(Unofficial) John Wayne DVD collection: Rare all-star ‘disaster’ blockbuster + first Geraldine Page Oscar nomination
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 Wayne-starring DVD titles are the following:
- Three movies made by Wayne-Fellows Productions and distributed by Warner Bros.: the adventure dramasThe High and the Mighty and Island in the Sky, and the Western Hondo.
- The Batjac-produced, United Artists-released 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) feature film producing company from the 1950s to the 1970s, besides McLintock!, Batjac’s output include the following: Blood Alley, Legend of the Lost, The Alamo, The War Wagon, The Green Berets, Rio Lobo, Big Jake, and McQ, in addition to the Wayne-less China Doll (in partnership with Victor Mature’s Romina Productions), Gun the Man Down, and Seven Men from Now.
Below is a brief look at the upcoming “John Wayne DVD collection” movies.
‘The High and the Mighty’
Rarely seen since the mid-1980s due to legal issues and severe print deterioration, the restored all-star, (near-)disaster CinemaScope soap opera The High and the Mighty (1954), about an airplane suffering from technical problems while on a flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, is the highlight of Batjac/Paramount’s upcoming John Wayne DVD collection.
A major box office hit upon its release, 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…).
Besides, the Warners release was 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).
- Best Supporting Actress: Claire Trevor and Jan Sterling.
- Best Film Editing: Ralph Dawson.
- Best Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture: Dimitri Tiomkin.
- Best Original Song: “The High and the Mighty” – Dimitri Tiomkin (music) and Ned Washington (lyrics).
The film ended up winning a single Oscar, for Tiomkin’s now-classic score.
‘The High and the Mighty’ cast
In addition to veteran Claire Trevor (Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for Key Largo, 1948), Jan Sterling, and John Wayne (instead of first choice Spencer Tracy or Jack Warner’s pick, Alan Ladd) as the troubled but, as it turns out, fearless pilot who provides the film with a happy ending, The High and the Mighty features:
Laraine Day and Robert Stack, both of whom would also be seen two decades later in Murder on Flight 502.
Robert Newton. David Brian. Phil Harris. Paul Kelly. Sidney Blackmer. Paul Fix. Julie Bishop. John Howard. William Campbell.
Former aviator Ernest K. McGann was credited for the screenplay, based on his own 1953 novel. Frequent John Wayne collaborator Archie Stout (Angel and the Badman, Fort Apache, 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.
‘Island in the Sky’
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. Jimmy Lydon. Harry Carey Jr.
Future TV stars Fess Parker (Daniel Boone) and Mike Connors (Mannix; billed as Touch Connors) in minor roles.
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 army scout Hondo Lane, who shows up at the place of a homesteader (Hollywood newcomer and up-and-coming Broadway star Geraldine Page†), left behind with her son (Lee Aaker) after her husband flees from an Apache attack.
Along the lines of another 1953 Western, George Stevens’ much more successful and better remembered Shane, the stranger develops a close bond with both the woman and the boy.
Hondo would eventually be nominated for two Academy Awards, both historically significant:
- Geraldine Page received the first of her eight Oscar nominations – in this particular case, as Best Supporting Actress – apparently 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 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 specifically 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 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.”
John Farrow was also the New York Film Critics Circle’s Best Director of 1942 for the World War II drama Wake Island, which also earned him his one and only Oscar nomination in that category. Fourteen years later, he shared the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar – with James Poe and S.J. Perelman – for the Michael Anderson-directed blockbuster Around the World in 80 Days, based on Jules Verne’s 1873 novel.
† Despite Hondo‘s “Introducing Geraldine Page” credit, Page was first seen on the big screen in an uncredited small role in Gregory Ratoff’s 1953 release Taxi, starring Dan Dailey and Constance Smith.
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 – 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 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 (Salome Where She Danced, 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.
More Batjac DVD collection titles: Cult classic ‘Track of the Cat’ among films not starring John Wayne
In addition to the titles listed above, Paramount’s Wayne-Fellows Productions/Batjac “DVD collection” includes five releases in which John Wayne is nowhere to be seen.
Among these, the most notable entry is William A. Wellman’s Track of the Cat (1954), shot in color (and in CinemasScope) by William H. Clothier, but for the most part displaying only black, white, and pale hues. A handful of vibrant exceptions, like the lead character’s (long before Schindler’s List) red jacket, serve to visually enhance the drama.
