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Cecil B. DeMille
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Clipper ships taking the shortest route between the Mississippi and the Atlantic often end up on the shoals of Key West in the 1840s. Salvaging the ships' cargos has become a lucrative business for two companies -- one headed by a feisty young woman. Then she falls in love with the captain of a wrecked ship while he recuperates at her home. She travels to Charleston and is charming to the man most likely to be head of the captain's company, thinking she will be able to get the captain the position he wants on the company's first steam ship. Written by
Dale O'Connor <firstname.lastname@example.org>
A common thread running through Cecil B. DeMille films is the leading lady having two men getting their hormones in an uproar over the leading lady. You've got Joel McCrea and Robert Preston rivals for Barbara Stanwyck in Union Pacific, Gary Cooper and Preston Foster over Madeline Carroll in Northwest Mounted Police, Charlton Heston and Cornel Wilde flipping for Betty Hutton in The Greatest Show On Earth, etc. But DeMille never did this theme better than in Reap The Wild Wind. Without Paulette Goddard coquetting both John Wayne and Ray Milland, you wouldn't have a plot for this film.
Additionally John Wayne for what maybe the only time in his film career plays a knave. After appearing to lose Paulette Goddard to Milland, Wayne goes over to Raymond Massey and Massey plays him like a piccolo and wins him over to his nefarious schemes.
Massey gives the best performance in the movie. There is a long trial sequence and Massey being an extremely shrewd lawyer almost turns the whole trial around and has court convinced that it's Ray Milland behind all the pirate wrecks in the Florida Keys. This after playing John Wayne for a fool. Massey is done in of course, but by something he really couldn't take into account.
The action takes place in the Florida Keys where Paulette Goddard owns a salvage company. Yet she lives in grand plantation style that would put Tara to shame. Now Florida was a Confederate state, but the only part of Florida that had the plantation culture was the panhandle. You didn't have Tara style mansions in the Keys.
But because the movie is set in the South you also have some really bad black stereotypes. DeMille was hardly the only director to use them though. But one incredible error slips through. One of the characters during the trial was a black actor named Oscar Polk who plays Saltmeat who is a crew member of John Wayne's ship and gives a key piece of testimony that ultimately proves to be Raymond Massey's downfall.
Saltmeat is identified as a Barbadoes free Negro in the film. But Saltmeat doesn't talk like Harry Belafonte. He sounds like any ordinary black actor who would be playing a field hand on the old plantation. I can't believe DeMille didn't realize this error. But I guess it was easier to bow to the racial stereotypes than show a black character realistically in context.
The movie made a lot of money in 1942. It was filmed in great technicolor and it did win an Oscar for Special Effects because of the climatic fight with a giant squid that Milland and Wayne engage in. The effects look cheesy now, but back in 1942 they were something else.
I think a lot of black people would be terribly offended if they watched this dated epic.
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