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Island in the Sky (1953)

Under his own production banner, Wayne starred in Island in the Sky. Written by Ernest K. Gann from his novel and directed by aviation specialist William A. Wellman, the film was virtually a try-out for The High and the Mighty (1954), made by the same team almost immediately afterwards and also dealing with a crippled airplane, suspense, and character stress. Island in the Sky is the first film on which the cinematographer William H. Clothier seems to have worked with Wayne: here he did the aerial photography with Archie Stout handling the rest.

Set in war-time, the film casts Wayne as Captain Dooley, the chief pilot of a four-engined transport plane that breaks down over the frozen wastes north of Labrabor. He heads the plane towards uncharted terrain where he is able to "ride the ship down" onto the flat surface of a frozen lake. A veteran of some twenty years' flying experience, he shows his maturity by licking his crew into shape to endure the six days their food supplies will last, cajoling co-operation, slapping one of the crew out of a state of hysteria, and generally keeping up spirits while rescue planes search for them and their radio transmits a weak signal giving their positions.

Unfortunately, the film has all the standard cliches of characterization: the immature, gum-chewing, wisecracking younger crew members whose thoughts of their wives, children, and mothers intrude as flashbacks - men who bare their heads and say the Lord's Prayer, and who have only to look at the sky to prompt a celestial choir to fill in the silence of their hopeful gazing. Falling prey to sentimentalism and excesses at self-pity and tears, script and direction undermine the chilly realism of the black-and-white photography, but there is a fair measure of suspense from crosscutting between the elaborate rescue operations and the worsening situation on the ground with such dramatic highlights as the moment a plane flies over without spotting the men on the ground. The demands on Wayne are slight and routine, artistically speaking, the kind of part he could play in his sleep.


Capt. Dooley John Wayne
Stutz Lloyd Nolan
Col. Fuller Walter Abel
McMullen James Arness
Moon Andy Devine
J.H. Handy Allyn Joslyn
Murray James Lydon
Hunt Harry Carey Jr.
Frank Lovatt Sean McClory
Sgt. Harper Regis Toomey
Miller Paul Fix
Rene George Chandler
Wilson Bob Steele
Swanson Darryl Hickman
Fitch Louis Jean Heydt
Gainer Touch (Michael) Connors
Hopper Carl (Alfalfa) Switzer

Released September 5, 1953 (U.S.);
November 9, 1953 (G.B.)
Filmed at Donner Lake, near Truckee, California.

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