The High and the Mighty Movie Review

In 1954, zipping off to Hawaii by plane must have been a far different experience than any of us can imagine today. The experience was so terrifying -- at least according to The High and the Mighty, a best-selling book in its era -- that the captain had to come out and talk to each passenger personally to explain that they weren't going to crash and die. And that's just after takeoff, before the plane has any problems!

Newcomers to this story may see John Wayne in a military uniform and an airplane on the cover of this DVD (with a title that evokes the air force) and assume, understandably, that they're going to be watching another military drama. Not so: Wayne's Dan Roman is a commercial pilot, and he's working the Honolulu-San Francisco route years after surviving a crash that killed everyone in his family except himself. (Also in the cockpit is Robert Stack, playing the role he would ape years later in Airplane!)

The plot is simple: Midway from Hawaii to California, an engine gives out. The plane can still fly, but it's running low on fuel, and they may not make it to shore. While the passengers prepare for a tumble into the Pacific, the crew works with the mainland to plan for a rescue. Will they make it? Meanwhile, everyone aboard reevaluates their past and future, making amends mentally and/or dreaming of a better fate. (Or, of course, planning to sue the airline.)

As a precursor to disaster flicks like Airport, The High and the Mighty is more intriguing as a piece of history than as a deftly plotted thriller. There's no real tautness to the disaster, and it takes over 2 1/2 hours for the plane to finally reach its destination (I won't say where). The best twists that the movie can muster are a few miscalculations that the navigator makes -- he uses knots instead of miles in his fuel consumption math. Uh oh!

Nominated for six Oscars, the film would eventually win just one -- for Best Score -- which is easily audible over the sound effects in the plane, because, well, there aren't any. Not even any engine noise! All the better to hear Wayne deliver a solid performance and interesting parts from a solid ensemble that includes Claire Trevor, Jan Sterling, and of course Stack.

The DVD includes a second disc of historical extras that fans of the book and/or the movie won't want to miss.

Cast & Crew

Director : William A. Wellman


The High and the Mighty Rating

" OK "

Rating: NR, 1954


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