Thursday, July 27, 2017

WILLIAM A. "WILD BILL" WELLMAN: "3" with JOHN WAYNE: "Island in the Sky", "The High and the Mighty" and "Blood Alley"

William A. Wellman directed John Wayne in three major hits in a row. Two by best selling author Ernest K. Gann. This is there story.

 I would really be shocked if any of my readers didn't know the name John Wayne. If you don't, or want to know him better. There are five links at the end of the article that give my reader a good feel for the actor.

However, most of my same readers do not know who William Augustus "Wild Bill" Wellman was and so let me introduce you to him. For those who might want a more detailed and loving look at the man after reading this article. I recommend his son William Wellman, Jr's biography Wild Bill Wellman: Hollywood Rebel.

William Wellman was born on February 29, 1896. Having a birthday only every four years would keep a person a lot younger than he looks. For those of my readers into American History. On the day Bill Wellman was born. He became the Great-Great-Great Grandson of Francis Lewis of the state of New York. You'll find Grandfather Lewis' signature on a little thing called "The Declaration of Independence".

Moving forward to the First World War, before America finally entered it on April 6, 1917. Found 19 year old William Augustus Wellman, in 1915, joining the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps with other American's wanting to help defeat Germany. He didn't stay an Ambulance Driver long and later in 1915.  become one of the first American's to join the French Foreign Legion as a combat pilot. He was part of the Lafayette Flying Corps. A general name for American pilots serving in the French Air Force and not the sub group "The Lafayette Escadrille".

Above Corporal William A. Wellman circa 1917 by the plane "Celia" named for his mother. The following picture is from the book he was asked to write. The book's purpose was to get young American's to join the U.S. Army Air Corps.

Wellman after having shot down seven German aircraft was himself shot down in 1918 by German anti-aircraft guns and wounded. The action left him with a permanent limp and the French medically discharged the 22 year old. He returned to the United States to speak at War Bond Rally's in his French Uniform and in September 1918 the book was released.


The book "Wild Bill", the nickname he was given by his fellow pilots in France, wrote has a great title to attract young men:

"Go Get 'em!--The True Adventures Of An American Aviator Of The Lafayette Flying Corps--Who Was The Only Yankee Flyer Fighting---Boys Of The Rainbow Division In Lorraine"

I have read this work and it is available for free on line at:

I now move forward to "Hollywood, U.S.A."

William Wellman became friends with Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. He would use Fairbanks' polo field as a landing strip, when a game wasn't being played, for a WW1 airplane he owned and flew for fun. In 1919, through the help of the Silent Film Star, Wellman was cast as an extra in a feature film, but was fired for slapping the wife of director Raul Walsh. However, after that incident he started learning the craft of director on 11 forgotten motion pictures, Then came 1927 and "Wings".

Paramount wanted to make a motion picture based around the exploits of American World War One pilots. William A. Wellman got the director's job for one reason only. He had actually flown and fought in war and understood what the air battles should look like. After the movie was to start production Paramount made a surprise move, The screenplay was completely rewritten for actress Clara Bow the studio's most major star.

That change still did not stop the filming of realistic air battles by Wellman with fellow WW1 veteran flyers. The director also recreated the feel of battles between German and American ground troops. The film became the First Winner of the Best Picture Academy Award. "Wild Bill" was not nominated by the Academy for director.

I am not going to list of all the films William Wellman continued to direct until we reach the first of the three John Wayne starring vehicles I want to discuss, but want to highlight some of the pictures during that 27 year period.

In 1931 was the Pre-Production Code motion picture that made James Cagney a star "Public Enemy" co-starring Jean Harlow. This was a gangster picture that pushed the limits of censorship at the time. In 1934 Wallace Beery, Fay Wray and Leo Carrillo were seen in the first Hollywood film about Pancho Villa entitled "Viva Villa!", 1937 saw William Wellman at the helm of the original "A Star Is Born" starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.

Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston were brothers in Wellman's classic version of "Beau Geste" in 1939. Brian Donlevy was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar as the sadistic French Foreign Legion Sergeant. Ginger Rodgers was directed as "Roxie Hart" in 1942  This film which became the Broadway musical "Chicago" was followed in 1943 by a murder mystery written by Stripper Gypsy Rose Lee "Lady of Burlesque" starring Barbara Stanwyck. That same year would see the classic Western "The Ox-Bow Incident" starring Henry Fonda and Dana Andrews. The following year was a popular fictional biography "Buffalo Bill" starring Joel McCrea, Maureen O'Hara and Linda Darnell.

