Category Archives: Howard Hughes

Blu-Ray Review: Flying Leathernecks (1951).

Directed by Nicholas Ray
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Screenplay by James Edward Grant
From a story by Kenneth Gamet
Director Of Photography: William E. Snyder
Film Editor: Sherman Todd
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: John Wayne (Maj. Daniel Xavier Kirby), Robert Ryan (Capt. Carl ‘Griff’ Griffin), Don Taylor (Lt. Vern ‘Cowboy’ Blithe), Janis Carter (Joan Kirby), Jay C. Flippen (MSgt. Clancy), William Harrigan (Dr. Lt.Cdr. Joe Curran), James Bell (Colonel), John Mitchum, Hugh Sanders, Gail Davis

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Howard Hughes wanted an airplane picture in Technicolor, and he cast John Wayne in it. Nicholas Ray thought a patriotic picture might keep the HUAC off his back, even though he hated war movies (and the politics of this one), and he cast the likeminded Robert Ryan.

When you take all that into consideration, it’s amazing that Flying Leathernecks (1951) works as well as it does. (In the divided, contentious  political environment of today, it’s doubtful something like this would get past the contract phase, much less result in a completed movie.) Flying Leathernecks has a lot of the things we count on (an ensemble cast, incredible battle sequences) and dread (back-home flashbacks of soldiers) about Hollywood war pictures of this period.

But it was put together by some of the absolute best Hollywood had around at the time — Wayne, Ryan, Ray — who somehow managed to keep the meddling Howard Hughes from screwing the whole thing up. And the end result is a well-acted, technically stunning story of Marine Corps pilots in the Pacific during World War II.

Robert Ryan is the Captain who wants to bond with his men. Wayne’s the Major whose strict methods are intended to bring as many planes back to base, and to get as many solders back home, as possible. The two officers battle each other as much as the Japanese.

Maj. Daniel Xavier Kirby (John Wayne): “You just can’t bring yourself to point your finger at the guy and say ‘go get killed!'”

These kinds of conflicts have fueled war pictures since the silent days. And they provide a bit of interest in watching them — how will this one approach the conventions, and how well will it all work? What will carry this one — the writing, direction, acting, stunts, effects or something else? With Flying Leathernecks, the answer might be all of the above.

Nick Ray was a great actors’ director — many performers were never as good as they were in his films. This was Wayne’s only Ray picture; Ryan and Ray would follow this with On Dangerous Ground (1952). At the same time, Ray had an eye for composition that remains unmatched. (He’d really hit his stride when ‘Scope came along.) Flying Leathernecks was the director’s first color movie, and it looks terrific. Director Of Photography William E. Snyder does a particularly good job of matching his footage to color combat footage. The aerial sequences are really something, especially with the added allure of Technicolor. I’m sure those scenes, and that gorgeous color, made Mr. Hughes very happy indeed.

Snyder’s color camerawork is the main reason for making the leap from Flying Leathernecks on the old Warners DVD to the new, stunning Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. The film’s been given a through cleaning, from dialing in the sharpness and color to dazzling effect to tidying up the 16mm Kodachrome battle footage. You don’t expect a war movie, dominated by greens and browns, to be so vibrant. This is the kind of restoration I’d like to see every Technicolor movie receive. It’s amazing.

Flying Leathernecks is not going to make the list of Nicholas Ray’s best films. It’s job was to please Howard Hughes and make sure Ray could still work in Hollywood, and it seems to have succeeded. It also succeeds as a war movie, a good one — with John Wayne and Robert Ryan doing the good work we expect from them. All that, given a stunning Blu-Ray release, is really easy to recommend. 

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Howard Hughes, John Wayne, Nicholas Ray, RKO, Robert Ryan, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray News #306: Flying Leathernecks (1951).

Directed by Nicholas Ray
Starring John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Don Taylor, Janis Carter, Jay C. Flippen

Another Howard Hughes airplane movie, and it’s a good one. Shot in Technicolor by William E. Snyder and making good use of actual color war footage, Flying Leathernecks (1951) is impressive stuff. It’s great to see John Wayne and Robert Ryan go at it, and you can never really go wrong with Nicholas Ray. (Ryan and Ray would follow this with the terrific On Dangerous Ground.)

Flying Leathernecks has been restored, and Warner Archive is bringing it to Blu-Ray on September 15th. Highly, highly recommended — and with Wayne, Ryan and Ray, why wouldn’t it be?

