Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The High and Mighty

A film that was also something of a first, is The High and the Mighty, with a specially create opening tune which became a best seller and where I carry the notes in my head although unable to reproduce tunefully! The Oscar winning score was created by Dmitri Tomkin. This was one of the first, if not the first, suspense potential plane disaster movies and guess who stars as the hero?
You are right it is none other than John Wayne.

He is the second in command to flight captain played by Robert Stack. Robert Newton, he of Long John Silver, plays a calming philosophical passenger and other well known names are Clare Trevor and Jan Stirling.

The first part of the film introduces us to all the passengers which includes a school boy returning home on this trans orient pacific Douglas DC4 from Honolulu to San Francisco. There is the Jewishman with a large family waiting for him and a business full of bluster and threats to mask his fear; An actress in decline and an experienced woman looking for a long term relationship has pretended through the use of make up to be at least ten years younger than she is. A couple where the wife is terrified and in a panic worries about her preschool children at home and so on so that we cover all the passengers on board as well as the crew

Then after the plane has reached the point of no return in severe weather conditions, one of the engines catches fire and there is a loss of fuel. At first the navigator believes they have enough fuel to get home without having to ditch in the sea but then realises he has made a mistake using kilometres rather than mile or vice versa. This is discovered only when they have not reached the contact position with a USA aircraft which comes out to meet and escort them back in the event of trying to make a landing in the sea. They have prepared for the ditching by jettisoning luggage including on board food. This involves reducing height and speed to be able to open the door in mid air flight. It is also hoped that by this action to reach land by conserving fuel. However it is a gamble with the risk of crash on land and killing those on the ground as well as themselves.

I missed if it was revealed why Wayne had become second in command having been a captain in the past. It is however evident that he is more confident and experienced than the captain who panics and wants to ditch without trying to make land. However he gets his act together as do passengers and crew and guess what the plane reaches the airport safely and the passengers disembark hounded by reporters to be greeted by their friends and families. This includes a man in a wheel chair who has made friends with a stewardess and the passenger in the seat, an oriental woman who have both accepted his invitation to go immediate for meal with him.

The crew look at the damaged aircraft in wonderment and respect together with the airline boss who indicates to Wayne that they must have a chat about his future. The plane used in the film had previously been the personal aircraft of Juan Peón and was named the Argentine Queen. A similar aircraft experienced a similar in flight problem later and was lost with no survivors thus revealing the difficult of a craft being able to land safely in high seas to launch the life raft. Many leading actors of the day were offered parts but refused because of ensemble nature of the story, including Barbara Stanwyck, Dorothy McGuire, Dorothy McGuire, Ginger Rogers, Ida Lupino and Joan Crawford. Jan Stirling was awarded the best supporting actress Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar together with Claire Trevor. The film is based on the book by Ernest K Gann who had flown a commercial airline from Honolulu to Portland in Oregon

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