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Wake of the Red Witch (1949)

We learn how Angelique then marries Sidneye and Ralls comes back seven years later to find that her love for him has grown again. When the furious Sidneye sees the danger to his possession of her, he threatens to have Ralls beached for good. Ralls retaliates by taking out Sidneye's ship "The Red Witch" and scuttling it at a secret position with five million dollars of gold bullion aboard, thus gaining a hold over a man whose property means everything to him.

Ralls makes a second visit to Angelique when she has contracted a tropical disease and tries to take her away. But her illness is fatal and she looks on her death as a chance for a new beginning away from Sidneye. As in Angel and the Badman, Gail Russell's fragile beauty is most effective opposite Wayne's brute strength, and her suggestion of a gentle, sheltered innocence too frail to withstand the pressures of life is very moving. She was quite the best of the actresses whose role it was to accept Wayne with shining faith rather than stand up to him in the manner of Maureen O'Hara later on.

Ralls knowledge of the last resting place of the "Red Witch" causes Sidneye to lure him into an elaborate trap. Ralls bargains only for the freedom of his first mate (Gig Young) and Teleila (Adele Mara) whose love reminds him of his own for Angelique, and agrees to show Sidneye the site of the wreck, leaving their differences to be settled afterwards. The sunken vessel is sitting on the edge of a reef about to plunge into the depths and a storm is blowing up. Ralls is the only person bold enough to make the dive. It is all highly reminiscent of Wayne's last scene in Reap the Wild Wind. Beneath the waters, Ralls again loses his life, leaving Sidneye to contemplate both the loss of most of the fortune and (more importantly) his adversary, two of the things that gave distorted purpose to his life. The closing images of film show Ralls and Angelique, side by side, sailing away on a ghostly Red Witch to a life of contentment in the next world ... like Gary Cooper and Ann Harding reuntied after death in Peter Ibbetson and Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon in Wuthering Heights.

Wayne's performance runs on sheer personal magnetism rather than any coherency of characterisation. Drawing out the wild, impulsive nature of the man, his gift for commanding men, his gentle protectiveness towards Angelique and romantic hopes, his brooding over the bitter past, into a complex whole. But it is not as an artless adventurer nor as a romantic that we most remember this film. Two of the most powerful close-ups Wayne has ever had stamp him foremost as a man of violence. First when, in a drunken sweat, he advances on Sidneye's man Loring (Jeff Corey) in his cabin and beats the the man up and when he advances on Angelique as his apparent betrayer and seems set to kill her.

Captain Ralls John Wayne
Angelique Desaix Gail Russell
Sam Rosen Gig Young
Teleia Van Schreeven Adele Mara
Mayrant Ruysdaal Sidneye Luther Adler
Harmenszoon Van Schreeven Eduard Franz
Capt. Wilde Youngeur Grant Withers
Jacques Desaix Henry Daniell
Antonio "Ripper" Arrezo Paul Fix
Captain Munsey Dennis Hoey
Mr. Loring Jeff Corey
Doctor Van Arken Erskine Sanford
Va Nuke Duke Kahanamoku
Prosecutor John Wengraf
Red Witch Seaman Myron Healy

Shooting from mid-July to late October/early November 1948.
Released March 1,1949 (US); June 5, 1949 (Great Britain).

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