Returning to the realism of war and based upon the work of reporter/writer Ernie Pyle was 1945's "The Story of G.I. Joe". The picture made Robert Mitchum a star and co-starred Burgess Meredith as Pyle. Not to mislead my reader that William A. Wellman only directed dramas. "Magic Town" in 1947 was a comedy starring |James Stewart and Jane Wyman. The following year was another of those hard hitting Westerns "Yellow Sky" shot in a real Ghost Town. The film was about a group of bank robbers and starred Gregory Peck, Ann Baxter and Richard Widmark as his evil best. A different style of Western was 1951's "Across the Wide Missouri" starring Clark Gable and Ricardo Montalban. A story of Mountain men trapping fur, but up against a vengeful Blackfoot Chief. 1952's "My Man  and I" was one of the first motion pictures to look at discrimination for Hispanic American's and starred Montalban and Shelly Winters.

In 1958 Wellman would make his last motion picture "Lafayette Escadrille". A movie that studio head Jack L. Warner changed from William Wellman's tribute to the men he flew with during WW1 and one in particular. Instead of the directors choice for the lead Paul Neuman. Jack L. Warner chose teen heart throb Tab Hunter while getting the budget to less than an average "B" motion picture. William A. Wellman requested his name be removed as producer, because this wasn't his film.


His name was Ernest Kellogg Gann and before World War 2 flew Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 aircraft as a cargo transport pilot. During the war he flew the military version of the new DC-4 as part of the Air Transport Command. After the war Gann returned to the life of a Civilian pilot and became a major author of aviation based novels.

Ernest K . Gann had first become an author in 1940 with the non-fiction work "Sky Roads". Two more non-fiction books were published in 1941 and 1943. These were followed by his first novel, 1944's "Island in the Sky", the source of the screenplay the author wrote for the 1953 motion picture.

"Island in the Sky" is based upon a real incident that happened on February 3, 1943 to a plane in the Air Transport Command that went down in Canada. The downed aircraft was a DC-47, the military version of the DC-3, and the author had been a back up pilot on the rescue mission.

Initially Robert Stillman Productions purchased the rights to Ernest K. Gann's novel in 1950 with a plan to use actor Richard Widmark in the lead. For some reason this fell through and in 1952 the production team of John Wayne and Robert Fellows acquired the rights from Stillman. The finished picture had its premier on September 3, 1953 in Los Angeles.

The insert of non-screen credited actress Phyliss Winger on the above poster was to attract women to the film. Winger, like the two other non-screen credited actress, Ann Doran and Dawn Bender, are seen only in extremely short flashbacks. In this picture the three actresses were used for the woman Wayne's "Dooley" thinks about, the wife of one of his crew and the wife of one of the rescue pilots seen with their children. Film critics noted that this lack of a romantic plot thread made the story more real by not  having an unneeded distraction.

The tag line on the poster goes against what Wellman filmed and the critics would praise. It is very misleading and again designed to attract a female audience. By hinting at a love story between John Wayne and Phyliss Winger.

The actual plot for "Island in the Sky" was the opposite of what the Warner Brother's publicity department was attempting to sell to the public. They apparently thought 1950's movie audiences were into romantic films only, if they had only known. William Wellman's work resulted in "Island in the Sky" being considered one of the classic aviation movies of all time and one of the finest depictions of survival ever put on film .

Looking back, today, at the year 1943 when the original event occurred. It may be hard for my reader to visualize that the plane was forced down by weather conditions in Canada near the Quebec-Labrador border. Thus becoming a major problem to locate, as the area was still uncharted, and for the crew to survive.

As in 1943 the novel and screenplay by Ernest K, Gann has the crew of the "Corsar" flying "The Northern Route" to England with much needed supplies. This avoided most German aircraft, When the weather conditions worsen forcing a landing on a frozen lake and making the plan inoperable even when the weather clears.

The above two photos and the two below give my reader, unfamiliar with the picture, the isolation of the landscape the plane was forced down in. The temperatures at the time dropping at night to 70 below zero and taking the strength out of the crewmen. As their food supply starts running low.

