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The Benign Indifference of the Universe
Piafredux20 May 2002
"Island in the Sky" has long vanished from television station inventories: I last saw this movie in, best guess, 1960. But I've never forgotten it, & two years ago I tracked down the knuckle-biter Ernest K. Gann novel on which the 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.
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Battling the elements instead of the bad guys
bkoganbing14 May 2005
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.
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Island in the Sky
grampa05222 June 2005
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.
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The Duke's First Big Airplane Disaster Film
theowinthrop23 May 2007
Warning: 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.
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Wayne and Wellman give it their all in a high flying thriller
Warning: 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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Crash landing in a frigid wasteland.
Michael O'Keefe25 March 2007
Warning: 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.
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John Wayne crashes and almost freezes to death
Marta9 July 1999
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 device 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. Will 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.
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Found a DVD at the Atlantic City Classic Auto show & Auction
maxepr5 March 2004
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.
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ISLAND IN THE SKY (William A. Wellman, 1953) ***
MARIO GAUCI21 May 2006
This proved to be an unjustly neglected gem, especially in view of the overrated THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954) – which I watched in conjunction with it – from the same team. As with John Wayne's other Batjac productions, the film hasn't been seen in decades but, hopefully, it will be rediscovered now via Paramount's SE DVD.

It features one of Wayne's more interesting roles, and his performance is accordingly impressive. Director Wellman and Wayne (in his capacity as executive producer) managed to make a low-key and unusually realistic film, which celebrates camaraderie, amid the studio system – with very little concession to typical Hollywood trappings (unlike its glamorized and inflated follow-up!). Ernest K. Gann, who spent his life in aviation and who followed this with THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY, for the first time adapted his own novel to the screen and this gave the script a definite ring of authenticity: consequently, we find here any number of wonderful human (and often humorous) vignettes – but especially poignant are Sean McClory's death scene and the finale where the downed airmen are, at long last, spotted by their comrades who form the search party. Besides, the black-and-white cinematography (by Archie Stout and William H. Clothier, both of whom shot many a John Wayne picture) is remarkable and, done with little or no special effects, was – by all accounts – seminal in its field. The cast, too, is peppered with familiar faces (either established – and reliable – character actors or upcoming stars) but, more importantly, solid performers all around.

Wellman, a flying aficionado as well, made 11 films on the subject and numbers this one among his favorites (I tend to agree with him, given that I was slightly let down by some of his more renowned work like BEAU GESTE [1939], BATTLEGROUND [1949] and THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY itself!). The director's long career in films, tackling all kinds of subjects, was undoubtedly an interesting one: though he never quite achieved the reputation of, say, John Ford or Howard Hawks, he was of the same breed (and, indeed, this particular film has the feel of these two giants' work – both of whom, obviously, also proved crucial to John Wayne's career – and especially Hawks' CEILING ZERO [1935] and ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS [1939], with which ISLAND IN THE SKY shares some of its plot line).
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I've Loved the book & have had a copy or 2 since 1944 or 45
a70boles5 November 2004
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.
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One of Wayne's Best
fung010 August 2010
I can't imagine why this film is not more widely known, or more highly valued. I finally caught up with it a couple of years ago on DVD, and was absolutely blown away. This is not only one of the Duke's best performances, it's a tense, entertaining film of rather eerie beauty.

The basics seem familiar enough. A transport plane has to put down in the snowy wilds of Northern Quebec. We follow both the desperate search efforts, and the hopeless fight for survival of the frostbitten crew. Wayne is anything but his usual sterling self: irrational, angry, frustrated. The other parts are filled very effectively by square-jawed regulars, including James Arness, Lloyd Nolan and Andy Devine.

But the real star is the sense of silent, snowy isolation. The title says it all: this film really makes you feel lost on a frozen island surrounded by empty, barren sky. It makes you feel the sense of hopelessness, knowing just how tiny the odds are of being found. And it does this in a subtle, understated way, almost like a film noir, without the pat melodramatics of the following year's The High and the Mighty. This film shows tough, experienced airmen behaving just about as you'd expect, while keeping the real focus on the detail of the rescue flights. Because, above all, Island in the Sky is a film about flying and fliers.

Director William Wellman probably deserves the lion's share of the credit. He's not exactly a household name any more, but he was one of the most reliable directors in Hollywood. There's no Wellman signature style, as such - but films like Yellow Sky, Across the Wide Missouri, The Ox-Bow Incident, even the silent Wings, all bear a similar feeling of solidity, of efficient storytelling in the best Hollywood manner.

