The High and the Mighty (1954)

146-147 mins | Drama | 3 July 1954

Director:

William A. Wellman

Writer:

Ernest K. Gann

Cinematographer:

Archie Stout

Editor:

Ralph Dawson

Production Designer:

Alfred Ybarra

Production Company:

Wayne-Fellows Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

An onscreen acknowledgment reads: "We wish to thank the United States Coast Guard for their cooperation and advice." Voice-over narration by several actors performing in The High and the Mighty is heard intermittently throughout the film. Several flashback scenes are shown as montages with voice-over narration.
       According to an unidentified, but contemporary, news item, many studios were bidding for the rights to the popular Ernest K. Gann novel, The High and the Mighty , which had become a Book of the Month Club offering, by the time John Wayne purchased it. The film took months to cast, according to a May 1954 HR article. In a Jul 1954 LADN news item, director William A. Wellman claimed that Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers and Dorothy McGuire rejected the opportunity to perform in the film, and that Spencer Tracy “shook hands on a deal” to play one of the leads, but later reneged. Due to the many subplots of the story, none of the roles, including Wayne’s, were very large, and Wellman speculated that this was the reason for the lack of interest. It was after Tracy refused a role, Wellman said, that Wayne decided to play the lead.
       Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, Dec 1953 HR news items add Ida Esmeralda, Douglas Kennedy, John Close, Paul Grant and a former Miss Australia, Toni Peterson, to the cast. Michael Wellman, who appeared as “Toby,” was the son of director William A. Wellman and also appeared in an earlier Wayne-Fellows aviation film directed by his father, Island in the Sky (see ... More Less

An onscreen acknowledgment reads: "We wish to thank the United States Coast Guard for their cooperation and advice." Voice-over narration by several actors performing in The High and the Mighty is heard intermittently throughout the film. Several flashback scenes are shown as montages with voice-over narration.
       According to an unidentified, but contemporary, news item, many studios were bidding for the rights to the popular Ernest K. Gann novel, The High and the Mighty , which had become a Book of the Month Club offering, by the time John Wayne purchased it. The film took months to cast, according to a May 1954 HR article. In a Jul 1954 LADN news item, director William A. Wellman claimed that Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Barbara Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers and Dorothy McGuire rejected the opportunity to perform in the film, and that Spencer Tracy “shook hands on a deal” to play one of the leads, but later reneged. Due to the many subplots of the story, none of the roles, including Wayne’s, were very large, and Wellman speculated that this was the reason for the lack of interest. It was after Tracy refused a role, Wellman said, that Wayne decided to play the lead.
       Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, Dec 1953 HR news items add Ida Esmeralda, Douglas Kennedy, John Close, Paul Grant and a former Miss Australia, Toni Peterson, to the cast. Michael Wellman, who appeared as “Toby,” was the son of director William A. Wellman and also appeared in an earlier Wayne-Fellows aviation film directed by his father, Island in the Sky (see below). Although Doe Avedon, Karen Sharpe and John Smith were “introduced" in the opening onscreen credits, Sharpe and Smith had appeared in other pictures prior to The High and the Mighty . The HR review noted that the film marked Joy Kim's screen debut as “Dorothy Chen." Dec 1953 HR news items reported that portions of the film were shot at the Glendale Grand Central Air Terminal and in San Francisco. In a Dec 1953 LAT article, technical advisor Lt. Commander Robert C. Cannom reported that the resources of Oakland’s Civil Aeronautics Administration communications net and the Coast Guard rescue coordinating center in San Francisco were used to make the action in the film true to life.
       The film garnered several Academy Award nominations. Jan Sterling and Claire Trevor were nominated for Best Supporting Actress, but lost to Eva Marie Saint’s performance in On the Waterfront . Director Wellman and film editor Ralph Dawson were also nominated for their contributions to the film, but lost to On the Waterfront ’s Elia Kazan and Gene Milford, respectively.
       Dimitri Tiomkin’s The High and the Mighty theme song, which was whistled by Wayne in the film, contained lyrics arranged for chorus by Ned Washington, which were cut prior to the film’s initial showings, according to a Dec 1954 HR news item. However, as described by a Dec 1954 LAMirror-News article, the sequence containing the lyrics was restored to the film after the song achieved “Hit Parade” popularity through recordings and sheet music. The song’s restoration to the film made it eligible for an Academy Award nomination. Although the song lost to Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn’s “Three Coins in the Fountain” from the film of the same title, Tiomkin won an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Dramatic/Comedy film for The High and the Mighty .
       A Dec 1958 HR news item reported that Leon Navara sued Tiomkin, Washington, Warner Bros., Witmark Music and Wayne-Fellows Productions for one million dollars each, claiming that The High and the Mighty theme song was a plagiarism of one of his tunes. According to a Jan 1959 Newsweek article, much of Navara’s case rested on the placement and use of a B flat, which occurred in both the film’s theme and Navara’s 1949 work, “Enchanted Cello.” Witnesses for the defense were composers Deems Taylor and Sigmund Spaeth. After fifteen days of arguments and eight of jury deliberation, the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of Tiomkin. The haunting tune became an often played, and often parodied, Hollywood film theme that developed into its own entity, symbolizing the type of strong, but troubled character played by Wayne.
       May and Jun 1954 HR news items report that, after a series of promotional events, the film opened with one of Hollywood’s biggest and most elaborate premieres. It was a major box office success and received many honors, including the Southern California Motion Picture Council’s Four Star Citation and Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association’s Picture of the Month, and at their symposium, Books and Authors honored the film for its faithful adaptation of a novel.
       The film was memorable for being one of the first "disaster" movies to interweave multiple subplots about the personal dilemmas of an ensemble cast of characters. Its technique of building tension by unfolding a succession of mounting misfortunes, was used in later films such as Paramount's 1957 film, Zero Hour! , directed by Hall Bartlett, and starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Sterling Hayden (see below), Warner Bros. 1960 production The Crowded Sky , directed by Joseph Pevney, and starring Dana Andrews and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. (see above), and the 1970 Universal production Airport , directed by George Seaton, starring Burt Lancaster and Dean Martin. The 1980 Paramount comedy Airplane! , directed by Jim Abraham and David and Jerry Zucker, parodied aspects of The High and the Mighty . More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
29 May 1954.
---
Daily Variety
26 May 54
p. 3.
Film Daily
28 May 54
p. 22.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Oct 1953
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Nov 1953
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Dec 1953
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Dec 1953
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Dec 1953
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Dec 1953
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Dec 1953
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 1953
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Dec 1953
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jan 1954
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
10 May 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
26 May 1954
pp. 3-4.
Hollywood Reporter
27 May 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jun 1954
pp. 3-4.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Dec 1954.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Dec 1958.
---
Los Angeles Daily News
7 Jul 1954.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
28 May 1954.
---
Los Angeles Mirror-News
2 Dec 1954.
---
Los Angeles Times
6 Dec 1953.
---
Los Angeles Times
26 May 1954
part II, p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
28 May 1954.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
22 May 54
p. 9.
New York Times
1 Jul 54
p. 21.
Newsweek
5 Jan 1959.
---
Variety
26 May 54
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Cam plane pilot
Tech adv
Tech adv
Prod mgr
Scr supv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The High and the Mighty by Ernest K. Gann (New York, 1953).
MUSIC
"The High and the Mighty," music by Dimitri Tiomkin, lyrics by Ned Washington.
DETAILS
Release Date:
3 July 1954
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 27 May 1954
New York opening: 31 May 1954
Production Date:
mid November--early January 1953 at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios
Copyright Claimant:
Wayne-Fellows Productions, Inc.
Copyright Date:
3 July 1954
Copyright Number:
LP5260
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
WarnerColor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
146-147
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16801
SYNOPSIS