The motion picture was filmed in California in the Sierra Nevada's substituting for Quebec. The Doner Laker area was used for filming near Truckee, Yes, this is the lake associated with the Doner Party that reverted to cannibalism to survive the winter. The National Forest Service cut down trees to open up the area for incoming and out going aircraft required to get the cast, crew, equipment and supplies in. For comparison with the four stills above of the sparse look of the area. The following photograph was taken from Doner Pass overlooking how the lake area normally looked before production of "Island in the Sky" began and would eventually return too.

Donner Lake as seen from Donner Pass.

There are some interesting names is this 41 role ensemble cast besides John Wayne. I am not going to mention all of them, but give some interesting information on 15.

In following scene shows James Arness as rescue pilot "MacMullen" and his radio operator "Swanson" portrayed by Daryl Hickman.

Above Daryl Hickman as the radio operator and James Arness as the pilot.

James Arness will always be associated with two roles. 1951's "The Thing from Another World" were he was the title character, and "Marshall Matt Dillon" on television's "Gunsmoke" a role John Wayne got for his friend. Arness appeared with Wayne in 1953's 3-D western "Hondo" and 1952's "Big Jim McLain". In which he portrayed John Wayne's partner as investigators for The House Committee on Un-American Activities. The picture reflected both actor's politics. A subject I mention in one of my links at the end of this article.

In 1954 James Arness co-starred in the classic science fiction motion picture "THEM!".

Actress Ann Doran, one of the three actresses in "Island in the Sky", portrayed the child psychologist in the same picture. She is seen behind the little girl in the chair below.

Daryl Hickman started as a child actor in 1937 and appeared in many motion pictures through the 1940's. In many classic film's he portrayed the younger version of the film's main actor. Example of Hickman's work included playing Fred MacMurray's "Captain Eddie Rickenbacker" as a boy in the Hollywood Biography of the aviator and in the same capacity "Ira Gershwin" in the Hollywood Biography of "George Gershwin", In 1959 Daryl guest starred on his brother Dwayne's television series "The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis" as of course "Dobie's Brother Davey". He also appeared in William Castle's "The Tingler" and was a voice actor on the original "Johnny Quest" cartoon series.

Playing Ann Doran's husband pilot "Willie Moon" was Andy Devine.

Above directly behind Andy Devine are Lloyd Nolan and Walter Abel.

Devine with his distinctive voice had been acting in character and support roles since 1926. In 1937 he had a major role in William Wellman's "A Star Is Born", In 1939 Andy Devine portrayed "Buck" in John Ford's classic western "Stagecoach", The film that made John Wayne a "Star". Two years after "Island in the Sky" Devine was hosting his own children's television program "Andy's Gang" and appearing as Guy Madison's sidekick "Jiggles" on television's popular "The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok".

Actor Lloyd Nolan was "Captain Shultz" one of the rescue pilots. Nolan  in his career portrayed no nonsense characters such as "Michael Shayne Private Detective" in seven motion pictures and private detective "Martin Kane" in a 1951 television series of that name. In 1964 Lloyd Nolan would co-star in Samuel Bronson's "Circus World" starring Wayne.

Walter Abel was "Colonel Fuller" in charge of the rescue mission. Abel was a solid actor in a career starting in 1918. In 1935 he was "d'Artagnan" in "The Three Musketeers", the District Attorney in Fritz Lang's classic "Fury" starring Spencer Tracy, had a role in Lloyd Nolan's first"Michael Shayne" movie, appeared with James Cagney in another classic about the OSS tracking down Nazi spies "13 Rue Madeleine". After "Island in the Sky" Abel appeared in both the Kirk Douglas western "The Indian Fighter" and the Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift civil war epic "Raintree County" among many television appearances.

Starting out with walk-on's in two of the "Dick Tracy" movies and appearing in the major motion pictures "David and Bathsheba" and "The Desert Fox" was actor Sean McClory. McClory portrayed "Dooley's co-pilot Frank Lovat". McClory using the last name of McGlory previously appeared with Wayne in John Ford's 1952 feature "The Quiet Man". Sean McClory would join James Arness and Ann Doran in 1954's "THEM!" as "Major Kibbee".

It's hard to recognize Harry Carey, Jr. as "Moon's co-pilot Ralph Hunt", left, in the photo that follows, but it is easier to recognize "B" Cowboy actor Bob Steele, standing, as "Wilson" one of Andy Devine's crew.