It's amazing to read some of the derogatory reviews that have been posted. As a sometime pilot myself, I find the film more than credible enough. Sure, it rounds off some of the corners, but then it's an early-1950s Hollywood entertainment, not a 21st Century documentary, and works perfectly on its own level. (Far, FAR better than The High and the Mighty, which is resolved by the copilot encouraging the pilot to do something idiotically dangerous, for which in real life they would both surely have been grounded, IF they survived, which they probably wouldn't.)

Equally surprising are some of the complaints about continuity. This film uses real aircraft, and must have been an enormous logistical challenge for Wayne's production company. No, it's not absolutely seamless by the standards of today's $200 million productions. But it is internally consistent and beautifully evocative, which should be more than enough for anyone.

Island in the Sky is gripping, thought-provoking and kind of mystical, in its own unique way. It reminds me of the films of Val Lewton - a Hollywood 'formula' entry that manages to soar unforgettably beyond the limitations its genre.
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pretty good film
MartinHafer16 January 2006
Despite the movie being confined to the frozen north of Canada and the narrowness of the plot (rescuing a downed plane), this movie was able to keep my interest and avoided the "claustraphobic-feel". That's because the movie, though very simple, is written and directed so well. It manages to throw in little moments of drama into the story whenever there is a chance for a lull and in the process pulls the viewer into the story. Plus, on top of that, the acting and supporting cast is excellent. PLUS, for you lovers of oddness out there, look closely at the adult Alfalfa Switzer (yes, from OUR GANG shorts) in an adult role (shortly before he got himself killed).
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It Was Like seeing A new John Wayne movie!
R. David Adams1 September 2005
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!
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Tightly constructed gem of a film - very surprising
stuthehistoryguy17 July 2007
I'll admit I wasn't expecting much here - I'd seen the tail-end of the movie a while back, and it didn't look too hot, but I'm a wannabe John Wayne completest, so I took it upon myself to watch this 1953 effort as an outward and visible sign of my devotion.

It's a stunning film, for those who appreciate such things. The Duke plays against type to a degree here. He's a WWII-era transport pilot in this one whose plane goes off-course and crashes in an uncharted region of Labrador in -70F (-56C) temperatures. He's not exactly a hopeless neurotic - this is John Wayne, after all - but you can see his confidence falter as it becomes increasingly likely that he and his men aren't going to make it out alive. This is paralleled by the story of the search pilots, whose confidence also wanes as they poke around the confusing landscape trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Great performances on that side of the story, too, most notably by Andy Devine of all people - the veteran John Wayne fan keeps waiting for the comic relief from this fine character actor, and its absence adds to the overall tension. The juxtaposition of the two stories underscores the importance of friendship, devotion, courage, cooperation, and creativity. For the history-minded among you, it is also piques one's interest in radio and aviation technology of the WWII period - in ways the Duke's "fighter jock" movies like "The Flying Tigers" and "Flying Leathernecks" really do not. This is a remarkable film, well written in Hemmingwayesque sparse, masculine prose and effectively photographed in stark black and white. Highly recommended, especially for the odd duck who still believes that John Wayne couldn't act. 8/10
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Dooley's Down!
bsmith55529 August 2005
"Island In the Sky" has long been unavailable for viewing. The recent DVD release remedies that. It has been beautifully restored to its original black and white brilliance and contains some of the best aerial photography (no special effects here) by veteran cinematographer William Clothier.

Capt. Dooley (John Wayne) and his crew, co-pilot Lovatt (Sean McClory), radio man D'Annunzia (Wally Cassell). navigator Murray (James Lydon) and engineer Stankowski (Hal Baylor) are civilian filters, flying a military aircraft used for supplying troops in WWII. Suddenly their compass malfunctions and they drift off course, flying into uncharted grounds deep into The Great White North. The plane goes down in the wilderness and the crew is forced to find ways to survive in the bone chilling cold.

Meanwhile back at the base the cry of "Dooley's Down" rings out. Fellow pilots rally to help their downed colleagues. Col. Fuller (Walter Abel) along with his sergeant (Regis Toomey) coordinate the search efforts. Among the pilots in on the search are Stuz (Lloyd Nolan), McMullen (James Arness), Moon (Andy Devine), Handy (Allyn Joslyn) and Fitch (Louis Jean Heydt).

Dooley and his crew fashion a shelter and fight to survive. One day the rescue planes fly over but do not see the downed filters. Finally after several searches..............

