On a flight from Hawaii to California, the engine dies on the plane Dan is flying. As he prepares for a crash landing, the passengers reassess their lives. The template for disaster movies with an Oscar-winning score and a cast list that reads like a who's who of 1950s film.Written by
One of the reasons that all-star casts became in vogue for 1970s disaster films was because audiences needed to differentiate between up to twenty disparate characters in order to follow the relationships in the plot, and familiar faces cut the audience's work in half. (Director Sidney Lumet used the same philosophy in casting Murder on the Orient Express ). Because The High and the Mighty (1954) could not attract top talent, one of its primary criticisms in the intervening years has been the pronounced challenge in keeping the passengers straight because, though the film rallied some of the finest character actors in Hollywood, their faces were not recognizable enough to distinguish the characters. See more »
Near the end of the film, Air Traffic Control clears the aircraft to land on "runway 39" This is impossible. Runways are numbered are within 10 degrees of their actual magnetic heading, and since there are only 360 degrees on the compass, the highest runway number possible is "runway 36". See more »
The song "The High and the Mighty" (with lyrics) does not appear in the original 1954 release of this film. However, the studio wanted the hugely popular, chart-topping song to be nominated for the Best Song Academy Award that year. According to AMPAS regulations, the song could not be nominated because it was no officially sung in the film, even if would be heard elsewhere. To satisfy these regulations, a version was released towards the tail-end of 1954 for a few nights only with the song inserted into an Exit Music. The Academy then decided to give the song a nomination on the basis of these screenings. The song lost to "Three Coins in a Fountain". See more »
Has there ever been a more majestic film score? Slightly melancholy and beautifully haunting, Dimitri Tiomkin's Academy Award winning music gives us a grand and expansive auditory experience comparable perhaps to what a soaring eagle must feel, in its own way, as it glides high above a landscape of the mundane and the mediocre.
In the early 50s, people were just getting used to the idea that they could climb aboard a big man-made eagle and soar above cars, buses, and trains. It was a thrilling, but scary, idea, not unlike traveling on the Titanic. And so, with "The High And The Mighty", Hollywood created the first big budget movie that conveyed the idea of risk, in commercial air travel. Throughout the film, the overriding emotion is insecurity, not only among passengers but among the crew as well. Since the film was a cinematic prototype, I can see how its nerve-wracking story would appeal to moviegoers of that era. The film's angelic theme music thus provided inspiration to help viewers overcome their fear of something new and different, something potentially life threatening.
Since the early 50s, air travel has lost its sense of adventure. The film to us seems quaint and dated. What seemed odd to me, for example, was the ticket counter. The pace was leisurely, and the attention was very personal. Then, on board the plane, the stewardess made sure that the passengers got personalized attention. At one point, even the captain, upon request, reassured a nervous passenger. Those were the days.
First time viewers also need to be aware that this film is talky and dreamily melodramatic. The emphasis is on story and acting, not special effects or high-powered action. And then there is that final Act. It is different perhaps from what most of us probably would expect. But again, we must take into account the era in which the film was made.
Fifty years after its release, "The High And The Mighty", as a film, cannot compete with its own theme music. The sweeping orchestration, like music generally, transcends time and spans the generations. By contrast, technology, and mankind's reaction to technology, changes. The film's story thus has a different meaning to us than it did to the original moviegoers. If you can place the film in its proper historic context, you have a better chance of appreciating the film for what it was then, not for what it is now.
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