Harry Carey, Jr., son of Wayne's idol cowboy actor Harry Carey, started in motion pictures in a 1921 western "Desperate Trails" directed by John Ford and starring his father. Of course he was only a baby at the time and has no recollection of his role. In 1948 Carey, Jr. appeared in Howard Hawks' "Red River" starring John Wayne and in John Ford's "3 Godfathers" with Wayne and Pedro Armendariz. 1949 saw him as "Second Lieutenant Ross Pennell" in Ford's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon". In 1950 he co-starred with another Ford company member Ben Johnson in "Wagon Master".

"Island in the Sky" would be his 5th feature with John Wayne and the actor would appear in Ford's classic "The Searchers".Anyone my age should remember Harry Carey, Jr. as "The Triple R" Ranch Head Counselor in the "Spin and Marty" series on the original "Mickey Mouse Club".

Bob Steele has over 242 film credits to his career, if you count the multiple episodes of some television shows such as 1967's "F-Troop". He began his career in 1920 and ended it in 1974. Bob Steel was one of the most popular 1930's "B" Cowboys and this lasted through the 1940's as he competed with such stars as Roy Rodgers, Gene Autry and William Boyd.

Both Bob Steele and John Wayne were part of the very popular Republic Pictures Franchise "The Three Mesquiteers" started in 1936, but at different times. They both took over roles for other actors. Wayne in the role of "Stony Burke", 1938 into 1939, and Steele in the role of "Tuscon Smith". From 1940 until the end of the series in 1943. The two would appear together in "Rio Bravo" and "Rio Lobo".

A long time friend of John Wayne's was actor Paul Fix playing "Wally Miller". Anyone familiar with the television series "The Rifleman" either when it came out, or plays on the Western Channel will recognize Paul Fix as "Marshall Micah Torrance". His acting career started in 1925 and he was known for playing western bad guys, or gangster's as in Howard Hawks' 1932 "Scarface". Fix would become a regular of both the John Ford and Howard Hawks stock companies. However, this friend of Harry Carey, Sr. became friends with John Wayne around 1930. When the name had just been created. What Wayne couldn't really do was act and Fix took the job of teaching the youngster, by six years, how too including what became the famous "John Wayne Walk". Paul Fix would appear in 27 of the actor's movies including "Island in the Sky" and the two I will be looking at next.

With the following four actors I just want to make some brief comments. I'll start with Regis Toomey as "Sergeant Harper".

If the face seems familiar it should be to true film lovers. Among his 270 film roles were King Vidor's 1940 "Northwest Passage" starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Young, Raul Walsh's "They Died with Their Boots On" starring Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland, Alfred Hitchcock's 1945 "Spellbound" starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, Howard Hawks 1946 "The Big Sleep" starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Merian C. Cooper and John Ford's 1949 "Mighty Joe Young"and many guest appearances on popular 1960's to 1980's television shows.

This actor portrayed "Sonny Harper, Schultz's co-pilot". My readers might not recognize the following face now:

He's Carl Switzer, "Alfalfa" of the "Our Gang Comedies". At the time of "Island in the Sky" Switzer was appearing on television shows and with his wife had started training and breeding hunting dogs. His clients included Roy Rodgers, Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda and this became is main income.

Playing a role that is just described as "Fitch's co-pilot" was Fess Parker. The following year Parker also would appear in the science fiction classic "THEM". In his one scene shown below with James Arness and Joan Weldon. Fess Parker in his best Fort Worth, Texas born accent explains why he crashed his plane on a highway. He claimed to have been chased by "Flying Saucers" shaped like "Giant Ants". A small sequence that was critical to his future career and wealth.

In a special screening of the motion picture for science fiction fan Walt Disney by Jack L. Warner. Disney had this sequence re-run several times and then told Warner he had found his "Davy Crockett". The rest is history.

Playing the role of "Gainer" was "Touch" Connors. The nickname "Touch" came from High School Basketball and with that name the actor appeared 32 times in either motion pictures or on television from 1952 until mid-1957. When he became "Michael Connors" and then eventually just "Mike Connors" for the 194 episodes of the  "Mannix" television program starting in 1967. His films as "Touch" included such 1950's science fiction/horror movies as "Swamp Women" and "The Day the World Ended" both for Roger Corman. Along with a Corman western "Five Guns West", the musical "Shake, Rattle & Rock" and he was a Hebrew slave, lost among the giant cast, in Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 'The Ten Commandments".

