Island in the Sky (1953)

108-109 mins | Adventure, Melodrama | 5 September 1953

Director:

William A. Wellman

Writer:

Ernest K. Gann

Cinematographer:

Archie Stout

Editor:

Ralph Dawson

Production Designer:

James Basevi

Production Company:

Wayne-Fellows Productions, Inc.
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HISTORY

The opening title credit reads: "William A. Wellman's Island in the Sky." Voice-over narration spoken by director William A. Wellman begins, “This is a story about professional pilots and their special, guarded world, their island in the sky.” After describing the close kinship among all pilots and their lifetime devotion to flying, narration continues intermittently throughout the film. According to the HR review, the preview at the Hollywood Paramount "benefited by the use of widescreen.” Neither HR production charts nor other reviews mentioned the widescreen format. The Var review reported that a “brief intermission” was necessitated by the new stereophonic sound equipment.
       According to a DV news item, in Jan 1950 Robert Stillman Productions bought the rights to the novel, Island in the Sky, and the novel’s author, Ernest K. Gann, planned to collaborate with Seton I. Miller on a screenplay. An Apr 1951 LAT news item reported that Frank P. Rosenberg would produce the film and Richard Widmark would star. However, Stillman dropped his plans to make the film, according to a Dec 1952 DV news item, and Wayne-Fellows Productions acquired the rights and made tentative plans to shoot on location in Canada. Wellman, who had directed several films about pilots, and was himself a former pilot with the Lafayette Flying Corp during World War I, was chosen to direct. In 1953, Gann’s novel was mentioned in LADN and HR news items, when an Ohio State Penitentiary inmate plagiarized verbatim and sold the book to a publishing house, before ...

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The opening title credit reads: "William A. Wellman's Island in the Sky." Voice-over narration spoken by director William A. Wellman begins, “This is a story about professional pilots and their special, guarded world, their island in the sky.” After describing the close kinship among all pilots and their lifetime devotion to flying, narration continues intermittently throughout the film. According to the HR review, the preview at the Hollywood Paramount "benefited by the use of widescreen.” Neither HR production charts nor other reviews mentioned the widescreen format. The Var review reported that a “brief intermission” was necessitated by the new stereophonic sound equipment.
       According to a DV news item, in Jan 1950 Robert Stillman Productions bought the rights to the novel, Island in the Sky, and the novel’s author, Ernest K. Gann, planned to collaborate with Seton I. Miller on a screenplay. An Apr 1951 LAT news item reported that Frank P. Rosenberg would produce the film and Richard Widmark would star. However, Stillman dropped his plans to make the film, according to a Dec 1952 DV news item, and Wayne-Fellows Productions acquired the rights and made tentative plans to shoot on location in Canada. Wellman, who had directed several films about pilots, and was himself a former pilot with the Lafayette Flying Corp during World War I, was chosen to direct. In 1953, Gann’s novel was mentioned in LADN and HR news items, when an Ohio State Penitentiary inmate plagiarized verbatim and sold the book to a publishing house, before his deception was discovered.
       Besides writing the screenplay, Gann, then a commercial pilot for Transocean Airlines and a veteran of the Air Transport Command at Presque Island, ME, served as the film’s technical director and piloted a plane for the 2d unit, according to Warner Bros. publicity material and a Jan 1953 HR news item. Four other pilots also assisted in the making of the film, according to studio publicity materials. Portions of the film were shot on location at Donner Lake, near Truckee, CA, according to the Var review, and studio publicity material mentioned that California Forestry Service rangers felled trees to make airplane runways in the four foot deep snow there. A Jan 1953 HR news item added that background shooting took place in San Francisco.
       Ann Doran, Dawn Bender and Phyllis Winger appeared in the film, respectively, as wives and a girl friend. Except for Doran, who is shown holding a telephone conversation with Devine, the women appear only in brief flashbacks. Wellman’s sons, Tim and Mike, aged eleven and five respectively, played the sons of Andy Devine’s character, "Moon," according to Warner Bros. publicity material. Although their appearance in the film has not been confirmed, HR news items add Dick Walsh, Fred Graham and Paul Grant to the cast, while a modern source adds Gene Coogan. Although only Emil Newman is credited onscreen and no songs are heard in the film, modern sources list Hugo Friedhofer as a collaborating composer-lyricist. A radio adaptation of the film was broadcast on 11 Jan 1955 on Lux Radio Theatre, starring Dick Powell as "Dooley."

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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
8 Aug 1953
---
Daily Variety
26 Jan 1950
---
Daily Variety
10 Dec 1952
---
Daily Variety
15 Jan 1953
p. 7
Daily Variety
7 Aug 1953
p. 3
Film Daily
12 Aug 1953
p. 7
Hollywood Citizen-News
6 Sep 1953
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Jan 1953
p. 7
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jan 1953
p. 3
Hollywood Reporter
26 Jan 1953
p. 5
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jan 1953
p. 2
Hollywood Reporter
30 Jan 1953
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
3 Feb 1953
p. 5
Hollywood Reporter
6 Feb 1953
p. 13
Hollywood Reporter
9 Feb 1953
p. 13
Hollywood Reporter
24 Feb 1953
p. 4
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1953
p. 13
Hollywood Reporter
2 Mar 1953
p. 1
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 1953
p. 6
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 1953
p. 3
Los Angeles Daily News
10 Sep 1953
---
Los Angeles Times
6 Apr 1951
---
Los Angeles Times
4 Sep 1953
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
8 Aug 1953
p. 1941
New York Times
10 Sep 1953
---
Newsweek
21 Sep 1953
---
Time
28 Sep 1953
---
Variety
12 Aug 1953
p. 6
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Andrew McLaglen
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
William Clothier
Aerial cam
Stills
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Prop man
Ralph Hurst
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
SOUND
WarnerPhonic sd
Dial rec
Dial rec
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Scr supv
Tech dir
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Island in the Sky by Ernest K. Gann (New York, 1944).
LITERARY SOURCE AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
5 September 1953
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 3 Sep 1953
Production Date:
late Jan--2 Mar 1953
Copyright Info
Claimant
Date
Copyright Number
Wayne-Fellows Productions, Inc.
17 September 1953
LP2901
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Sound
WarnerPhonic
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
108-109
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16574
SYNOPSIS

