"The High And The Mighty" Is Released

The High and the Mighty is a 1954 CinemaScope drama adventure film with a star laden ensemble cast released through Warner Brothers.

The film starred and was co-produced by John Wayne, directed by William A. Wellman, and written by Ernest K. Gann who was also the author of the novel on which the film was based. Composer Dimitri Tiomkin won an Academy Award for his original score while his title song for the film also was nominated for an Oscar but did not win. The film follows the lives and interactions among the passengers and crew on board a Douglas DC-4 airliner while making a trans-Pacific flight (Hawaii to California) during which a catastrophic prop failure and engine fire leads all to the brink of disaster. The High and the Mighty served as a template for later "disaster" themed films such as the Airport series (1970-79), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Hindenburg (1975) and Titanic (1997).

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, All Movie Guide