"Island in the Sky" was given a budget of $967,000 and made a profit of $2.75 million 1953 dollars. Almost 3 times the budget. Critics also noted that the performance William Wellman was able to get from John Wayne was against type as a "Cowboy" and excellent.  John Wayne was always attempting to change his perceived "Cowboy" image and show he really could act. "Island in the Sky" proved that point, but the critics and public would not let him change. One of my links at the end of this article deals with Wayne's attempts at changing that perception.


The High and the Mighty poster.jpg
Directly opposite of how the Warner Brother's publicity department promoted William Wellman and John Wayne's "Island in the Sky" was their promotion of "The High and the Mighty". There is a "little white lie" on the poster, or maybe a fact just stretched a bit. The novel came out during 1953 and the motion picture was released on July 3, 1954. So technically it had not been two full years since the novel was published.

The story of how the main actors and actresses portraying the passengers on the flight were cast as shown on the above poster. Is part of a circle of obstacles that had to be overcome in reaching the first day of filming on the picture.

Initially while preparing for the release of  "Island in the Sky" and talking with Ernest K. Gann. William A. Wellman discovered the author was finishing another aviation novel. Wellman told John Wayne and Robert Fellows about this unpublished work and it's possibilities on the movie screen. John Wayne made a decision, without even reading Gann's work, of purchasing the screen rights to "The High and the Mighty". The cost to Wayne-Fellows Productions was $55,000 cash to the author and once more screenplay writer and 10 percent of the profits. To get Wellman back on board as director took another 30 percent of the Wayne-Fellows profits, but even then not without an expressed concern by the director.

One of the conditions to Wellman for his 30 percent was that the motion picture be filmed in the new process CinemaScope. Other than he was into new movie concepts. Why Wayne wanted the process really didn't make financial sense at the time. The financial concern to distributors in 1953/1954 was that very few theaters in the United States, let alone the world, were equipped to show widescreen. They needed to have a specially constructed large screen at the theater owners expense. This had been part of the same problem in 1930 with the first movie the name John Wayne appeared upon "The Big Trail". My article on that film and the 70 mm Grandeur process is at the end of this article.

William Wellman's told Wayne and Fellows that he had an objection to filming "The High and the Mighty" in CinemaScope. He stated that the new cameras used for the process were very heavy and hard to handle by the crew. Adding that in the first CinemaScope release "The Robe", December 1953, and the few films that followed. The camera equipment caused extra re-shoots on many sequences adding to the production costs,

However, Wellman finally gave in for that 30 % and because of one other thing that Actor/Producer Wayne wasn't considering from a strictly technical point. The largest portion of the motion picture was being filmed in the confined spaces of the passenger cabin and flight deck of a Douglas DC-4. Therefore, the CinemaScope process could easily have been a normal and less costly 35 mm shoot. As the CinemaScope camera almost becomes stationary and acts as if it is the smaller 35 mm standard, at the time, camera.

"The High and the Might" was the first "All Star" disaster motion picture, but ended up using "B" actors and actresses not "A" List.

Casting had been the next problem faced on the production, because major Hollywood players didn't want to be part in the picture. Ernest K. Gann's novel was an ensemble story without one, or two main roles of any substance.

A few of the actresses being offered roles in the Wayne-Fellows production were Barbara Stanwyck, who had appeared in some Wellman directed pictures, Dorothy McGuire, Ginger Rodgers, Ida Lupino and Joan Crawford. All turned down the roles as below them.

The role of "First Officer Dan Roman" was offered to Spencer Tracy, but he turned the part down because he claimed the script was "lousy", It's believed the real reason was some of Ttacy's friends convinced the actor that the role, as with the actresses, was beneath him. Warner Brother's the distributor threatened to pull their funding unless another major actor could be found for the "Roman" role. "Wild Bill" spoke to Wayne about doing the part and finally convinced him to save the picture.

According to Assistant Director Andrew V. McLagen the son of John Wayne's friend British actor Victor McLagen. As referenced in Michael Munn's 2005 biography: "John Wayne: the Man Behind the Myth". Wayne hated his performance in the picture. According to Munn, McLagen said Wayne objected to the role, because the script didn't have a love story for him. The reply to his objection was that the script had the greatest love story ever written. Referring to "Roman's love of aviation and flying". The audiences also disagreed with John Wayne's assessment of his acting.