As in most John Wayne films, the John Wayne Stock Company is evident. Appearing in various roles are Harry Carey Jr,, Bob Steele, Darryl Hickman, Gordon Jones, Carl "Alflafa" Switzer, Paul Fix, Fess Parker, Mike "Touch" Connors and in a hilarious bit, Wellman regular George Chandler.

William Wellman, who provides the voice over narration, was a master at directing air movies having begun with the classic "Wings" (1927). The aerial shots of the fleet of DC-3 planes is breath taking. Credability is stretched a little when we see the downed airmen clad only in their regular clothing and wrapped in single blankets supposedly surviving in temperatures of up to -70F. Also the story takes place in Northern Labrador however, the doomed plane was flying a north-west course of some 600 miles away from the St. Lawrence River which would take them away from Labrador and into Northern Quebec.

The DVD Special Edition contains an excellent feature commentary with Leonard Maltin, William Wellman Jr., Darryl Hickman and James Lydon. Maltin also hosts the other segments including a memorable "John Wayne Stock Company" interview with veteran actor Harry Carey Jr.

Well worth the long wait.
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Good Survival Yarn
AaronCapenBanner7 October 2013
William Wellman directs this realistic survival tale, as John Wayne plays pilot Dooley, who is forced to land his C-47 Corsair transport plane in the frozen wastes of Labrador, where he and his men must find a way to survive until they can expect an air rescue(piloted by frequent Wayne costar Andy Devine), which is suffering from the same bad weather that forced them down, making locating them difficult. Can Dooley and his men find appropriate shelter, food, and warmth, or will they perish in the harsh climate? Exciting and well filmed story of survival and patience amid the most trying of circumstances is a good change of pace for Wayne. Was unavailable for years because of rights issues, but can be enjoyed now on DVD.
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The last 10 minutes of this film will almost give you a heart attack
nomoons1123 October 2011
I'll start off by saying that I'm no John Wayne fan. I never liked his wooden western portrayals. They were all alike. I didn't know what to expect with this one but what a's an absolute winner.

I think this one succeeds because John Wayne isn't the "whole" star of this. This film has an incredible cast that outdo Wayne in most scenes. Most of the film the supporting cast is what you see and boy they really get it done...with conviction.

The premise is Dooley and his crew are on their way home from a trip and they run into bad weather over northern Canada and have to crash land the plane in a baron area on the Tundra. The other crew's at their home base in Maine find out and they all proceed to try and find where's he's at in time...before they freeze to death. Here's where the meat of the film is.

I can't say enough how great the supporting cast is. They are this film. From James Arness right down to ole Alfalfa from Our gang. They all pitch in make this film a worthy watch.

Take a chance on this one and you'll walk away cheering at the end.
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Good Story, Weak Movie
pcs374614 June 2010
This story was one of my favorites. The movie was mediocre at best. But, of course it had some of my favorite actors; John Wayne, Andy Devine...I was very surprised to learn that it was closely based on a real story of even more drama and which turned out to be even more of a miracle.

The movie depicts the crashed airplane as a C-47, twin engine cargo aircraft. The true story, it was a C-87, cargo version of the famed twin-tailed B-24 "Liberator" bomber. The C-87 was notoriously difficult to fly and it was said by the pilots who flew them it would not carry enough ice to make a high ball...meaning, it would quit flying when just a little bit of ice would form on the wings, which is what brought the aircraft in the story down after getting lost over the Canadian wilderness.

One of the things that make the real story more fantastic than the movie was, no one died in the real story, in spite of the fact the survivors had to spend almost two months on the ice before getting evacuated. Also, there was an attempt by another rescue aircraft pilot to land on the frozen lake to bring the crash victims out and that rescue aircraft mired in the deep snow on the ice. Eventually, it turns out everyone was saved, and all the aircraft were repaired before the spring thaw and flown out, including the original four engine C-87 that crash landed on the frozen lake.

Some critics have been saying the story is fake because the area of the crash is covered by numerous bush pilots. That was not so in the days of WWII. The area of the crash was so remote there were not even any maps of the area and most of the mountains were not even named…many of them today are named after the pilots who were part of the search team to find Dooley's aircraft, since they were probably the first persons to see them and locate them on navigation maps.

Read Gann's book, Fate is The Hunter for the best details of this story. It is really an excellent read. Gann was an amazing writer with some unusual and delightful ways of gripping the mind of the reader.
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John Wayne Struggling to Survive in the Canadian Wilderness
gpeevers15 June 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This lesser known effort from Star and Producer John Wayne is still an effective film today, its the story of a WWII transport plane forced to land in an incredibly harsh environment (Canada of course or more accurately Labrador). The film details the struggles of both the crew of the downed plane to survive and that of their fellow crews to find them in a vast uncharted wilderness before they either starve or freeze to death.