Adapted by A.I. Bezzerides from a 1949 novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Wellman’s experimental psychological Western/family drama – released the same year as the unabashedly crowd-pleasing The High and the Mighty – stars Robert Mitchum (Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for The Story of G.I. Joe, 1945) as an abusive man spending a bellicose winter with his dysfunctional family in early 20th-century Northern California.
Also in the Track of the Cat cast:
- Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Teresa Wright (Mrs. Miniver, 1942) – seven years earlier, Mitchum’s (at the time more famous) romantic interest in another psychological Western, Raoul Walsh’s Pursued. Second-billed this time around, Wright plays an embittered spinster.
- Former Paramount contract actress Diana Lynn (The Major and the Minor, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek).
- Up-and-coming leading man Tab Hunter (Damn Yankees, That Kind of Woman).
- Two-time Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Beulah Bondi (The Gorgeous Hussy, 1936; Of Human Hearts, 1938), the beloved mommy, granny, and/or auntie in countless movies of the 1930s and 1940s (e.g., Make Way for Tomorrow, Remember the Night), here seen as a nasty religious freak.
- Veteran theater performer Philip Tonge, featured in several Broadway stagings of Noël Coward plays (e.g., Design for Living, Blithe Spirit).
- William Hopper, son of stage star DeWolf Hopper and powerful Hollywood gossip columnist and sometime actress Hedda Hopper (Alice Adams, The Women).
- Former Our Gang child actor Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer, hidden under heavy make-up as an elderly Native American.
The New York Times‘ Bosley Crowther was unimpressed with Wellman’s cinematic exercise. In his review, he complained that Track of the Cat “has no psychological pattern, no dramatic point. There’s a lot of pretty snow scenery in it and a lot of talk about deep emotional things. But it gets lost in following some sort of pretense.”
Four more Batjac DVD collection titles not starring John Wayne
Paramount’s four other Wayne-Fellows/Batjac DVD collection titles not featuring John Wayne are the following:
- John Farrow’s Plunder of the Sun (1953), an adventure tale set in Mexico, with Glenn Ford as an American tourist enmeshed with smugglers Patricia Medina and Francis L. Sullivan. Also in the cast: Diana Lynn, Eduardo Noriega (unrelated to the Open Your Eyes and The Devil’s Backbone actor), and Douglas Dumbrille. Jonathan Latimer adapted David F. Dodge’s novel, which actually takes place in Peru. As found in Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne, it was due to his less-than-pleasant experience working with director John Farrow that Glenn Ford turned down the lead in Hondo.
- Screenwriter-turned-director James Edward Grant’s low-budget Ring of Fear (1953), a circus-set mystery yarn featuring hunter and circus impresario Clyde Beatty as himself; former Warner Bros. star Pat O’Brien (Cowboy from Brooklyn, Angels with Dirty Faces); and writer Mickey Spillane, also playing himself – and who is supposed to have drastically rewritten the original screenplay credited to Grant, The High and the Mighty actor Paul Fix, and Philip MacDonald (Rebecca, The Body Snatcher).
- Andrew V. McLaglen’s directorial debut, Man in the Vault (1956), a minor thriller toplining William Campbell as a bowling-alley locksmith forced into helping a gangster rob the safe-deposit box of a shady Los Angeles entrepreneur; The High and the Mighty actress Karen Sharpe as the socialite girlfriend of a crooked lawyer and the locksmith’s romantic interest; and Swedish import and future La Dolce Vita leading lady Anita Ekberg as the businessman’s untrustworthy lover.
- Budd Boetticher’s well-regarded Western 7 Men from Now (1956), starring Randolph Scott as a former sheriff in pursuit of the seven men who killed his wife. Also in the cast: the lovely Gail Russell in one of her last film appearances, and future Best Actor Oscar winner Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou, 1965).
Whether or not starring John Wayne, the titles in the DVD collection are supposed to include several extras, among them never-before-seen “memorabilia” from Batjac’s film library.
Alan Ladd is mentioned as Jack Warner’s choice in William A. Wellman Jr.’s Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel.
Image from the “John Wayne DVD collection” entry The High and the Mighty: Batjac Productions / Warner Bros.
Image from the “John Wayne DVD collection” entry Hondo, with Geraldine Page: Batjac Productions / Warner Bros.
Tab Hunter Track of the Cat image: Batjac Productions / Warner Bros.
Image from the “John Wayne DVD collection” entry McLintock! with Maureen O’Hara and Patrick Wayne: Batjac Productions / United Artists.
“John Wayne DVD Collection: Rarely Seen Classics Include All-Star ‘Disaster’ Blockbuster & Sub-Arctic Survival Adventure” last updated in May 2019.