Directed by Otto Preminger
Starring John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Patricia Neal, Paula Prentiss, Brandon De Wilde, Dana Andrews, Henry Fonda, Slim Pickens, George Kennedy, Bruce Cabot, Barbara Bouchet
Nothing makes me love the Blu-Ray format more than black and white ‘Scope movies. They look just wonderful. So I’m really stoked that Paramount is bringing Otto Preminger’s In Harm’s Way (1965) to Blu-Ray in June.
It’s a bit of a soap opera, but John Wayne’s in it, the model work is really cool, Loyal Griggs’s cinematography is beautiful and Jerry Goldsmith’s score is terrific. Highly recommended.
One gripe: back in ’65, this picture boasted a brilliant poster design from the great Saul Bass (above). Why would Paramount ditch that in favor something totally cheeseball?
Category Archives: John Wayne
Directed by Otto Preminger
Directed by John Sturges
Written by Lawrence Roman
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Jr.
Film Editor: William H. Ziegler
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cast: John Wayne (Det. Lt. Lon “McQ” McHugh), Eddie Albert (Capt. Edward Kosterman), Diana Muldaur (Lois), Colleen Dewhurst (Myra), Clu Gulager (Frank Toms), David Huddleston (“Pinky” Farrell), Jim Watkins (J.C.), Al Lettieri (Manny Santiago), Julie Adams (Elaine), Roger E. Mosley (Rosey)
For weeks, I had a melody stuck in my head. I knew it was from a film score, probably from the 70s, that was all I could figure out. My first thought was that it might be the work of Lalo Schifrin, or maybe part of David Shire’s score for The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974).
Then, watching an episode of The Rifleman, I saw the credit for the show’s producers, Jules V. Levy and Arthur Gardner. They later teamed up with John Wayne’s Batjac to make McQ (1974) and Brannigan (1975). That jogged my memory — the tune was from Elmer Bernstein’s score for McQ. I promptly pulled out the movie, which I hadn’t seen in at least a decade.
John Wayne in a contemporary cop story is a bit jarring. John Wayne in a contemporary anything is a bit jarring. Seeing him drive around in a Trans Am is odd. So is seeing a tiny snub nose revolver in Duke’s huge hands (he has a Colt Python and a S&W Model 10). That weaponry gives way to something more fitting to the great John Wayne — a MAC-10 submachine gun. But you quickly get used to all this — John Wayne is John Wayne.
They say this picture came about because Wayne turned down Dirty Harry (1971). John Sturges was brought in to direct. Sturges and Wayne working together sounds like a dream come true. It’s a shame it was this late in both their careers. Sturges’s handling of the action scenes is as masterful as ever, but it’s a lot talkier than it needs to be. This was Sturges’s next-to-last film.
Wayne is Lon McHugh, a Seattle cop. A good friend on the force is gunned down, and as he looks into it, Duke discovers there are crooked cops stealing confiscated dope and selling it, with the help of a big-time local smuggler (Al Lettieri). McQ becomes a target of the cops, the crooked cops and the bad guys. That’s not the kind of thing John Wayne approves of, and he gets to the bottom of it as the bodies and wrecked cars pile up. It plays exactly like what it is, a 70s rogue cop movie filtered through John Wayne — which means the anti-hero thing is dialed way back.
One of the picture’s highlights is its cast. Wayne’s terrific. Eddie Albert and Clu Gulager are fine as cops. David Huddelson is cool as a P.I. friend of McQ’s. Julie Adams has a single scene as Wayne’s ex-wife. And Roger E. Moseley is fun as one of Wayne’s informants.
Al Lettieri makes a swell bad guy, as always. He’d been in The Godfather (1972) and The Getaway (1972), and he’d follow McQ with Mr. Majestyk (1974). Sadly, he’d have a heart attack and pass away the next year. What a shame, he had a lot of movies left in him.
Acting honors go to Colleen Dewhurst as Myra, a waitress and addict Wayne reaches out to for information. She brings a real sadness to the role, and Wayne offering her some cocaine (taken from a smalltime crook) is heartbreaking. If you hate the rest of the movie, her scenes are worth the whole thing. Of course, she’d appeared with Wayne before, in The Cowboys (1972).
There’s a good car chase, with an interesting twist. Wayne’s in a 1973 Brewster Green Pontiac Firebird Trans Am chasing a green and yellow delivery truck. He takes a number of detours and side streets to catch up to the truck, only to spot an identical truck in his rearview mirror. Duke’s reactions and impatient slow burn behind the wheel help make for a very effective sequence.
The picture’s big finish features another car chase, this time with the crooks chasing Wayne on the beach at speeds of around 75 miles an hour, ending with an incredible car-flip stunt. Hal Needham, the stunt man who’d later turn director (Smokey And The Bandit, etc.), broke his back developing the stunt. To quote Car And Driver, “the cop flick also contains the debut of the McQ Cannon, as it has become known. Created by Hal Needham and still in use today, it allows a car to be barrel rolled without a ramp by basically fitting explosives to its undercarriage. The test run on a dry lake almost killed Needham, so the film’s spectacular beach rollover was performed by Gary McLarty.” It’s quite a scene.