At the Honolulu airport, the crew of a routine passenger flight to San Francisco assembles, as mechanics make pre-flight checks of the plane. Most of the airline personnel are aware that the flight’s second pilot, the seasoned and almost legendary older flyer, “Whistling” Dan Roman, is haunted by a flight he piloted that crashed, leaving him permanently injured and killing all others on board, including his wife and son. The captain of the flight to San Francisco, “Skipper" Sullivan, suffers from a secret fear of flying that sometimes hits pilots after logging many flight hours. Inside the airport, stewardess Spalding checks in the passengers, who all have personal troubles: Mr. Flaherty, a nuclear physicist, hates how his life’s work has been used; Mr. and Mrs. Ed Joseph are returning to their small town after suffering a series of mishaps and bad luck during their long-anticipated “dream” vacation; traveling with his contemptuous wife Lillian is Broadway producer Gustave Pardee, who fears flying; and fading beauty queen, Sally McKee, fears rejection from the fiancé she courted by mail with an eight-year-old photograph. Also on board is heiress Lydia Rice, who is angry that her husband Howard wants to sell her inherited family business to buy a mine and is contemplating divorce. Newlyweds Nell and Milo Buck, whose honeymoon is over, must now face real life; a self-effacing young Korean woman, Dorothy Chen, feeling alone in a strange land, is on her way to an American school; and five-year-old Toby Field is traveling alone en route between his estranged parents’ houses. After invalid Frank Briscoe, wealthy playboy Ken Childs, worldly blonde May Holst and Italian-born fisherman and family man Jose Locota board, ... +


