14 May 2005 | bkoganbing
Battling the elements instead of the bad guys
All I can say is the Wayne family estate is really making the Duke's fans salivate over seeing this film and The High and the Mighty. Island in the Sky came first and a lot of the same people have credits on this and The High and the Mighty. William Wellman directed both, both from novels by Ernest K. Gann, and William Clothier photographed the aerial sequences in both.
The only criticism I have of Island in the Sky is that I wish it had been done in color. Those bleak vistas of the tundra where Wayne and his crew are stranded would have really been outstanding in color.
John Wayne and his crew have to make a forced landing in the bleak tundra of very northern Quebec and they have to hope to be rescued before to long. It's either freezing or starvation, not a pleasant choice. The Duke is a civilian pilot contracted to the army to fly supplies.
When word of the fact he's down gets out his fellow civilian pilot contractors drop whatever they're doing to search for Wayne. The rest of the film is the story of that search and as the action shifts back and forth from the search to the men on the ground, the suspense never lets up. Wayne gives one of his outstanding performances as the pilot in charge who has to hold his crew together until rescue comes. Some closeup shots reveal his torment, but the men must never see it. This is a different John Wayne, battling the elements instead of bad guys.
He gets great support from a great cast of players. I'd like to single out Lloyd Nolan and Sean McClory in particular. Lloyd Nolan is one of the other pilots searching and he has a terrific scene on the telephone with the wife of one of Wayne's crew, trying to comfort her and give her hope and hopefully psyche himself up. It's beautifully played.
Sean McClory is one of Wayne's crew on the ground and I won't tell you his scene, but it is unforgettable and haunting.
Of course the credit here also goes to director William Wellman. Wellman before he became a director was a real adventuring character in his youth which included a stint in the Lafayette Escadrille. He developed a life long love of aviation and a lot of his films have an aviation background and theme.
One other thing that's probably reason enough to get this film if it comes out. Andy Devine is another of the pilots searching for Wayne. A call is placed to his home and his wife in turn relays it to Andy who is at a public pool with his two kids. He takes the call and then says we have to leave, but one more race to the other side of the pool. He tosses the kids in and then does a great belly flop dive in the pool himself.
Andy was a big fat man. God only knows where they got a bathing suit to fit him. But he's quite a sight doing that dive and in a bathing suit.
If it is ever shown on TV catch it if at all possible.