High and the Mighty, The (1954)

High and the Mighty, The (1954)

“Tell me what’s wrong with this airplane!”

When an airplane en route from Honolulu to San Francisco starts losing fuel, its passengers and pilots (Robert Stack and John Wayne) prepare for an ocean landing.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Claire Trevor Films
  • David Brian Films
  • Disaster Flicks
  • Ensemble Cast
  • Jan Sterling Films
  • John Qualen Films
  • John Wayne Films
  • Robert Newton Films
  • Robert Stack Films
  • William Wellman Films

It’s impossible to watch William Wellman’s The High and the Mighty without thinking about the countless times its basic premise has been spoofed — most notably in the Zucker brothers’ comedy classic Airplane! (1980). Indeed, as a “straight” melodrama, The High and the Mighty falls flat, with hopelessly cliched characters, truly laughable dialogue (“How can I ever be afraid when you hold me like this?”), and not nearly enough genuine drama or excitement for a disaster flick. Unavailable for many years, this film developed nearly a cult following (see posts on IMDb), with fans clamoring for its release on DVD; but its appeal will ultimately be limited to either devotees of John Wayne (who, surprisingly, doesn’t dominate the proceedings), or those anxious to see the film which inspired Airplane!.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Countless spoofable moments and characters — including pilot Robert Stack, who would later “reprise” his role in Airplane! (1980)

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a look as perhaps the definitive “airplane disaster” flick.


One thought on “High and the Mighty, The (1954)

  1. Unless something like, oh, say, the Chinese water torture appeals to you, this is not a must.

    I tried revisiting it and, 45 min. in, I realized I just couldn’t go any further (not again) with…one of the most boring films ever made!!!

    Apparently the most popular film of 1954 (how often ‘most popular’ is a bad, bad sign), it boasts a very famous theme song.

    And nothing else.

    It’s hopelessly overwritten (often in ways in which people don’t talk). The first 1/2-hour consists mostly of minor characters giving seemingly endless exposition about the main ones. Just about every character, however, is soon revealed to be equally and inexplicably loquacious. (At one point, one character seems so tired of another’s verbal diarrhea that he begins to ‘entertain’ us with his OWN tedious and lengthy inner thoughts – thus affording us banality in stereo! This may sound like an element of ‘camp heaven’ but, trust me, it ain’t!)

    Small wonder that ‘THATM’ inspired ‘Airplane’ (among the funniest movies ever made). It’s certainly endlessly “spoofable” but, on its own, it’s sheer torture…loooong before anything goes wrong with the plane!

    I have actually had a more interesting time watching paint dry.

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