John Wayne plays Dooley, a transport pilot. He and his crew become lost over the frozen wastes of Labrador, and are forced to land in the middle of nowhere. A concerted search is launched for the missing men, and the film becomes a race against time as the rescuers search for a needle in a haystack, and the downed crew must survive with no food against unforgiving weather.
As downed airplane movies go, this is no The Flight of the Phoenix (1965). The premise is very simple (…here really isn’t much more to the film than what I’ve outlined), but the setup still takes a while. The characters are uniformly staunch men-among-men, and there is very little development. Still, there is a credible degree of suspense built up, and the camera pulls back in an incredibly poignant way at one point (you’ll know the moment when you see it).
The mono is more than acceptable. It is warm and rich and there is very little distortion (though there is a tiny bit of the latter). There is no background hiss at all. A very solid example of its kind.
The fullscreen picture is generally very good. There are a few shots where the grain becomes heavy, but these stand out all the more because the rest of the movie is almost completely free of grain. The image is sharp, and the black-and-white tones are superb (again, with the exception of a few, isolated scenes).
Leonard Maltin introduces the film (in much the same way he does the Warner Nights at the Movies), and is joined by William Wellman Jr. (the director’s son), Darryl Hickman, James Lydon and Vincent Longo on the commentary, and if it’s hard to keep the voices straight, the educational nature of the talk is above reproach. Four featurettes (“Dooley’s Down,” “Ernest K. Gann – Adventurer, Author & Artist,” “Flight School” and “The John Wayne Stock Company: Harry Carey, Jr.”) can be played together as one 42-minute documentary. The Gann material also shows up on The High and the Mighty. “Flying for Uncle Sam” is another featurette that examines the nature of transport flight at the time of the movie. There’s also Wayne’s promo for Gunsmoke, newsreel footage of the premiere, the theatrical trailer, a photo gallery, and an ad for the Batjac DVDs. The menu’s main screen is animated and scored.
A very old-fashioned adventure movie, one that has aged more than others from the same period, but is still very watchable for all that.
Special Features List
- Audio Commentary
- Leonard Maltin Introduction
- Four-Part Making-of Documentary
- “Flying for Uncle Sam” Featurette
- Premiere Footage
- Promo for Gunsmoke
- Photo Gallery
- Batjac Montage
- Theatrical Trailer