May Holst
Laraine Day as Lydia Rice
Jan Sterling as Sally McKee
Phil Harris as Ed Joseph
Robert Newton as Gustave Pardee
Julie Bishop as Lillian Pardee
David Brian as Ken Childs
Paul Kelly as Donald Flaherty
Sidney Blackmer as Humphrey Agnew
Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales as Gonzales
John Howard as Howard Rice
Wally Brown as Lenny Wilby

Island in the Sky on DVD


Black & White

From the book by Ernest K. Gann

Directed by William Wellman

John Wayne as Capt. Dooley
Sean McClory as Frank Lovatt, co-pilot
Jimmy Lydon as Murray
Wally Cassell as D'Annunzia
Hal Baylor as Stankowski
Lloyd Nolan as Stutz
Walter Abel as Col. Fuller
James Arness as McMullen
Andy Devine as Moon
Allyn Joslyn as J.H. Handy
Harry Carey Jr. as Hunt
Regis Toomey as Sgt. Harper
Louis Jean Heydt as Fitch
Bob Steele as Wilson
Darryl Hickman as Swanson

There are some stories, some movies that make such a strong impression on people that even though they are unseen for decades, they are remembered. People long to see them again. High and the Mighty is such a movie. Not seen since 1981, High and the Mighty is now available ina 2 disc Special Edition set. Although John Wayne is best know for his Westerns, his aviation films often present the actor will a chance to play more multi-dimensional character, as he does in Island in the Sky.

Uncommon for an actor of that day, in the later years of his career, John Wayne produced his own movies, often retaining the copyright to them. The last of his corporate names was BatJac, which produced both these films. William Wellman (Public Enemy, A Star is Born, Beau Geste) an aviator himself, directed both films for Wayne. Together they hired experienced actors for the parts.

Both films were adapted by aviator and adventurer Ernest K. Gann from his own novels. Gann, a Hemmingway-like character, had 9 of his novels made into movies.

You must put both these movies in the proper perspective as products of their time. High and the Mighty debuted at a time (1954) when air travel was just becoming available to the average person. The route from Honolulu to San Francisco was long and over water, a scary proposition back then. In Island in the Sky, the plane crashes in "uncharted" terriority in Newfoundland. No GPS for those guys. The planes have propellors, not jets.

High and the Mighty is filmed in the then new CinemaScope which heightened the dramatic effect and which meant they couldn't use any stock aerial footage. This is the Fifties and TV is now a competitor for viewers, so the movies need to be grander, bigger.

They have both been restored beautifully. Michael Wayne, the "Duke's" son, spent a year with High and the Mighty so that we could now see it as his father intended. The movie is long. (2 hrs., 28 min.) By today's standards it may seem slow because the trouble dosen't start until almost an hour into the film. The time is spent introducing the many characters. Today we have come to expect that the characters may suffer while we rush to show off our CGI special effects. Not so back in the Fifties. No effects meant a movie had to succeed by storytelling alone.

High and the Mighty

The first "disaster" film, this movie is about a plane in trouble and how this crisis effects both crew and passengers. On the long over the ocean route of Honolulu to San Francisco, an engine gives out. Once past the point of no return, fuel consumption is a worry and it doesn't look good for a landing in San Francisco. A navigator's miscalculation adds to the tension. Will they drop into the drink of the Pacific?

John Wayne plays the co-pilot, a man bedeviled because he had survived the plane crash that killed his family. The role was originally Spenser Tracy's but when he backed out, Wayne stepped in, even though it is a smaller part than he normally tackled. Robert Stack plays the pilot, a man who proves ineffectual in the crisis. The cast includes Oscar nominees Claire Trevor and Jan Sterling, Laraine Day, Robert Newton, Paul Kelly, John Qualen, Regis Toomey and Paul Fix.

Perhaps the best remembered element is the theme song written by Russian born Dimitri Tiomkin (Rawhide, High Noon). Wayne's character was known as Whistlin' Dan and we hear him whistling that theme. Well, not exactly. He was actually whistling George M. Cohan's "Mary" and the Tiomkin theme was dubbed in using a professional whistler. While the theme lost on Oscar night to "Three Coins in a Fountain" Tiomkin's score did take home the only Oscar out of 6 nominations for the movie.

Special Features:
Disc One:
Introduction by Leonard Maltin
Commentary by Leonard Maltin, William Wellman, Jr., Karen Sharpe, Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales and aviation expert Vincent Longo
Disc Two: Introduction by Leonard Maltin
The Batjac Story
Stories from the Set
On Director William A. Wellman
The Music and World of Dimitri Tiomkin
Restoring a Classic
A Place in Film History
Ernest K. Gann: Adventurer, Author, Artist
Flying in the Fifties

Island in the Sky

Likeable Captain Dooley (John Wayne) and his crew must down their plane in frozen wilderness of Newfoundland. This area is uncharted. They have little food or warmth. The cold is effecting their thinking. The radio is dying and they must resort to using an emergency radio which has a coffee grinder as it's main motor. In a morse code world, you can't send and receive at the same time.

Things aren't any happier for the rescuers, who do not know where Dooley and the boys have crashed. Desperate to find their friends, they cannot afford a bad guess as to which areas to search. Having no familiar landmarks, they fly by instinct and guts.

Wayne shows more range in Island in the Sky than often seen in his purely heroic cowboy roles. Captain Dooley is a man with doubts and fears which Wayne handles admirably.

Special Features:
Commentary by Leonard Maltin, Darryl Hickman, James Lydon, William Wellman, Jr. and aviation expert Vincent Longo
Introduction by Leonard Maltin
Dooley's Down
The Making of Island in the Sky
Flight School - The Art of Aerial Photography
Ernest K. Gann: Adventurer, Author, Artist
Flying for Uncle Sam
The John Wayne Stock Company: Harry Carey, Jr.
Theatrical Trailer
Introduction to "Gunsmoke" TV promo
Batjac Montage

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