The film looks great, with some impressive cinematography especially for its era, and also has a very good story inspired by actual events and written by Ernest K. Gann. The film is effectively directed by the prolific and Academy Award winning William Wellman, and features a good cast which would be even more impressive in retrospect seeing the future careers of some of its supporting players.

Featured in relatively prominent roles are; Lloyd Nolan, Andy Devine, James Arness and Paul Fix. The extensive supporting cast also included; Fess Parker (Davey Crockett), Mike Connors (Mannix), Carl Switzer (Alfalfa), Harey Carey Jr, Herbert Anderson ("Dennis the Menace") and a number of other recognizable faces.

Overall the cast is quite effective for the most part underplaying their roles with a few exceptions. Both Arness and Devine give very effective and somewhat broader performances that reflect the characters they are playing.
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Great John Wayne Film
whpratt127 December 2007
Enjoyed this true to life story about a civilian cargo pilot named Capt. Dooley, (John Wayne) who assisted the military. Capt. Dooley's transport plane runs out of fuel and he has to change his course and his crew find themselves in a vast wasteland in frozen Labrador. They have lost contact with the military base, however, they did leave a message on their last transmission a location for there whereabouts. The terrain is full of mountains and ice and snow and it is not easy for anyone to actually locate them. Dooley's men struggle to keep alive and warm and at the same time find it hard to find anything to hunt. There is plenty of action and it will keep your attention throughout the entire film.
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Enjoyable aviation themed drama
lorenellroy29 August 2007
John Wayne made a number of movies with an aviation theme in the 1950's including another-The High and The Mighty -based like this effort on an Ernest K Gann novel.Add his turn as aviation pioneer Spig Weed in The Wings of Eagles and you have the basis for an interesting mini-festival .

Gann co-scripted this movie and it was directed by another aviation buff in William "Wild Bill" Wellman . Wayne plays a civilian pilot whose ATC plane crashes in a remote part of Labrador .The movie cross cuts between the downed plane with Wayne striving to keep up the morale of his crew in bone freezing ,stamina sapping conditions as they cope ,or try to ,with scanty rations ,communication equipment failure and internal dissension, and the rescue attempt .The "rescue" scenes ,in turn, alternate between ground search co-ordination and scenes on board rescue aircraft as the search the vast and unchartered terrain in inhospitable conditions for some sign of the downed plane The movie is in black and white and benefits from two very sharp cameramen .William Clothier handles the airial scenes while Archie Stout endows the ground scenes with a chilly poeticism that greatly aids the movie . Wayne is fine in a role where he eschews the macho posing of so many of his movies and the cast of dependable supporting actors -including Fess Parker ,James Arness,Andy Devine and Lloyd Nolan -all give sterling performances the voice overs are a tad tiresome and sententious but are only a minor defect in a worthwhile movie that owes its title to the notion that pilots are a breed apart from their earthbound compatriots

and the movie would question John Donne's assertion that "no man is an island" clearly endorsing the view that pilots are in some way detached from other men

This well worth watching and deserves to be much better known than it is
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"To Build A Fire," Hollywood-style
tom-darwin6 April 2006
Underrated, long-lost tale of man against nature. Nature is tough in this one, bringing on the vast Arctic where snow glare, storms and unimaginable cold make the simplest tasks a challenge. Man fights back with fleets of aircraft, flares and radios. Still, it's a gritty, well-paced tale of survival with a fine cast headed by John Wayne, with his old sidekick Andy Devine excelling in a rare, serious dramatic role. Sappy subplots and a treacly music score, typical of the early 1950s, detract from the film's impact. Ernest Gann's story has little of Jack London in it, evoking no mystery or respect for the vastness of the wilderness. The vision of modern technology & ingenuity taking on the Arctic's worst, which was so appealing in the Space Age, conjures visions of oil wells and cruise ship terminals today. But in what other film does John Wayne have to carry a scene while lying in a sleeping bag? Where else will you see the hungry Duke hurl away a can of Spam in disgust? Ah, the days before product placement!
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If God had meant man to fly . . . .
Robert J. Maxwell5 April 2006
Ernest K. Gann has an idiosyncratic prose style, precious and precise at the same time. He tends to use a lot of interior monologue and description and he throws in little unexpected tidbits -- "And where, pray tell, is home?" Reading his work is a little like flying an airplane. Nothing much happens, but when it happens, it happens fast.

