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High and the Mighty

The High and the Mighty

4.8 6
Director: William Wellman

Cast: John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Laraine Day


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William Wellman's The High and the Mighty has arrived on DVD with the kind of treatment that fans of the filmmaker and the movie, and its star, John Wayne, had always hoped it might receive. The two-disc special edition not only offers a stunningly beautiful transfer of the movie, letterboxed to around 2.35:1, and a loud, rich soundtrack, but enough extras to


William Wellman's The High and the Mighty has arrived on DVD with the kind of treatment that fans of the filmmaker and the movie, and its star, John Wayne, had always hoped it might receive. The two-disc special edition not only offers a stunningly beautiful transfer of the movie, letterboxed to around 2.35:1, and a loud, rich soundtrack, but enough extras to keep fans busy for the best part of a month. The most obvious special feature is the commentary track by Leonard Maltin in tandem with William Wellman Jr., aviation enthusiast Vincent Longo, and cast members Karen Sharpe and Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez -- they range across every subject under the sun that's even remotely relevant to the movie, over 145 minutes of screen time. Accessing the commentary track, incidentally, is a little tricky as there is no "special feature" button on the menu for the first disc -- it's accessible through the "set up" command for audio and subtitles. The movie has been given 22 chapters, which is just about adequate for the 147-minute running time. The second disc is nothing but special features and documentary material, on the history of Wayne's production company, the cast members, composer Dimitri Tiomkin (how can one argue with a DVD of a 50-year-old movie that goes into the actual recording of the score?), and just about every other aspect of the history surrounding this film, including its restoration. It's all so well done, that the new information that pours out freely and easily is dense enough to require multiple viewings. There's not a stone left unturned -- they even discuss the career of minor supporting player John Howard, virtually everyone else we see on the screen, as well as the key crew members, down to their foibles. (For instance, Wellman apparently regarded character actor George Chandler as something of a good-luck charm, and used him as often as he could in his movies.) The menus are easy to use and the whole disc is almost perfect -- the one flaw comes from Maltin's tendency to hyperbole; he refers to The High and the Mighty as a movie that has retained its reputation despite being out of circulation for "50 years," but the movie was available on television, albeit in full-screen, cropped presentations, until the early '80s, and that explains its continued high reputation.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble
Film historian Leonard Maltin calls this 1954 all-star opus "the granddaddy of all airborne disaster films"; and if it doesn't seem as impressive to today's viewers as it did to theatergoers 50 years ago, that's only because it's been ripped off so many times since. John Wayne, whose Batjac Productions made the movie, heads a sensational cast in the gripping story of a passenger flight that runs into serious trouble while en route from Hawaii to the mainland. Wayne plays the intrepid co-pilot haunted by a past tragedy but duty-bound to bring the plane down safely when the younger pilot, Robert Stack, freezes up under pressure. A plethora of top-flight character actors and former stars -- including Claire Trevor, Laraine Day, Paul Kelly, and Phil Harris -- deliver equally effective performances. A super-slick production directed by the legendary William Wellman, The High and the Mighty has been out of circulation for many years, and it makes a triumphant DVD debut in a sparkling transfer with surround-sound presentation. Maltin -- a human encyclopedia of vintage-movie knowledge -- joins Wellman's son and several surviving cast members in a chatty commentary peppered with fascinating facts and anecdotes. Some of these are repeated in the dozen or so featurettes, anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes in length, included on the bonus disc. The featurettes, all introduced by Maltin (who also supplies a 4-minute intro to the film itself), explore various aspects of the production and offer more intriguing facts that we have space to list.
All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
The High and the Mighty has aged well -- seeing it anew in 2005, twenty-some years after it was last shown publicly, it's possible to pick out scenes and shots that might be cut or shortened, but ultimately it's not much more than a few minutes longer than it might ideally have been, even based on modern sensibilities; and, yes, parts of the Dimitri Tiomkin score are much more romantic than audiences are accustomed to in movies today. But otherwise, there's not much glaringly out-of-date in the style of the movie. On the other hand, to fully and properly appreciate it, one must remember that in 1954, when it was made, and in 1953, when it was in pre-production, all of what is depicted in the movie, in the way of trans-Pacific and trans-global commercial flight, was new. The idea that ordinary people, middle-class (or, really, mostly somewhat upper-middle-class) Americans would routinely cross the Pacific on scheduled airlines was something new, so there was an intrinsic sense of adventure in watching the movie in 1954. One of the virtues of the film today is that it still has that sense of adventure, which continues to radiate off the screen, from the tone of the acting and the performances, and the script. The interlocking and interwoven personal stories may seem hackneyed today, but in fact, with the exceptions of Casablanca -- which is a different kettle of fish -- and Hotel Berlin in 1945 (itself based on a book by Grand Hotel author Vicki Baum), no Hollywood movie since Grand Hotel, in 1932, had tried to weave together characters like this on this level -- and doing it in this airborne setting was startlingly new and dramatic. It's one of the great achievements of Wellman's career that he was able to pull this off as well as he did. Apart from a few slow moments in the pacing, and some shots and scenes that could have been shortened, it still works, although anyone watching it in the 21st century should be aware that The High and the Mighty has to be seen letterboxed -- this is an early Cinemascope movie, with a very wide aspect ratio and with most of the screen used most of the time; cropping it to fit an ordinary television screen is equivalent to not showing it at all.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
Region Code:
[Wide Screen]
Sales rank:

