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The High and the Mighty [2 Discs] [DVD] [1954]

Release Date:08/02/2005
William Wellman's The High and the Mighty has arrived on DVD with the kind of treatment that fans of the filmmaker and the movie, and its star, John Wayne, had always hoped it might receive. The two-disc special edition not only offers a stunningly beautiful transfer of the movie, letterboxed to around 2.35:1, and a loud, rich soundtrack, but enough extras to keep fans busy for the best part of a month. The most obvious special feature is the commentary track by Leonard Maltin in tandem with William Wellman Jr., aviation enthusiast Vincent Longo, and cast members Karen Sharpe and Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez -- they range across every subject under the sun that's even remotely relevant to the movie, over 145 minutes of screen time. Accessing the commentary track, incidentally, is a little tricky as there is no "special feature" button on the menu for the first disc -- it's accessible through the "set up" command for audio and subtitles. The movie has been given 22 chapters, which is just about adequate for the 147-minute running time. The second disc is nothing but special features and documentary material, on the history of Wayne's production company, the cast members, composer Dimitri Tiomkin (how can one argue with a DVD of a 50-year-old movie that goes into the actual recording of the score?), and just about every other aspect of the history surrounding this film, including its restoration. It's all so well done, that the new information that pours out freely and easily is dense enough to require multiple viewings. There's not a stone left unturned -- they even discuss the career of minor supporting player John Howard, virtually everyone else we see on the screen, as well as the key crew members, down to their foibles. (For instance, Wellman apparently regarded character actor George Chandler as something of a good-luck charm, and used him as often as he could in his movies.) The menus are easy to use and the whole disc is almost perfect -- the one flaw comes from Maltin's tendency to hyperbole; he refers to The High and the Mighty as a movie that has retained its reputation despite being out of circulation for "50 years," but the movie was available on television, albeit in full-screen, cropped presentations, until the early '80s, and that explains its continued high reputation.

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    Special Features

    • Introductions by Leonard Maltin
    • Commentary by Leonard Maltin, William Wellman Jr., Karen Sharpe, Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales, and Vincent Longo
    • "The Batjac Story"
    • "Stories From the Set"
    • "On Director William A. Wellman"
    • "The Music and World of Dimitri Tiomkin"
    • "Restoring a Classic"
    • "A Place in Film History"
    • "Ernest K. Gann -- Adventurer, Author & Artist"
    • "Flying in the Fifties"
    • Theatrical trailer, TV trailer, Batjac montage
    • The High and the Mighty premiere footage
    • Photo gallery
    • Closed Captioned


    The High and the Mighty
    For The High and the Mighty, director William Wellman made a point of using Cinemascope to heighten the dramatic content of a confined screen space -- in this instance, the cockpit of a plane in flight. Copilot Dan Roman (John Wayne) seems a lot more in control of things than Captain John Sullivan (Robert Stack) when the plane loses an engine during a flight from Honolulu to San Francisco. Wellman crosscuts from the tension in the cockpit to the various subplots involving the plane's passengers, among them May Holst (Claire Trevor), Lydia Rice (Laraine Day), Howard Rice (John Howard), Sally McKee (Jan Sterling), Ed Joseph (Phil Harris), and Humphrey Agnew (Sidney Blackmer) (as a character named Humphrey Agnew -- a remarkable prescient cognomen given the future of the U.S. vice presidency!). Adapted by Ernest K. Gann from his best-selling novel, The High and the Mighty was one of the first (and most profitable) entries in the "terror in the sky" genre. Its theme music, written by Dimitri Tiomkin and whistled incessantly by John Wayne in the film, would later become a best-selling hit throughout the world. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

    Cast & Crew

    • John Wayne
      John Wayne - Dan Roman
    • Claire Trevor
      Claire Trevor - May Holst
    • Laraine Day
      Laraine Day - Lydia Rice
    • Robert Stack
      Robert Stack - Sullivan
    • Jan Sterling
      Jan Sterling - Sally McKee

    Product images, including color, may differ from actual product appearance.