Wednesday, January 23, 2008


This is a war movie without a war; specifically, it plays out a lot like the Errol Flynn movie OBJECTIVE, BURMA except without a battleground background. The earlier film cut back and forth between a group of soldiers lost with few supplies in enemy territory, and a group of Army personnel working at getting the men back. This film cuts back and forth between a group of civilian fliers lost with few supplies in near-Arctic land in Canada, and a group of Army and civilian personnel working at getting the men back. John Wayne is a civilian pilot with the Army Transport Service during WWII; on a flight from Greenland to Goose Bay in Canada, he and his crew run into bad weather and are forced to crash land in uncharted land on the Labrador Peninsula. They survive the landing on a frozen lake, but with sub-zero temperatures, little in the way of food, and a dwindling power supply, they know they can't last long. Army men Walter Abel and Lloyd Nolan spearhead a rescue team made up of other transport pilots who come running to help when they hear that one of their own is in trouble. In the Flynn movie, the trapped men kept moving and were tracked from the air by their rescuers until they got to a place where they could be picked up; here, the men are pretty much stuck at their plane, desperately sending out SOS signals and, as the power supply weakens, using a difficult hand-crank emergency signal device to attract the search team. The best scene is when some search pilots fly directly overhead but, between the glaring white expanses and iced-up windshields, the fliers don't notice the men waving below. There is one death on the ice, and the men, even the stoic Wayne, come close to giving up before the searchers finally get a fix on the men, and Wayne proclaims, "Bless their pointed little heads!" (a variant of a phrase I only knew before as the title of a Jefferson Airplane album). Wayne is OK, but his persona, artificial-sounding slow drawl and all, was solidly in place by the time of this movie, so it feels like he's playing John Wayne rather than the character of Capt. Dooley. Better are Sean McClory, Harry Carey Jr., and Jimmy Lydon as members of Wayne's crew, and James Arness as a rescuer (who gets a cute comic relief scene early in the film). Also with Andy Devine, Regis Toomey, Allyn Joslyn, George Chandler, and Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer. Most of the exteriors were shot at Donner Lake in California, now a ski resort area. [TCM]

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