Grand Hotel (1932) was the model: a large cast of known faces with soap opera problems. The High and the Mighty takes this set-up and puts the characters in a plane flying from Hawaii to San Francisco, then blows out an engine and has the fuel leak away. John Wayne is the Co-Pilot With The Tragic Past, Robert Stack is the Pilot Losing His Nerve, and they are surrounded by a collection of other very recognizable types: the Cute Kid, the Charming Dying Man, the Loud Couple From N…w Jersey, the Selfish Coward, the Guilt-Ridden Atomic Scientist, and so on. The crisis brings out the best and worst of everybody.
Leonard Maltin’s effusive introduction and commentary notwithstanding, this is not an apex of the cinematic art. The characters are introduced in the most shameless exposition scene ever (a ticket agent fills in the flight attendant on the who-what-where of each passenger), and once the various problems are set forth, very few of the characters develop at all (and those that do only in the most rudimentary fashion). In other words, all the flaws that would be picked up by Airport, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and so on. BUT. Those films are undeniably entertaining, and so is this one, often because of, and not despite, its clunkiness.
The sound comes in both 5.1 and 2.0. There isn’t much by way of surround FX, but there are a couple of standout moments: when the plane takes off, and when it comes down, the roar moves from front to back (and vice versa). There is no surround dialogue, which is nice, and the music has a big, rich sound, and is nicely separated from the dialogue.
The 2.35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio is preserved, and the film is nicely restored. The colours are brilliant, and fluctuate only a couple of times. There is virtually no speckling or other print damage visible, and the grain and edge enhancement are minimal. The image is sharp, too. There’s a tiny bit of flickering during the opening credits, but this doesn’t recur.
Quite the special features. Disc 1 has the aforementioned intro by Maltin, and on the commentary he is joined by William Wellman Jr. (son of the director) and cast members Karen Sharpe, Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales and Vincent Longo. Maltin’s enthusiasm can be a bit much at times, but he does excel at setting the film’s historical context for general audiences. Disc 2 has an eight-part making-of documentary (viewable as a one feature or as a bunch of separate ones), which covers John Wayne’s Batjac production company, the making of the film itself, profiles of the director, the screenwriter and the composer, the restoration, and the film’s place in cinema history. Other features are the self-explanatory “Flying in the Fifties,” newsreel footage of the premiere, a still gallery, the theatrical trailer and TV spot, and ads for the DVD releases of other Batjac films. The menu’s main screen is animated and scored.
It’s cheesy, but it’s fun (and sometimes deliberately funny), and you’ll barely notice that two-and-a-half hours have slipped by.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Introduction by Leonard Maltin
- 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 Spot
- Premiere Footage
- Photo Gallery