Island in the Sky (Wellman, 1953)

A real stunner of an aviation picture, much more focused on character development and haunting location shooting than the previous Wellman I just screened. Island in the Sky fits beautifully as a great John Wayne performance and survival story, concerned primarily with the process of analyzing a desperate situation and anticipating human reaction to the dire experience. Wayne’s airplane pilot must keep his men psychologically sound as they await rescue from their snow packed crash site, all the while battling his own panic. Wellman juxtaposes the frozen tundra with the skill and dedication of the searching pilots who scramble to search for Wayne’s character without a shred of doubt or hesitation. It’s a great implication of friendship and respect, which ends up producing a deep look at an unwritten code amongst those of the same profession. The character’s dependence on past experience is shrouded in the expected randomness and brutality of nature, the only real villain in the film, and this dynamic adds to the tension of human survival and the creeping realization of death.

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