Buoyed by the extremely hummable (and certainly whistle worthy) theme music of Dmitri Tiomkin and a particularly sympathetic performance by John Wayne (though in role he is far too young to be sensibly cast), William A. Wellman’s film of Ernest K. Gann’s novel “The High and the Mighty” begins with an unconscionably prolonged sequence of deadly (fatal only in the dreadful sense) character exposition inflicted to introduce the world’s most boring passenger list of less-than-stock characters into a what will be a distressed overseas flight in which the crisis of a plane with rapidly degenerating engine stability becomes secondary to horrendously amateurish flashback sequences that conversely have the effect of generating even less interest in the characters’ fates. Fortunately for all involved, there is the aforementioned Wayne, spunky dream flight attendant Doe Avedon and smart aleck Second Officer William Campbell to enliven what would otherwise be a dramatic albatross fluttering painfully slowly over the Pacific waters. Captain John Sullivan (Robert Stack) is a no nonsense, tightly wound airline pilot of the variety who will inevitably crack under the strain of a crisis situation which inevitably emerges in the film. During a commercial passenger flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, members of Sullivan’s crew begin to notice the occasional strange vibration, though even an inspection in a rear section by veteran pilot now First Officer Dan Roman (Wayne) reveals nothing out of the ordinary.
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