At the Honolulu airport, the crew of a routine passenger flight to San Francisco assembles, as mechanics make pre-flight checks of the plane. Most of the airline personnel are aware that the flight’s second pilot, the seasoned and almost legendary older flyer, “Whistling” Dan Roman, is haunted by a flight he piloted that crashed, leaving him permanently injured and killing all others on board, including his wife and son. The captain of the flight to San Francisco, “Skipper" Sullivan, suffers from a secret fear of flying that sometimes hits pilots after logging many flight hours. Inside the airport, stewardess Spalding checks in the passengers, who all have personal troubles: Mr. Flaherty, a nuclear physicist, hates how his life’s work has been used; Mr. and Mrs. Ed Joseph are returning to their small town after suffering a series of mishaps and bad luck during their long-anticipated “dream” vacation; traveling with his contemptuous wife Lillian is Broadway producer Gustave Pardee, who fears flying; and fading beauty queen, Sally McKee, fears rejection from the fiancé she courted by mail with an eight-year-old photograph. Also on board is heiress Lydia Rice, who is angry that her husband Howard wants to sell her inherited family business to buy a mine and is contemplating divorce. Newlyweds Nell and Milo Buck, whose honeymoon is over, must now face real life; a self-effacing young Korean woman, Dorothy Chen, feeling alone in a strange land, is on her way to an American school; and five-year-old Toby Field is traveling alone en route between his estranged parents’ houses. After invalid Frank Briscoe, wealthy playboy Ken Childs, worldly blonde May Holst and Italian-born fisherman and family man Jose Locota board, businessman Humphrey Agnew, who has no reservations, buys a seat on the plane at the last minute. With the help of third pilot Hobie Wheeler and navigator Lenny Wilby, the plane makes a smooth take-off, but early in the flight Dan, Sullivan and Spalding notice unexplainable vibrations. During a rest break, while the insecure Lenny chatters about his younger, alcoholic wife, Sullivan tries to comfort himself that, according to older pilots, his mid-career fears are temporary. Although Sullivan senses that the plane’s propellers are out of phase, Dan and Hobie cannot confirm it. In the passenger cabin, the Rices quarrel, as Harold explains that he wants to buy the mine to prove he can run a business on his own, while Ed tries to amuse the anxious Pardee with tales of their nightmare vacation. Dan and Sullivan’s vague misgivings seem confirmed when Spalding notices vibrations in the back kitchen, but Dan inspects the fuel compartment and finds nothing amiss. A couple of hours into the flight, after the plane passes the point of no return and cannot go back to Honolulu if trouble occurs, Agnew accuses Childs of making love to his wife in Honolulu. Although Childs truthfully insists he is innocent, Agnew pulls out a gun and shoots, igniting a fire, which is quickly extinguished. However, the bullet ruptures a gas tank and twists one of the motors in its mounting, causing a severe drag. The pilots radio for help, but can only reach Gonzalez, an amateur operator on a merchant ship below. Gonzalez relays their message to the San Francisco Coast Guard, who send rescue planes prepared to make a water rescue. After calculating that they need to lessen the load to extend their gas usage, Dan rallies the passengers to dump their luggage out of the plane and into the sea. The activity brings the passengers together, as they relay luggage down the aisle to Dan, who pitches them out the hatch, and afterward they find that their individual problems seem less important. Overcoming his own fears, Pardee comforts Ed’s wife, who worries about her young children, and Lillian, seeing her husband’s bravery, finds her love rekindled. Dorothy and Briscoe befriend each other, May and Childs find companionship, and the fatherly Locota, who confiscated Agnew’s gun, scolds the belligerent man into better behavior. Lydia begins to see that she really loves Harold, who needs her emotional support, and Sally removes her makeup, as she now feels secure enough to face her fiancé honestly. Although they secretly know that the heavy wind will not permit a safe water landing, Spalding and Hobie instruct the passengers on the use of life jackets and lifeboats. Lenny, having been distracted by thoughts of his marital problems, realizes that the coast is eleven minutes farther than he originally believed. While their colleagues on the ground prepare for the worst, Sullivan panics and prepares to ditch, but Dan slaps him back to his senses and takes over. After ordering a recalculation of their gas supply and weather conditions, Dan determines that they can just barely land safely at the San Francisco airport. Airport employees clear and light the runway, and the rescue planes fly nearby as guides, but all watch anxiously, as Dan and the crew bring the plane through turbulence and fog to a safe landing. As the plight of the airplane has made news, the disembarking passengers are greeted by the flash bulbs of reporters’ cameras. Locota’s large family is waiting for him, and Sally’s future husband greets her warmly. Briscoe, whose exit is assisted by Dorothy, invites Spalding to join them for a steak dinner in town. Having slept through it all, young Toby awakens unchanged by the trip, but his mother, who was shaken by her son’s brush with death, has decided to reconcile with her husband. Chastened, Agnew immediately calls his wife to apologize. When the crowd is gone, airport administrator Jim Garfield informs Dan that there were only thirty gallons of gas left in the tank. Dan, acknowledging the risk he took, goes off alone, whistling.







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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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