The High and the Mighty (1954)

Not Rated   |    |  Action, Adventure, Drama


The High and the Mighty (1954) Poster

When a commercial airliner develops engine problems on a trans-Pacific flight and the pilot loses his nerve, it is up to the washed-up co-pilot Dan Roman to bring the plane in safely.


6.8/10
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  • The High and the Mighty (1954)
  • Doe Avedon and William Campbell in The High and the Mighty (1954)
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4 January 2006 | Lechuguilla
That Majestic Theme Song
Has there ever been a more majestic film score? Slightly melancholy and beautifully haunting, Dimitri Tiomkin's Academy Award winning music gives us a grand and expansive auditory experience comparable perhaps to what a soaring eagle must feel, in its own way, as it glides high above a landscape of the mundane and the mediocre.

In the early 50s, people were just getting used to the idea that they could climb aboard a big man-made eagle and soar above cars, buses, and trains. It was a thrilling, but scary, idea, not unlike traveling on the Titanic. And so, with "The High And The Mighty", Hollywood created the first big budget movie that conveyed the idea of risk, in commercial air travel. Throughout the film, the overriding emotion is insecurity, not only among passengers but among the crew as well. Since the film was a cinematic prototype, I can see how its nerve-wracking story would appeal to moviegoers of that era. The film's angelic theme music thus provided inspiration to help viewers overcome their fear of something new and different, something potentially life threatening.

Since the early 50s, air travel has lost its sense of adventure. The film to us seems quaint and dated. What seemed odd to me, for example, was the ticket counter. The pace was leisurely, and the attention was very personal. Then, on board the plane, the stewardess made sure that the passengers got personalized attention. At one point, even the captain, upon request, reassured a nervous passenger. Those were the days.

First time viewers also need to be aware that this film is talky and dreamily melodramatic. The emphasis is on story and acting, not special effects or high-powered action. And then there is that final Act. It is different perhaps from what most of us probably would expect. But again, we must take into account the era in which the film was made.

Fifty years after its release, "The High And The Mighty", as a film, cannot compete with its own theme music. The sweeping orchestration, like music generally, transcends time and spans the generations. By contrast, technology, and mankind's reaction to technology, changes. The film's story thus has a different meaning to us than it did to the original moviegoers. If you can place the film in its proper historic context, you have a better chance of appreciating the film for what it was then, not for what it is now.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

At the time of its release, much of the film's success was attributed to Dimitri Tiomkin's masterful, Oscar-winning musical score. However, the haunting title song was heard only twice, at the beginning and the end. As was his shameless custom, the ever-self promoting Tiomkin commissioned lyrics for his theme in hopes of winning twin Academy Awards for Best Song and Best Score. While this scheme achieved its desired effect previously with a double win for High Noon (1952), his title song for The High and the Mighty (1954) lost that year's award to another title song - from Three Coins in the Fountain (1954).


Quotes

Ben Sneed: Hey fella, ain't you Dan Roman?
Dan Roman: Yeah.
Ben Sneed: I heard you whistlin' and I said to myself only one guy does that just so.


Goofs

Near the end of the film, Air Traffic Control clears the aircraft to land on "runway 39" This is impossible. Runways are numbered are within 10 degrees of their actual magnetic heading, and since there are only 360 degrees on the compass, the highest runway number possible is "runway 36".


Alternate Versions

The song "The High and the Mighty" (with lyrics) does not appear in the original 1954 release of this film. However, the studio wanted the hugely popular, chart-topping song to be nominated for the Best Song Academy Award that year. According to AMPAS regulations, the song could not be nominated because it was no officially sung in the film, even if would be heard elsewhere. To satisfy these regulations, a version was released towards the tail-end of 1954 for a few nights only with the song inserted into an Exit Music. The Academy then decided to give the song a nomination on the basis of these screenings. The song lost to "Three Coins in a Fountain".


Soundtracks

Barber of Seville
(excerpts) (uncredited)
Music by
Gioachino Rossini

Storyline

Plot Summary


Genres

Action | Adventure | Drama | Thriller

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