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"Island in the Sky" has long vanished from television station inventories:
last saw this movie in, best guess, 1960. But I've never forgotten it, &
years ago I tracked down the knuckle-biter Ernest K. Gann novel on which
film is strongly based.
When a transport plane goes down in the white-blindness of sub-arctic Labrador its crew is in dire straits: howling winds, icy weather, almost no food, and no shelter or heat source. Fellow pilots & aircrews organize an air search, but the Labrador landscape they search is vast, monotonous & unforgiving of downed airmen: the searching crews know they're in a race against time, that the odds against their downed mates' survival decrease with every tick of the clock. The film sublimely depicts the searchers long hours of tedium in their inadequately heated Douglas C-47 flight decks, all the while with their hope for sighting their downed comrades dimming. They battle the ice-fog, the weather fronts, the monotonous vastness of the landscape, the limits of their aircraft and radios and compasses, and the human limits of their flying and navigational skills and their powerful fatigue. Yet nobody will give up the search: each of the rescue crews knows that they themselves might, at nature's or a fouled sparkplug's whim, have been the men crash-landed in the frigid wasteland beneath their wings.
We also see the plight of the downed aircrew scrabbling in their plane's wreck for morsels of food, shelter, clothing, and with their frozen fingers struggling to whirl the crank of a "Gibson Girl" emergency radio transmitter of dubious value. We feel their growing, chilling despair: after all, they're veteran airmen who know the odds against a search crew sighting their snow-covered wreck in this sub-arctic expanse where, from the air, every lake, hummock, snowfield, depression, hill and endless sweep of terrain looks alike. They know their would-be rescuers are flying over uncharted space, without a single reliable reference point; and they know that magnetic compasses (long before GPS satellite navigation came on the scene)in the Labrador region are subject to grievously false readings - they know the searchers could well be flying the same search routes over and over again without even realizing it: and the search crews know it too. And because there are no distinguishable landmarks, and because compasses are untrustworthy, the shivering men know that even if they are sighted it's likely that a rescue plane at the limit of its fuel could well be unable to relay accurate headings or recognizable landmarks to the crew of a follow-up aircraft.
The script neatly follows Gann's novel & its spirit: man and his pitifully inadequate, yet much-ballyhooed technology pitted against nature, against what has been called "the benign indifference of the universe". Gann was a veteran transport pilot whose novels, and this one is no exception, convey the grim obstacles airmen faced in aviation's primitive days. Gann's characters aren't heroes: they're just guys who happen to operate equipment which, like the men themselves, has finite limitations in the face of remorseless nature. Like the novel's, the film's dialogue is terse, the casting superb: you can imagine each actor being the man Gann wrote about in his novel. "Island in the Sky" is a no-frills film: no special effects worth mentioning, and none are necessary. You get to be on the frozen earth in the middle of nowhere, and on the flight deck with the weary, half-snowblind, anxious search crews. You feel the fear, the anxiety, the pressure, the cold, the crews' frustration with the limits of their technology and abilities.
I'd love to see "Island in the Sky" come out on DVD: a solid, bare-bones, no glamor, no mercy story well told.
All I can say is the Wayne family estate is really making the Duke's
fans salivate over seeing this film and The High and the Mighty. Island
in the Sky came first and a lot of the same people have credits on this
and The High and the Mighty. William Wellman directed both, both from
novels by Ernest K. Gann, and William Clothier photographed the aerial
sequences in both.
The only criticism I have of Island in the Sky is that I wish it had been done in color. Those bleak vistas of the tundra where Wayne and his crew are stranded would have really been outstanding in color.
John Wayne and his crew have to make a forced landing in the bleak tundra of very northern Quebec and they have to hope to be rescued before to long. It's either freezing or starvation, not a pleasant choice. The Duke is a civilian pilot contracted to the army to fly supplies.
When word of the fact he's down gets out his fellow civilian pilot contractors drop whatever they're doing to search for Wayne. The rest of the film is the story of that search and as the action shifts back and forth from the search to the men on the ground, the suspense never lets up. Wayne gives one of his outstanding performances as the pilot in charge who has to hold his crew together until rescue comes. Some closeup shots reveal his torment, but the men must never see it. This is a different John Wayne, battling the elements instead of bad guys.
He gets great support from a great cast of players. I'd like to single out Lloyd Nolan and Sean McClory in particular. Lloyd Nolan is one of the other pilots searching and he has a terrific scene on the telephone with the wife of one of Wayne's crew, trying to comfort her and give her hope and hopefully psyche himself up. It's beautifully played.
Sean McClory is one of Wayne's crew on the ground and I won't tell you his scene, but it is unforgettable and haunting.
