- Paramount Home Entertainment’s upcoming (unofficial) “John Wayne DVD collection” includes four titles made by the star’s Wayne/Fellows and Batjac production companies, among them the long-unseen 1954 all-star “disaster” melodrama The High and the Mighty.
- The three other John Wayne movies are Island in the Sky, Hondo, and McLintock!.
(Unofficial) ‘John Wayne DVD collection’ includes rare all-star ‘disaster’ blockbuster + Shakespeare-inspired Western romp
In association with the John Wayne-founded Batjac Productions, Paramount Home Entertainment and Paramount’s Worldwide Television Distribution will be releasing a(n unofficial) John Wayne DVD collection beginning in spring 2005.
The upcoming DVD titles starring John Wayne himself are the following:
- Three movies made by (Batjac predecessor) Wayne/Fellows Productions and distributed by Warner Bros.: the adventure dramas The High and the Mighty and Island in the Sky, and the Western Hondo.
- The Batjac-produced, United Artists-released comedy Western McLintock!.
Created in 1952, Wayne/Fellows Productions was an indie film company owned by Wayne and former RKO/Paramount producer Robert Fellows (Experiment Perilous, Blaze of Noon). Under its original name and ownership, it lasted from 1952 (Big Jim McLain) to 1954 (The High and the Mighty, plus the Wayne-less Ring of Fear and Track of the Cat).
John Wayne took over the company at that time, renaming it Batjac – reportedly a secretarial misspelling of a fictional company (Batjak) featured in Edward Ludwig’s 1948 adventure drama Wake of the Red Witch, starring Wayne and Gail Russell.
In operation as a (mostly) film producing company from the 1950s to the 1970s, besides McLintock!, Batjac’s output included Blood Alley, Legend of the Lost, The Alamo, The Green Berets, and Big Jake, in addition to Wayne-less titles like China Doll (in partnership with Victor Mature’s Romina Productions) and the well-regarded Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott Western 7 Men from Now.
Below is a brief look at the four upcoming “John Wayne DVD collection” movies.
The High and the Mighty: ‘John Wayne DVD collection’ highlight
Rarely seen since the mid-1980s due to legal entanglements and severe print deterioration, the all-restored, all-star, (near-)disaster CinemaScope soap opera The High and the Mighty (1954), about a passenger airliner suffering from technical problems while on a flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, is the highlight of Batjac/Paramount’s “John Wayne DVD collection.”
A sizable box office hit, The High and the Mighty was the precursor of George Seaton’s Airport, its sequels (Airport 1975, Airport ’77, The Concorde… Airport ’79), its spoof (Airplane!), its rip-offs (Skyjacked, the TV movies Murder on Flight 502 and Mayday at 40,000 Feet!), and all other all-star disaster movies – a popular, albeit not always commercially successful, genre in the 1970s (e.g., The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Meteor, When Time Ran Out…).
Headlining the name cast, John Wayne (instead of first choice Spencer Tracy and Jack Warner’s pick, Alan Ladd) plays a former airline pilot and compulsive whistler bedeviled by the memory of a plane crash for which he held himself responsible and that killed everybody else on board, including his wife and son, while leaving him with a permanent limp.
The question every audience member is supposed to ask: How can this man ever be made whole again? Well, how about having him save everyone’s life when the fateful Hawaii-California flight goes awry as a result of engine woes?
The by then already tired John Wayne formula – despite the limping and whistling, he’s all bravado and derring-do – was undeniably one of the factors that helped to turn The High and the Mighty into a blockbuster.
The High and the Mighty cast: Grand Hotel on wobbly wings
Aside from the rough flight and the possibility of imminent death, The High and the Mighty unfolds along the lines of MGM’s 1932 Academy Award winner Grand Hotel, presenting a group of well-known performers as characters living through a series of soap-operaish personal issues:
- Future Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Robert Stack (Written on the Wind, 1956) as a handsome but “weak” pilot, while former MGM star Laraine Day (Calling Dr. Kildare and sequels, Journey for Margaret) – John Wayne’s leading lady in Tycoon (1947) – is a frustrated wife-heiress. Coincidentally, both Stack and Day would be seen two decades later in Murder on Flight 502.
- Veteran Claire Trevor (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Key Largo, 1948) as an aging, rough-around-the-edges former actress. In years past, Trevor had been John Wayne’s leading lady in Allegheny Uprising (1939), Stagecoach (1939) and Dark Command (1940).
- Cheeky blonde Jan Sterling (Ace in the Hole) as an aging beauty trying to keep herself looking as youthful as the cosmetics industry will allow.
- British film veteran Robert Newton (Gaslight, Henry V) as a Broadway producer afraid of flying – especially next to haughty wife Julie Bishop.
- Producer/director Stanley Kramer’s future wife Karen Sharpe and John Smith as newly wed lovebirds.
- Former model and future Funny Face inspiration Doe Avedon as a stewardess who early on notices some bad vibrations.
- Plus David Brian, Phil Harris, Paul Kelly, Sidney Blackmer, Paul Fix, John Howard, and William Campbell.
Former aviator Ernest K. McGann was credited for the screenplay, based on his own 1953 novel. Frequent John Wayne collaborator Archie Stout (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Quiet Man, etc.) was responsible for the widescreen color cinematography of the dramatic scenes while William H. Clothier handled the aerial shots.
1 Oscar win + 5 nominations
The High and the Mighty is not only the box office highlight of the “John Wayne DVD collection” but also its most prestigious item, having been nominated for six Academy Awards:
- Best Director: Former Lafayette Flying Corps pilot William A. Wellman. This was Wellman’s third and final nomination in this category, following A Star Is Born (1937) and Battleground (1949). Also worth noting, Wellman’s Wings (1927) – about World War I aviators – was the first Best Picture (or “Best Production”) Academy Award winner.
