Monday, May 7, 2012

Island in the Sky

This is a love-it or hate-it kind of film.  For many it provides and interesting story of survival against the odds, while others find it slow and "talky".  Since I am mentioning it here you can guess from which camp of opinion I spring.  I find the story to be intriguing while the characters, especially the rescue pilots, to be compelling.  Give this movie a viewing and drop me line.  To which camp do you belong?

Director William Wellman won an Oscar for writing 'A Star is Born' and was nominated for directing 3 films.  He puts his talents to good use here.  The story is simple.  An army cargo plane with civilian pilots crashes in snowbound Canada during World War Two.  The crew of the downed plane, led by Captain Dooley (John Wayne) attempt to survive the very cold conditions without much in the way of supplies.  His comrades in the pilot corp battle the odds to find them.  Because of bad weather Wayne was unable to broadcast his location before crashing the airplane. 

Island in the Sky follows the time-honored storyline of a race against time.  The downed air crew have little supplies and the weather is very bad.  Can the rescue search teams find the crash survivors before the elements finish them off?  Director Wellman tells the story in a very direct fashion.  There are no extraneous story lines or scenes and no subplots to distract us from the drama.  I appreciate that.  Too often film makers feel the need to have an action plot line and a romantic plot line with some comedy, and perhaps a song, to capture all the "demographics".  That is part of the reason for some people find this film average.  No romance, no musical numbers, no comedy interludes.  Just the dramatic story of search and rescue.

This film is not a typical one for star John Wayne.  There are no horses nor any fistfights or shootouts.  He made very few films that relied only upon story.  He chose well with Island in the Sky.  This film also features a deep cast.  Many of the "John Wayne Players" appears, but it is Lloyd Nolan, as one of the rescue pilots, who captures the most attention.  His interplay on the phone with one of the crashed crew member's family shows his acting chops.  However, the biggest star of this film is the Canadian countryside.  Beautiful mountains, harsh blizzards and amazing scenery are an integral part of the movie.  Of course, since it was filmed in the Sierras of California I guess I should say that the California countryside is the star of this film.

Today cable television is littered with survival shows.  'Survivorman', 'Man vs. Wild', & 'Dual Survival' all do well in the ratings.  Here is a chance to see a dramatic interpretation of search and rescue with John Wayne in the lead.

Filmed in 1953, directed by William A. Wellman, written by Ernest K. Gann from his novel of the same name, starring John Wayne, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Abel, James Carey, Jr. and Sean McClory.  Look for quick appearances by Fess Parker, Mike Connors and Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer.  For a look at director William Wellman's best film, 'The Ox-Bow Incident", you can read my article here.  Also, this movie was made by John Wayne's production company.

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