John Wayne Centennial Screening

William Campbell, John Wayne, Robert Stack in The High and the Mighty

In celebration of John Wayne's centennial, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will premiere a new restoration of The High and the Mighty (1954), an airborne disaster-about-to-happen melodrama. The screening will take place on Thursday, May 24, at 7:30 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

The event will be hosted by columnist Army Archerd, and will feature an onstage discussion with Wayne's daughter-in-law Gretchen Wayne; William A. Wellman, Jr., son of the film's director, William A. Wellman; and actresses Angie Dickinson and Nancy Olson, both of whom co-starred with Wayne in other films. (Dickinson in Rio Bravo; Olson in Big Jim McLain.)

Based on a bestselling novel by Ernest K. Gann (who also penned the screenplay), The High and the Mighty, a major box office hit upon its release, stars Wayne as a veteran airline pilot who must save his plane and its stellar passengers when the engine fails on a flight from Hawaii to San Francisco. Others in the cast are Robert Stack, Claire Trevor, Jan Sterling, Laraine Day, William Campbell, Phil Harris, Robert Newton, David Brian, Paul Kelly, Sidney Blackmer, and Julie Bishop.

According to the Academy's press release, the restoration of The High and the Mighty — which was shot in CinemaScope – began in 1992, “when the vault containing the negative was flooded and the entire negative soaked. Wayne's son Michael embarked on the process of reconstructing the film and soundtrack from numerous source materials. Following Michael's death in 2003, his widow, Gretchen, completed the restoration.”

The High and the Mighty received six Academy Award nominations: Actress in a Supporting Role (Jan Sterling and Claire Trevor), Directing (William A. Wellman), Film Editing (Ralph Dawson), Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Dimitri Tiomkin), and Music - Song (Tiomkin and Ned Washington). Tiomkin, who earned 22 Oscar nominations and four statuettes over the course of his career, won the film's only Oscar.

Wayne, who was born Marion Morrison on May 26, 1907, in Winterset, Iowa, wasn't nominated for his airline pilot. The Academy did, however, nominate him for the by-the-book 1949 war melodrama Sands of Iwo Jima, and gave him the best actor Oscar for the minor 1969 Western True Grit. Considering that Jon Voight was in the running for Midnight Cowboy, that was quite an injustice. If Academy members wanted to honor Wayne for the body of his work, they should have picked some other year. Since Wayne played the same character in just about every movie he made, it wouldn't have made a difference.

Come to think of it, John Wayne's acting only impressed me once – in The Shootist. That was his last film – released in 1976 – and one in which he dies at the end. For once, Wayne, who was nearly 70 but looked a good ten years older, played a recognizable human being on screen. (He would succumb to cancer three years later.)

Tickets to “A Centennial Salute to John Wayne” are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members. Doors open at 7 p.m. Seats are unreserved. The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Complimentary parking is provided in the garages located at 8920 and 9025 Wilshire Boulevard. For additional information, call (310) 247-3600.

Photo © A.M.P.A.S.

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