- Best Supporting Actress: Claire Trevor & Jan Sterling.
- Best Editing: Ralph Dawson.
- Best Score of a Dramatic/Comedy Picture: Dimitri Tiomkin.
- Best Original Song: “The High and the Mighty” – Dimitri Tiomkin (music) & Ned Washington (lyrics).
The High and the Mighty ended up winning a single Oscar, for Tiomkin’s now-classic score.
Island in the Sky: More earthbound The High and the Mighty precursor
Released the year before The High and the Mighty, a less famous, more modest (e.g., shot in black and white, only one stellar cast member: John Wayne), and equally rare (also due to rights/print quality issues) Wayne-Wellman-McGann-Dawson-Stout/Clothier airplane-in-trouble collaboration, Island in the Sky (1953) follows a group of airmen struggling to survive after a forced landing in sub-Arctic Canada.
Also in the Island in the Sky cast: Lloyd Nolan, Walter Abel, James Arness, Andy Devine, and, in minor roles, future TV stars Fess Parker (Daniel Boone) and Mike Connors (Mannix; here billed as Touch Connors).
Hondo: 3D Western ‘introduced’ Geraldine Page
Mostly directed by John Farrow* – from a screenplay by James Edward Grant, adapting Louis L’Amour’s short story “The Gift of Cochise” – the Warnercolor 3D Western Hondo (1953) stars John Wayne (instead of original choice Glenn Ford) as Hondo Lane, a U.S. Army scout who shows up at the place of a homesteader (Hollywood newcomer and up-and-coming Broadway star Geraldine Page†) left alone with her son (Lee Aaker) after her husband flees from an Apache attack.
Hondo would eventually be nominated for two – historically significant – Academy Awards:
- Geraldine Page received the first of her eight Oscar nominations – in this particular case, as Best Supporting Actress – leaving her leading man dumbstruck. “He couldn’t understand it,” Hondo unit production manager and future filmmaker Andrew V. McLaglen (see McLintock! below) is quoted as saying in Ronald L. Davis’ Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne. Page lost out to Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity, and, as she herself recalled, would be blacklisted from the industry for seven years due to her association with liberal-minded actress/acting coach Uta Hagen.
- Louis L’Amour was shortlisted in the now extinct Best Motion Picture Story category. The nomination, however, was later withdrawn as L’Amour’s story had not been written expressly for a motion picture; it had come out in Collier’s magazine in July 1952. Why the confusion? Hondo’s writing credits read “Screenplay by James Edward Grant based on a story by Louis L’Amour” – the formal credit “story by” oftentimes refers to an unproduced screenplay or treatment. On the brighter side, Oscar nomination or no, L’Amour expanded his readership after his novelized version of the Hondo screenplay was published the same year the movie came out.
Also in the Hondo cast: Ward Bond, James Arness, and, as two of the film’s pesky Apaches, Michael Pate and Rodolfo Acosta.
In 1967, Ralph Taeger and Kathie Browne starred in the short-lived television series Hondo, a Batjac co-production.
John Farrow & Geraldine Page
* After Hondo ran over schedule, John Farrow (Best Director Oscar nominee for Wake Island, 1942) had to leave his post as he was set to direct another movie elsewhere. (His next release was another Western, A Bullet Is Waiting.)
An uncredited John Ford is supposed to have stepped in to shoot the final Apache attack, though in Searching for John Ford, Joseph McBride writes that the filmmaker only “directed two shots of Wayne and a line of cavalrymen.”
† Despite Hondo’s “Introducing Geraldine Page” on-screen credit, Page had been previously seen in an uncredited small role in Gregory Ratoff’s 1953 drama Taxi, starring Dan Dailey and Constance Smith.
McLintock!: William Shakespeare goes West
The final title in the unofficial “John Wayne DVD collection” is the comic Western McLintock! (1963), partly inspired by William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen – a unit production manager on Hondo, an assistant director on Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty, and son of Academy Award-winning actor Victor McLaglen (The Informer, 1935).
Notably, McLintock! reunited John Wayne with his Rio Grande, The Quiet Man, and The Wings of Eagles leading lady, Maureen O’Hara, cast in the role of the titular wealthy rancher’s estranged wife, out to get custody of their daughter (Stefanie Powers). This would turn out to be Wayne and O’Hara’s final pairing, though the latter would have a cameo in the former’s 1971 Western Big Jake.
Also in the McLintock! cast: John Wayne’s son Patrick Wayne, Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominees Jack Kruschen (The Apartment, 1960) and Chill Wills (The Alamo, 1960), veterans Edgar Buchanan (The Talk of the Town) and Bruce Cabot (King Kong), and Special Guest Star Yvonne De Carlo (Criss Cross, TV’s The Munsters).
Hondo’s James Edward Grant penned the screenplay, officially an original effort. William H. Clothier, who had shot aerial/second unit sequences for Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty, was McLintock!’s cinematographer. Another of John Wayne’s children, Michael Wayne, was the film’s credited producer.
“’John Wayne DVD Collection’: Rarely Seen All-Star ‘Disaster’ Blockbuster” follow-up post:
“John Wayne DVD Collection” endnotes
Alan Ladd is mentioned as Jack Warner’s choice in William A. Wellman Jr.’s Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel.
Images of John Wayne and Claire Trevor in the “John Wayne DVD collection” entry The High and the Mighty: Batjac Productions | Warner Bros.
John Wayne and Geraldine Page Hondo image: Batjac | Warner Bros.
John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, and Patrick Wayne McLintock! image: Batjac | United Artists.
“’John Wayne DVD Collection’ Includes Rarely Seen All-Star ‘Disaster’ Blockbuster” last updated in July 2021.