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray News, Howard Hughes, John Wayne, Nicholas Ray, RKO, Robert Ryan, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: Underwater! (1955).

Directed by John Sturges
Written by Walter Newman
From a story by Robert B. Bailey & Hugh King
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Film Editor: Stuart Gilmore
Music by Roy Webb

Cast: Jane Russell (Theresa Gray), Richard Egan (Johnny Gray), Gilbert Roland (Dominic Quesada), Lori Nelson (Gloria), Robert Keith (Father Cannon), Joseph Calleia (Rico Herrera), Eugene Iglesias (Miguel Vega), Ric Roman (Jesus), Jayne Mansfield

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Howard Hughes was notorious for screwing around with the movies at his RKO. This time, Howard gets his mitts on John Sturges’ Underwater! (1955), a film put together as a star vehicle for Jane Russell (and titled The Big Rainbow). The trouble is, going in, Sturges had been lead to believe it was going to be a B action movie. After months and months of pre-production, shooting, the usual Hughes tampering and a boatload of reshoots, the finished picture had its world premiere underwater at Silver Springs, Florida — with the cast, various studio people, the press and assorted celebrities and dignitaries watching the picture 20 feet down wearing aqualungs. Really.

The plot’s a pretty flimsy one (though there were more than 20 drafts of the screenplay). Richard Egan and Gilbert Roland discover a 17th-century treasure ship, perched precariously on the edge of an underwater cliff. As they try to remove the booty before the ship drops into the abyss, they tackle sharks, Joseph Calleia and the bends. Jane Russell is Egan’s wife and Roland’s sister,  and she seems to possess an inordinate amount of swimwear.

Before it was all over, some location work was done in Hawaii and Mexico (most of it with doubles and little of it actually used), a giant tank was built on the RKO lot, and a couple million was spent before the thing was finished. Lori Nelson was borrowed from Universal-International and wasted in a nothing part — some say she had the lead and was replaced with Russell, so a role was added to fit her in (after all, they were paying U-I for her services).

It’s a real mystery why Hughes didn’t get involved in the engineering of Jane’s bathing suits, as he did with her brasserie for The Outlaw (1941). It was supposed to be shot in 3-D, but it was abandoned in favor of Technicolor and RKO’s SuperScope widescreen process. John Sturges never met Hughes; they just spoke on the phone in story conferences. The trouble-plagued location stuff was done before the cast had been nailed down, so everything had to be shot from a distance. The water in the RKO tank would get murky every so often and have to be drained. By the time Hughes and his micromanaging got to the reshoots, Sturges had reported to MGM for Bad Day At Black Rock (1955), no doubt sparing him a great deal of heartache. Ah, the joys of Hughes-era RKO.

The critics hated it, but it was a hit anyway. It turned out to be Russell’s last picture for Hughes.

While it’s easy to dismiss Underwater! as a pleasant enough film, it has plenty going for it. The Mexican and Hawaiian scenery is beautiful — and beautifully shot by Harry J. Wild. The boats we see in the harbor, and the yacht our heroes take on their adventure, are incredible. The film’s greatest assets turn out to be Jane Russell (no pun intended) and Gilbert Roland. Jane’s accent is terrible, but she looks terrific and has the likable quality that seems to carry her through some pretty shaky movies. By this point in his career, Roland was in his 50s and proving to be a real force of nature. Other films from this period, such as Anthony Mann’s Thunder Bay (1953) and George Sherman’s The Treasure Of Pancho Villa (1955), also benefit from his presence. In Underwater!, he steals about every scene he’s in, even when he’s up against Russell in a bathing suit.

Jane Russell and her double Pat Deane Smith.

Like a lot of movies with diving sequences, things slow down below the surface. Even the great Thunderball (1965) suffers from this. But with Underwater!, it isn’t much of a deficit, and the 99 minutes cruise along just fine.

Warner Archive has done everyone concerned proud with their Blu-Ray of Underwater!, presenting it in its original SuperScope 2.0 and making sure the Technicolor pops like it’s supposed to. It’s stunning how sharp it is at times, highlighting just how much craftsmanship went into a picture Russell called a turkey — and RKO pronounced one of its biggest hits. Recommended, not so much for the film, but for Jane Russell, Gilbert Roland and Warner Archive’s terrific presentation.

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Filed under 1955, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Howard Hughes, Jane Russell, John Sturges, RKO, Warner Archive