Of course the credit here also goes to director William Wellman. Wellman before he became a director was a real adventuring character in his youth which included a stint in the Lafayette Escadrille. He developed a life long love of aviation and a lot of his films have an aviation background and theme.
One other thing that's probably reason enough to get this film if it comes out. Andy Devine is another of the pilots searching for Wayne. A call is placed to his home and his wife in turn relays it to Andy who is at a public pool with his two kids. He takes the call and then says we have to leave, but one more race to the other side of the pool. He tosses the kids in and then does a great belly flop dive in the pool himself.
Andy was a big fat man. God only knows where they got a bathing suit to fit him. But he's quite a sight doing that dive and in a bathing suit.
If it is ever shown on TV catch it if at all possible.
This is one of my husband's favorite films, but he won't write reviews so
it's up to me. Wayne and his crew crash in a bitterly cold mountainous
region, and spend the rest of the film trying to contact someone to rescue
them. Their radio is out, and all they have is a hand-cranked signal
that must be continuously operated if they have a chance of being found.
They slowly lose crewmen as the hours go by to injuries and the cold.
they be rescued?
We've got an old copy of "Island in the Sky" on tape or I would never have been able to write this review since it was made before I was born. This film is one of the Wayne estate's hostage's; it's mired in legal battles and who knows when it will ever be out. The same used to be true of "McClintock", but that eventually came out, so there is hope.
I have been trying to purchase the movie for 20 year's or more w/ no luck, I even went to San Juan Island ( where E.K. Gann Lived ), Unfortunately it was right after his death & I would not bother his wife. It's the only movie w\ John Wayne that I ever loved. I haven't seen it in at least 20 or 25 years. I say it was Wayne's Greatest roll, & I would pay almost anything to see it before I die. The only thing that would have made it better, if it had been made in color. The scenery was so beautiful, I don't know where it was filmed, but it sure looked like Northern Labrador or Quebec. I don't get to travel anymore but I send to chamber of commerce & get brochure's. Some book's about similar area's, that one might enjoy, would be book's buy "Farley Mowat", People of The Deer, or "Never Cry Wolf". If you Liked the movie "Island In The Sky" You will LOVE the Book.
This is based on a true story and I had the priviledge to fly with the co-pilot of that trip of Feb 3, 1943. His comment was that he didn't like the movie because they showed the co-pilot dieing in the movie. On Feb. 3, 1993,50th annaversary of the downing of the B-24 liberator/cargo version, I flew directly over Lac O'connor flying a trip from Frankfurt, Germany to Chicago, Ill. The Lat. and Long. is roughly N54:20 and W74:30. The movie didn't tell the whole story;although, very well done. There was a Northeast Airlines DC-3 down also. When they first found O'Connor and his crew, the NE Airline pilot thought he could just land and pick them up. When he touched down, he was buried in snow. They spent exactly 2 mos on the lake. They were flown out on April 3, 1943. If you can find a book by James Mangan called westward....... something or other, has a very factual run down. Try the C.R. Smith museum in Ft. Worth, TX.
Free at last. AMC Channel is showing Island in the Sky & The High and the Mighty the weekend of July 16 & 17. Get your recording equipment ready. I have been waiting almost fifty years to see this movie again. I think it was the first time I ever saw John Wayne in a movie. I was about 13. As the hero he was bigger than life to me at the time. He never gave up even if the situation looked hopeless. As I grew older and thought of the movie at times I was even more impressed with his actions. I hope now that the Wayne family has released it to TV they will also release it with a new set of DVDs. I have checked this web site often to see if there were any new info on the release or showing of this movie.
It has been years since I saw the Shootist in a Theater and often wish I could see a John Wayne movie I have never seen, I just did, Island in the Sky was a movie I have never seen... ever. and on DVD on my Big screen it was like seeing the Duke in a new movie... And the best part it was probably one of his best. The bad part...where the heck has this been? Stunning photography mostly on location, great airborne shots. Good tense drama. The only thing is I wish they would have picked another actor to portray the sobbing you married man, he was just too over the top, the rest of the cast was fun. The DVD had some fun extras on the writer and director as well as making of... I just showed it to some friends and they agree this was a real lost gem of a movie!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Slow moving and deliberate, but an over-looked William Wellman gem. Based on an Ernest K. Gann novel, ISLAND IN THE SKY has John Wayne playing Captain Dooley, who is forced to land his C-47 transport plane in the vast white wilderness of Labrador. Harsh windy weather, bitter cold, no real shelter and very little food for Dooley and his five man crew. Surviving long enough to be rescued is utmost among thoughts of the dedicated airmen. The uncharted tundra, ice and fog works against the searchers in finding the fatigued Dooley and his crew. The human condition and spirit and fortitude of mankind itself is foremost in this talky drama. The very talented cast includes: Lloyd Nolan, Andy Devine, Harry Carey Jr, Paul Fix, Hal Baylor, Jimmy Lydon and Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer. Over-shadowed by another Wellman/Wayne vehicle THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In the 1950s there were two first rate novelists who touched upon (or
concentrated on) aviation as their theme. The Australian - English one
was Nevil Shute (Norway), who was an aviation engineer. His novel was
NO HIGHWAY, made into a 1950 film with Jimmy Steward, Glynis Johns,
Marlene Dietrich, and Jack Hawkins - about the danger of metal fatigue
on airplanes. He also wrote an interesting memoir of his early years in
aviation SLIDE-RULE, but later left the aviation theme for his best
novels, A TOWN NAMED ALICE and ON THE BEACH. His American counterpart
was Ernest K. Gann, who wrote ISLAND IN THE SKY and THE HIGH AND THE
MIGHTY, both dealing with planes in trouble. Both were also made into
films produced and starring John Wayne, and directed by former World
War I ace William Wellman.
THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY dealt with an airliner in trouble over the Pacific on a flight from Hawaii to San Francisco, and how the crew and passengers react to the danger. Similarly, ISLAND IN THE SKY deals with a cargo plane that crash lands in Labrador and how the crew has to fend for itself against the harsh Arctic tundra (the temperature is between 40 and 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and the area is devoid of any edible vegetation or animals). The problem is extended due to the fact that the plane is in unexplored Arctic territory, and the crew has dwindling power to try to keep in touch with their rescuers.
John Wayne plays the pilot in ISLAND IN THE SKY, of a crew of four others (Sean McClory, Jimmy Lyden, Hal Baylor, and Wally Cassell). His leadership skills are tested as never before because of the hostile, deadly environment that they are in. In fact the Duke on several occasions displays a degree of despair in his face that one rarely sees, when rescue planes keep missing him or when equipment seems to fail. If one really doubts the cinematic acting abilities of John Wayne, one has to watch his performance here. He is more fragile here than in any other film, including THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.
The others in the crew, such as Cassell as the radio operator - struggling in that numbing cold to try to keep the electric generator working while he sends out a signal - are good. Another reviewer singled out Sean McClory, as Wayne's co-pilot, who does find the worst effects of the environment when trying to return to the camp.
The other members of the cast do well, in what is primarily a male cast (there are three women in the cast who play the love interests or wives of some of the men). Single out young James Arness as a South Carolinian who hates air force red tape (and shows it forcibly to a silly officer by eating a military memo). Andy Devine gives a surprisingly effective performance in a serious part (usually playing comic relief, as in STAGECOACH or LIBERTY VALANCE). Here he cuts short a vacation to help lead the search for his friend Wayne - and his grim face shows his helplessness when Wayne seems more lost than expected. Lloyd Nolan and his co-pilot, Carl Switzer, make an effective pair in the final search. Also on hand is Allan Joslyn, Louis Jean Heydt, Bob Steele, Regis Toomey and (as the commanding officer heading the search organizing) Walter Abel. These, with Wellman's fine detail for aviation situations make ISLAND IN THE SKY one of the most fascinating films in Wayne's long career.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Island in the Sky (1953) is a John Wayne programmer elevated by the
rough and tumble, no nonsense approach in direction by William A.
Wellman. Wayne is Captain Dooley, a pilot of a transport plane that
unfortunately crash lands in the middle of a frozen nowhere actually
billed as Labrador. Faced with imminent starvation and death, Dooley
has to keep his wits and the spirits of his crew and cargo passengers
alive until they are rescued. The plot, relatively trivial and rather
unremarkable (considering the subject matter) is greatly elevated by
strong performances from Lloyd Nolan (Stutz), Walter Abel (Col. Fuller)
and Andy Devine (Moon). There's some great tidbits of human suffrage,
the prerequisite "we're all going to die" panic scene and the even more
prerequisite "we shall overcome
look, we're saved" finale. It is to
Wellman's credit that none of the kitsch and cliché never amount to
anything more than a moderately predictable scenario under which he is
able to flesh out some truly inspiring performances.
Despite being advertised as 'meticulously restored and remastered' the black and white image is riddled with film grain and age related artifacts. Contrast levels sometimes appear a tad too low. Blacks are generally deep but fine details get lost in them. Whites are rarely clean, but at least they don't bloom or appear excessively muddy. The audio is mono but nicely balanced. Extras include a few featurettes, theatrical trailers, audio commentary and stills gallery. Over all, nicely put together from Paramount but we still could have used more reverence and attention to detail on the actual film transfer.
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