For, Friday, March 6, 2015

Before “Airport” and its sequels, before “Skyjacked” or the TV movie “Mayday at 40,000 Feet,” and certainly before to the 1980s “Airplane!” spoofs, was the granddaddy of them all, “The High and the Mighty” (1954).

With a memorable musical theme by Dimitri Tiomkin — which became a hit record and is whistled by John Wayne during his entrance — this is the film that laid out the template for the many air-disaster flicks that followed.

Wayne plays a world-weary veteran former captain who is now first officer to a younger captain played by Robert Stack on a flight with 17 passengers from Honolulu to San Francisco.


        John Wayne, Robert Stack, 'The High and the Mighty'

Both pilots are haunted by past tragedies, and when the plane develops engine trouble they are forced to overcome their insecurities to reassure their passengers — among them an unstable man with a gun.

Claire Trevor (who co-starred with Wayne in his starmaking vehicle, “Stagecoach”) and Utah’s own Laraine Day are also aboard, along with Robert Newton and Phil Harris.

“The High and the Mighty” has a screenplay by Ernest K. Gann, who adapted his own novel. Wayne’s production company purchased the property and Wayne was attached as a producer.

He hired veteran hitmaker William A. Wellman (“Wings,” “The Public Enemy,” “The Ox-Bow Incident”) to direct, insisting that he use the new CinemaScope process, and “The High and the Mighty” became his first widescreen film.


Spencer Tracy had been hired to star in the film but he later dropped out and Wellman talked Wayne into taking the role. Wayne was reluctant as this was a very different part than the public was used to seeing him play, but the film went on to become a big moneymaker for him.

And now’s your chance to see it on the big screen — which always benefits a film like this — when it plays on Tuesday, March 10, at 10 a.m. in the SCERA Center theater in Orem.