The High And The Mighty

The High And The Mighty (1954)
Studio Home Entertainment (Sterling)
Cast: John Wayne, Robert Stack, Karen Sharpe, Laraine Day
Extras: Commentary Track, Introduction, Featurettes, Trailer, TV Spots, Photo Gallery

John Wayne’s critically acclaimed action drama ’The High And The Mighty’ is finally on DVD, courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment, and as a Special Edition no less. The film, nominated for six Academy Awards and winner of one, tells the story of a veteran pilot facing his inner demons when a routine passenger flight from Honolulu to San Francisco turns into a terror trip, threatening to kill everyone on board.

As much as I love classic movies and as much as wanted to enjoy ’The High And The Mighty,’ sadly I couldn’t. The film is so dated that it is extremely distracting to view it. Passengers checking into their flight with the words, ’Hello, my name is XYZ, I am 47 years old and was born in Boise, Idaho’ are more laugh inducing than they should, unfortunately taking the drama out of the film entirely.

Also the acting, the delivery of dialogue and what is being said, is so unnatural in many instances that it made it very hard for me – and I assume many of today’s audiences – to enjoy the film and its premise the way it was meant to be.

Paramount Home Entertainment has created a remarkable presentation of the movie for this release. The transfer is crisp and clean without distracting artifacts or grain. Color reproduction is good, nicely restoring the somewhat faded, under-saturated look of its period. Black levels are deep and solid, creating deep shadows that don’t break up or lose definition. No edge-enhancement is evident and no compression artifacts mar the presentation.

The audio has also been remixed for the release and comes as a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track as well as a Dolby surround track. Interestingly enough, traditional audio purist Paramount has not included the original mono track on the DVD for some reason. The audio is balanced but not overlay aggressive, but always trying to make the best of the mono elements to create a spatial experience with a good frequency response.

A commentary track by Leonard Maltin is included on the DVD, as well as the director’s son William Wellman Jr, actress Karen Sharpe, Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales and others. It’s a decent enough commentary track, though I am not a big fan of Maltin’s scholarly bombast talk without any real emotion. The same goes for the introduction he provides for the movie and that is included on the DVD, which is about as dry and stiff as James Bond’s Martini.

The second disc of the set contains a large number of great extras, mostly comprised of featurettes covering many aspects of the movie and its history. You will find features on John Wayne’s Batjac Production Company, which produced this film among others, information about director William Wellman, a featurette about composer Dimitri Tiomkin and the Oscar-winning score he wrote for the film. Info about ’Flying In The Fifties,’ ’Restoring A Classic,’ ’Stories From The Set’ and many more featurettes and high quality supplements are included on the release, making it a treasure trove for fans of this film in particular.

’The High And The Mighty’ is a top notch DVD release. Filled with valuable information and an remarkable breadth of extras and a wonderful feature presentation. While I found the film itself does not live up to today’s standards any more, fans of the movie will undoubtedly eat this release up… and they should! If my favorite classic movie would get this kind of treatment I’d be ecstatic.