"The High and the Mighty", a novel, has just enough dialog and action to make a conventional movie. His meandering memoir, "Fate is the Hunter," has mostly a few clipped exchanges of dialog, which I guess made it next to impossible to film. In making the movie of "Fate is the Hunter," all they kept was the title, which was nice and commercial.

I haven't read Gann's "Island in the Sky", but there are enough flashbacks and narrations in the movie (by actors and by an omniscient observer who is allowed to voice Gann's finely phrased expressions) that the book must have been full of the author's reflections and the action was sparse.

The story is simple. Dooley (Wayne) is piloting a DC-3 over Canada when it ices up and he must land on a frozen lake in an unexplored woodland. His buddies get together and fly around looking for him, sometimes just barely missing him. Just as the crew's supplies are about to run out, they find him and drop supplies and note his position for a rescue team. One of the crew has frozen to death.

I saw the movie when I was a kid and thought it was great. It was shown on TV recently and it now strikes me as good rather than great because I think I have a better handle on the meaning of the word "great." Really, the movie grabs you. Very suspenseful stuff, done in a craftsmanlike manner. Will they ever find Dooley and his crew? You don't really know until the climax, although, knowing Wayne's image at the time, it would be hard to imagine that he would appear in a film that closed on a shot of him frozen stiff like the Reclining Buddha. (I mean, the guy hesitated before admitting he had lung cancer because it might damage his public image!) The location shooting around Truckee in the Sierras is nice -- black figures scuttling around on blazing white snow -- but the picture cries out for color. The crisp beauty of the setting would have contrasted with the nearly doomed situation of the crew.

It's an enjoyable movie partly because so many of the faces in it are familiar ones -- I won't bother to list them. And the performances are all pretty good, except, I suppose, we could have done without Dooley's navigator breaking into tears at his failure to specify their exact location. The scene is overacted, as are some others, and the director should have reined in the excess of statement. There are some other signs of directorial laxity. We can hear the wind whistling loudly but the branches aren't moving. Only rarely does an actor's breath turn to steam -- and it's 40 below. The scene in which the copilot freezes to death, only a few feet from the airplane, is in its own crude way heartbreaking.

The weaknesses I've mentioned probably won't bother kids any more than they bothered me when I was a kid. Good suspense, good atmosphere, decent acting, magnificent shots of airplanes over the unexplored woods of northern Canada, desperation and relief, add up to a watchable film. Worth catching.
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Man against wilderness when survivors of crash landing wait for rescue...
Neil Doyle16 July 2005
The long wait is over. AMC finally showed this on July 17, '05 after many years of legal wrangling over the rights to air it on television or give it the DVD treatment. Not quite earth shaking as a movie, it's an efficient survival tale made realistic by William Wellman's attention to detail and the crew assembled under John Wayne.

The result is a satisfying tale of men badly in need of rescue when their survival in the wilderness is at stake. Wayne is the strong anchor who keeps the whole plot firmly in place, showing the kind of strong inner strength that usually made his performances so real. But he's also a bit vulnerable, as in the scene where he must silence a crew member who becomes a bit too hysterical.

It's really not an exceptional drama at all. It was outshone by many other survival tales that came before and after. The black and white photography has a chilling effect and makes the wilderness stark enough, but it would have been nice to see this one in color since some of the shots (as glimpsed from planes) are quite spectacular.

Performances are all capable enough but there's nothing memorable about them. The plot hinges on only two factors: the mission to locate a missing plane that has crashed in the Arctic wilderness and a plan to rescue the survivors.

Nothing new here, it's all been done before, sometimes to even greater effect. It's strictly a conventional rescue story told in a straight-forward way, seldom dwelling long on flashback memories that might have slowed things down.

But for John Wayne fans, who've waited a long time just to see this again, it's probably a welcome sight.
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markystav19 July 2005
This is a superb film, told by a director who understood his subject. Well-acted throughout, by an outstanding cast of support players, but this is simply the best bit of acting John Wayne ever did. The scene when Wayne realizes that they may have just missed their final chance of being rescued is nothing short of Oscar-worthy. It is so rare to see John Wayne cracking, and breaking down mentally, and this scene will always stay with me.

One of the very best stars of the film is the Douglas C-47, several of which are featured throughout the film. Shot from every conceivable angle, it is a real treat to see so much of this legendary aircraft. It's hard today to remember how important it was to commercial aviation, but it is the "George Washington" of airliners, and Wellman gives us a no-special-effects, and shot-on-location look at her.

Batjac has finally given us the goods!
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