Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, Robert Stack, Jan Sterling, Phil Harris, Robert Newton, David Brian, Paul Kelly, Sidney Blackmer, Doe Avedon, Karen Sharpe, John Smith
Written by: Ernest K. Gann, based on his own novel
Directed by: William A. Wellman
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 148
Date: 05/27/1954

The High and the Mighty (1954)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Who'll Stop the Plane?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Wayne's production company Batjac put together this early disastermovie with veteran action director William A. Wellman at the helm, andthe result is a sharp, tense reading of a mushy script. Wayne isremarkable as an aging pilot with baggage (but not the kind you cancheck). Having flown in WWI and in countless other situations, he wasresponsible for a crackup that caused the death of his wife and child.Now, though the actor generously allows his co-stars to steal thepicture from him, it's his experience that comes to the aid of a failingcommercial flight limping from Hawaii to San Francisco.. Robert Stackplays the head pilot who wants to go by the book and land the plane inthe water. A diverse collection of supporting players -- including Oscarnominees Claire Trevor and Jan Sterling -- play the rest of thepassengers and crew. During the flight, and the 2-1/2 hour running time,the passengers pour out their life stories and problems to one another,and those speeches can get a little ripe. But Wellman, who was alsonominated for an Oscar, does a terrific job of building suspense andsustaining it, using neat little tricks like a twitching mirror toindicate the first sign of trouble. The template for The High and theMighty has been used again and again, from the disaster movie craze ofthe 1970s (The Towering Inferno, Earthquake) all the way up to Titanic(1997).

DVD Details: Paramount has released The High and the Mighty in a new double-disc set, hopefully the first of a series of Batjac films to hit DVD. The cinemascope picture and sound are top notch. Extras include all kinds of behind-the-scenes featurettes -- on Wellman, composer Dimitri Tiomkin (who won an Oscar for this score), Batjac, the restoration, and flying in the fifties -- all hosted by Leonard Maltin. Maltin also provides a general introduction for the film.




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