Elmer Bernstein’s score is a perfect blend of 70s’ jazz-funk crime picture music and the kind of score Bernstein had written for previous Wayne movies like The Sons Of Katie Elder (1965). Bernstein has also scored Sturges pictures like The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). The composer’s work for McQ works really well for the film and (in my case at least) gets stuck in your head with ease. A CD of the complete score was released by Film Score Monthly.
During the shooting of the beach sequence, the cast and crew stayed at The Polynesian Motel in Oceans Shores. Wayne stayed on his yacht, The Wild Goose, and sailed around the area on weekends.
McQ is no Rio Bravo (1959), and it’s no Dirty Harry (1971). But it’s got a lot going for it, mainly Wayne himself. He could carry a picture without breaking a sweat. The cast is terrific and the action scenes are exceedingly well done. What more do you need?
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Starring John Wayne, Katharine Ross, Jim Hutton, Vera Miles, Jay C. Flippen, Bruce Cabot
Mill Creek has announced the May Blu-Ray release of The Hellfighters (1968) Based (at least in part) on oil well firefighter Red Adair, it’s a pretty good later John Wayne movie (watch for something on 1974’s McQ in the next day or so).
This has always looked good on laserdisc or DVD, so I imagine the Blu-Ray will look terrific.
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
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.
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?
That’s John Wayne in Republic’s Flying Tigers (1942).
The real reason for this post is to honor Mr. Frank Losonsky, the last survivor of the Flying Tigers, who passed away this week at 99.
The Flying Tigers were 311 U.S. military service members recruited to help the Chinese Air Force fend off the Japanese in mid-1941. Mr. Losonsky was a crew chief and sergeant with the 3rd Squadron. Thanks to the John Wayne movie, a number of books on the subject and those cool-looking planes, I’ve been in awe of these men since I was a little kid.
From an interview posted on BobDylan.com —
Bill Flanagan: You met John Wayne in 1966. How did you two hit it off?
Bob Dylan: Pretty good, actually. The Duke, I met him on a battleship in Hawaii where he was filming a movie, he and Burgess Meredith. One of my former girlfriends was in the movie, too, and she told me to come over there. She introduced me to him and he asked me to play some folk songs. I played him “Buffalo Skinners,” “Raggle Taggle Gypsy,” and I think “I’m a Rambler, I’m a Gambler.” He told me if I wanted to, I could stick around and be in the movie. He was friendly to me.
Love that poster art by Saul Bass!
(February 26, 1943 – November 21, 2018)
Just saw that Michele Carey has passed away. She didn’t make many movies, but when you’ve worked with John Wayne, Howard Hawks and Robert Mitchum (El Dorado, 1967) and Elvis (Live A Little, Love A Little, 1968), not to mention Frank Sinatra (Dirty Dingus Magee, 1970) — what else do you need? Oh, and then there’s How To Stuff A Wild Bikini (1965).
She’s terrific in El Dorado — everyone is. She holds her own up against some real heavyweights, in a movie that relied on Hawks’ typical rambling, improvisational tone. That’s no small task.
Vera June Miles
(Born August 23, 1929)
Vera Miles was lucky enough to survive Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), but she had to be the one to discover Mrs. Bates.
Vera shot scenes as John Wayne’s wife in The Green Berets (1968), but they were cut by Warner Bros. I’ve never even seen a still from one of her scenes. Wayne made it up to her by casting her as his better half in The Hellfighters (1968).
Two mid-50s John Wayne pictures are making their way to Blu-Ray from Warner Archive. Both were shot in early CinemaScope by William H. Clothier, so an upgrade to high-definition is certainly worthwhile.
The Sea Chase
Directed by John Farrow
Starring John Wayne, Lana Turner, David Farrar, Lyle Bettger, Tab Hunter, James Arness, Paul Fix, John Qualen, Alan Hale, Claude Akins
Wayne’s a German freighter captain trying to make it home from Australia in the early days of World War II. Production in Hawaii was cursed with all sorts of problems: Wayne had a terrible ear infection, Lana Turner hated John Farrow, etc. But it’s hard to beat that cast.
Directed by William A. Wellman
Starring John Wayne, Lauren Bacall, Paul Fix, Mike Mazurki, Anita Ekberg
This was to have starred Robert Mitchum, but he and director William Wellman had a falling out. Mitchum was fired and Wayne took his place — it was produced by his Batjac company.
Wayne is an American sailer who’s broken out of a Red Chinese prison by a group of villagers who want him to help them sail away to freedom in Hong Kong. Wellman’s great at this kind of stuff, and Blood Alley is a solid adventure picture with a great cast and terrific Scope photography from William Clothier.
This is the movie Wayne was plugging on I Love Lucy, when Lucy and Ethel stole his footprints from outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.