The High and the Mighty (1954)

[5.5]

John Wayne leads an ensemble cast in this William Wellman film about the passengers and crew of a trans-Pacific flight who experience engine failure and a loss of fuel. When they realize they won’t reach the California shore, everyone prepares for the worst. The High and the Mighty plays more like a straight drama than the disaster flicks that would come after it in the 1970s. There’s no exploitative action here, and to be honest, I could have used a little. Apart from the initial engine failure, there’s not much peril or tension in the film, and the third act coasts to a conclusion that is as far from a nail-biter. The cast and the potential for catastrophe kept me engaged, even if the film is ultimately a little underwhelming. Phil Harris (Baloo from Disney’s The Jungle Book) has a memorable flashback sequence in which he recounts his and his wife’s disastrous Hawaiian vacation to some other passengers. With Robert Stack, Claire Trevor, and Jan Sterling.

Academy Award: Best Original Score (Dimitri Tiomkin)

Oscar Nominations: Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Song, Best Supporting Actress (Claire Trevor), Best Supporting Actress (Jan Sterling)

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