During World War II, Capt. Dooley, a commercial airline pilot serving in the Army Air Transport, experiences bad weather conditions during a flight. Unable to get his bearings, he crash-lands the four-engine Corsair on a frozen lake in an uncharted area of Labrador. Dooley takes stock during the night, as the temperature drops to seventy below, noting that he and his crew have thirty gallons of gas left to run the generator and six days of rations. Realizing that panic and brutal temperatures may diminish their mental clarity, Dooley prepares to keep up his men’s morale. Miles away, on Presque Island, Maine, Army Col. Fuller calls in all available pilots for a search and rescue operation, and news of Dooley’s predicament brings many volunteers from the close-knit fraternity of pilots, including Dooley’s friend Moon. However, bad weather conditions and poor visibility hinder the team’s efforts. In the days that pass, temperatures at the crash site rise no higher than forty below zero. D’Annunzia, Dooley’s radioman, nurses the Corsair’s dying generator. After he reports that the generator has little power left to transmit messages for help, the young navigator, Murray, and engineer Stankowski take turns cranking a hand-operated generator, which provides only a weak signal. Although the rescue team receives a transmission from Dooley’s crew, they are unable to make out the stranded crew’s bearings. On the ground, Dooley and his men prepare for a brutal storm and not until evening does Dooley realize that co-pilot Lovatt has slipped away alone, against direct orders, to hunt for game. Dooley and the men search for Lovatt, but find it difficult to maintain a sense of direction in the falling snow and ...

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During World War II, Capt. Dooley, a commercial airline pilot serving in the Army Air Transport, experiences bad weather conditions during a flight. Unable to get his bearings, he crash-lands the four-engine Corsair on a frozen lake in an uncharted area of Labrador. Dooley takes stock during the night, as the temperature drops to seventy below, noting that he and his crew have thirty gallons of gas left to run the generator and six days of rations. Realizing that panic and brutal temperatures may diminish their mental clarity, Dooley prepares to keep up his men’s morale. Miles away, on Presque Island, Maine, Army Col. Fuller calls in all available pilots for a search and rescue operation, and news of Dooley’s predicament brings many volunteers from the close-knit fraternity of pilots, including Dooley’s friend Moon. However, bad weather conditions and poor visibility hinder the team’s efforts. In the days that pass, temperatures at the crash site rise no higher than forty below zero. D’Annunzia, Dooley’s radioman, nurses the Corsair’s dying generator. After he reports that the generator has little power left to transmit messages for help, the young navigator, Murray, and engineer Stankowski take turns cranking a hand-operated generator, which provides only a weak signal. Although the rescue team receives a transmission from Dooley’s crew, they are unable to make out the stranded crew’s bearings. On the ground, Dooley and his men prepare for a brutal storm and not until evening does Dooley realize that co-pilot Lovatt has slipped away alone, against direct orders, to hunt for game. Dooley and the men search for Lovatt, but find it difficult to maintain a sense of direction in the falling snow and darkness. They call out and shoot into the air to give him a sound to follow, but Lovatt has already succumbed to the bitter cold, hallucinating that he is riding a carousel with his girl friend, which is across a fairway from a shooting gallery. In reality, Lovatt is wandering circles through the snow and finally drops, and the next day Dooley and the crew find his body several yards from the aircraft. As they bury Lovatt, rescue planes pass over, but fail to see them. However, Moon, who is piloting one of the planes, senses that the downed crewmen are near and has his radioman telegraph a message in Morse code, suggesting that Dooley build a large fire to mark his location. Dooley’s men get the message and prepare a bonfire with what they can find, but their attempts to radio Moon fail. As night approaches and an ice storm makes flying hazardous, the rescue team returns reluctantly to Presque Island, again passing over the stranded men below. Aware that a low pressure weather system is forming and will soon halt the search for several days, Fuller and the flyers debate whether to use the time they have left to search in a new area or return to areas they have already flown over. After Moon convinces them to re-comb previously explored areas, Fuller orders a night search and the pilots return to the skies for a last-ditch effort to save their colleagues. In the air, they retrieve a weak radio message from Dooley, asking the planes to “return to the same place,” and they attempt to retrace their previous search flights. Unaware that his message has been received, Dooley, who hides the panic he feels, has the men crank the generator to transmit radio signals and shoots flares and pistols. Eventually, his activities are spotted by the searchers, who are nearly out of gas after flying all night. After dropping off emergency supplies and a note promising that ski planes will be sent to rescue them, the search planes return to Presque Isle.

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

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