Special Features

Closed Caption; Introductions by Leonard Maltin; Commentary by Leonard Maltin, William Wellman Jr., Karen Sharpe, Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, and Vincent Longo; "The Batjac Story"; "Stories From the Set"; "On Director William A. Wellman"; "The Music and World of Dimitri Tiomkin"; "Restoring a Classic"; "A Place in Film History"; "Ernest K. Gann -- Adventurer, Author & Artist"; "Flying in the Fifties"; Theatrical trailer, TV trailer, Batjac montage; The High and the Mighty premiere footage; Photo gallery

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Wayne Dan Roman
Claire Trevor May Holst
Laraine Day Lydia Rice
Robert Stack Sullivan
Jan Sterling Sally McKee
Phil Harris Ed Joseph
Robert Newton Gustave Pardee
David Brian Ken Childs
Paul Kelly Flaherty
Sidney Blackmer Humphrey Agnew
Julie Bishop Lillian Pardee
John Howard Howard Rice
Wally Brown Lenny Wilby
William Campbell Hobie Wheeler
Ann Doran Mrs. Joseph
John Qualen Jose Locota
Paul Fix Frank Briscoe
George Chandler Ben Sneed
Joy Kim Dorothy Chen
Douglas Fowley Alsop
Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer Ensign Kelm
Robert Keys Lt. Mowbray
William Hopper Roy
William Schallert Dispatcher
Julie Mitchum Susie
Doe Avedon Spalding
Karen Sharpe Nell Buck
John Smith Milo Buck
Robert Easton Actor
Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez Gonzalez
Philip Van Zandt Actor
Regis Toomey Garfield

Technical Credits
William Wellman Director
William H. Clothier Cinematographer
Ralph Dawson Editor
Robert M. Fellows Producer
Ernest K. Gann Screenwriter
Louis Clyde Stoumen Cinematographer
Archie J. Stout Cinematographer
Dimitri Tiomkin Score Composer
Gwen Wakeling Costumes/Costume Designer
John Wayne Producer
Alfred Ybarra Art Director

Scene Index

Side #1 -- The High and the Mighty, Disc 1
1. Old Friends [5:50]
2. Age and Birthplace [:36]
3. Having Doubts [3:06]
4. Take Off [2:51]
5. Shipped Out [1:59]
6. A Little Afraid [3:00]
7. Chimes [3:52]
8. Good Neighbors [2:44]
9. Unexplained Rattle [6:22]
10. Trouble [1:44]
11. One Thousand Pounds [5:07]
12. Airplane Door [2:11]
13. Strength and Comfort [4:00]
14. True Feelings [:12]
15. Wrong Position [6:26]
16. Courageous Woman [3:11]
17. Eleven Minutes [4:01]
18. Avoiding the Ocean [2:48]
19. Steak Dinner [2:27]
20. San Francisco [6:04]
21. The Passengers [1:55]
22. The Crew [3:03]


Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have searched and waited for this movie's release for years. Soon to be shown for the first time of television and now to be able to purchase it. An excellant movie and Jan Sterlings role was outstanding. The Duke comes through again. See it and enjoy it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Unavailable for years, this film boasts one of Wayne's best performances. And you don't have to put up with the three thousand commercials that AMC stuck in when they showed it! Now, if we could only get a decent print of 'Fort Apache' and 'McLintock'....!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The trio behind "Island In The Sky" reunites and the result is one of their best films. This is a classic suspense thriller,one of the great disaster movies"and better than most".Ernest K.Gann brilliantly adapts his own novel,and Archie Stout's photography is gorgeous.Dimitri Tiomkin contributes one of the best scores ever composed for a movie(that theme song is a classic!)William Wellman's direction is perfect,and he gets marvelous performances from his cast.John Wayne and Robert Stack are at their peak here,while Claire Trevor and Robert Newton nearly steal the movie. This is one of the best films of the Fifties.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's been a long wait for this classic to be released. Why has this taken an Act of Congress to yank this from the vault? The plot involves a night flight from Hawaii to San Francisco. An engine blows in mid flight and the pilot (Robert Stack), having no place to set the plane down over the Pacific, and running desparately low on fuel, begins to emotionally unravel under the stress. Wayne is the co-pilot and finally takes charge of the plane in the nick of time and saves the day (or should I say "night"). I have given The High and the Mighty a 4 star rating (as opposed to the expected 5), because the only time that I have seen this movie was on t.v. in the mid 60's, and as a child (although I remember it being very exciting in the beginning and end), it did seem to slow down and drag through the middle of the movie. Perhaps as a child of 10 I did not fully appreciate the more intricate plot and character developments than I was used to in the standard Walt Disney movies that graced my viewing pleasure at that period in my life. Nevertheless, I do remember my father (a die hard Duke fan) watched it with me and we had a great evening together. I must have whistled that tune for a week afterwards! Anyway, I have waited impatiently for this movie to be released for many years now. John Wayne is, as usual, outstanding as the co-pilot hero! I recommend this movie to all Duke fans, as well as all fans who love a great suspense drama that will bring you to the edge of your seat. WH
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have searched for a copy of The High and the Mighty for years. I remember the wonderful ensemble cast and terrific performances. The theme was recorded by many artists including Harry James, Leroy Holmes, and Les Baxter. I would highly recommend this film to the viewing audience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Duke in a great role. The cast is superb. Aviation purists will notice a few flaws for instance the "point of no return" is mute flying from an Island to the mainland and the fact that they land downwind (actually they might do this if fuel was critical). The travails of the passengers helped to build our interest in the humanity of the drama. The music will stay in your head for days (even when you wish it wouldn't). A classic you can watch time after time and each time you will see something you missed.