Dimitri Tiomkin's haunting theme song is used for the Wayne character. Whose nickname is "Whistling Dan Roman" and there are a couple of scenes of Roman whistling the theme song, or maybe not. Later!

The whistling added to the low keyed power of the character derived from a flashback sequence showing the crash of a plane Roman was piloting that killed his wife and son, becoming the reason he was reduced to co-pilot status.

For the major passenger roles the Hollywood "A" List had turned down. As shown on the above poster William A. Wellman cast some of Hollywood's solid "B" actors and actresses of the time. Some of this group had been major actors in the past, or known for strong character roles.

One of those past major actresses, but still popular was Larrine Day as "Lydia Rice". Day had co-starred with Joel McCrea in Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 "Foreign Correspondent" and with Cary Grant in 1943's "Mr. Lucky". She portrayed the character of "Nurse Mary Lamont" in seven of the very popular 1940's "Dr Kildare" movies with Lew Ayers. Day had also co-starred with John Wayne in 1947's "Tycoon" and followed it in 1948 opposite Kirk Douglas in "My Dear Secretary".

Portraying passenger "Ed Joseph" was actor/comedian and jazz musician Phil Harris. In 1967 Harris provided Walt Disney with the voice, included singing, of the bear "Baloo" in the animated "Jungle Book".
Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life
British character actor Robert Newton was cast as "Gustave Pardee" American audiences knew Newton from the 1953 story of a group of Australian soldiers fighting Rommel in North Africa "The Desert Rats" which starred newcomer Richard Burton. In 1950 I knew the actor as "Long John Silver" in Walt Disney's "Treasure Island". You can  read my article on that performance at:

Robert Newton would co-star in Michael Todd's 1956 all star version of Jules Verne's "Around the World in 80 Days" as "Inspector Fix".

Passenger "Ken Childs" was portrayed by actor David Brian. Brian played many District Attorney type roles, but also was known for his villainous roles in Westerns and some gangster movies. The actor also become popular appearing in guest roles on 1950's and 1960's television programs. Some of those TV shows were the original "Star Trek","The Untouchables", "Honey West" and "The Girl From U.N.C.L.E."  Between 1954 and 1955 Brian starred on the forgotten television show "Mr District Attorney".

I left one actor and two actresses out of order from  the above poster for "The High and Might", because their stories are interesting.

John Wayne's name had top billing and was the major draw to the picture, but he was not the main character in the story. IF there is such a character then that is the role of the pilot and not the co-pilot. Initially the part of  "Captain John Sullivan" was offered to an actor who flew his own small plane and was Wayne's friend Robert "Bob" Cummings. Wellman also liked Cummings and considered his knowledge of flying a plus, but another actor, not a pilot, was interviewed for the role.

Robert Stack's career had started in 1934 in the Shirley Temple feature "Bright Eyes" as, interesting enough, the man on the plane. He took a break from acting to serve in World War 2 as a Naval Gunnery Instructor. After the war Stack continued to appear in "B" motion pictures either in supporting, or starring roles. In 1952 he starred in the first commercial 3-D motion picture "Bwana Devil". That was remade in 1996 as "The Ghost and the Darkness".

A newspaper piece about Robert Stack in "The High and the Mighty" is below. This came out sometime after 1977 and described his role and the plot of the movie this way:
---in 1954 he was the troubled pilot of the passenger plane in The High and the Mighty, That film, with its all-star cast, portraying a "bizarre group of people," was actually a forerunner of disaster epics like Airport. After a violent marital argument breaks out between two of the passengers, the plane bolts as an engine catches fire and dangles from the wing. In the resulting, excitement, the pilot (Stack) becomes hysterical and its up to co-pilot "Dan Roman" (John Wayne) to take control of the craft.

Twenty-six years later in the 1980 comedy classic "Airplane". Robert Stack would do a parody of "Captain John Sullivan" as "Captain Rex Kramer".

IF Warner Brothers had any fear that this movie would be a bomb with so many minor actors. When the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences gave the picture six nominations for the 27th Annual Academy Awards it was alleviated. As had been the box office performance. The budget had been a large $1.47 million 1954 dollars. Equal in 2017, as of this writing, to $13,362,463 dollars and the pictures 1954 box office performance was $8.5 million over 6 times its final costs.

Among the 6 nominations "The High and the Mighty" received. Where two for Best Supporting Actress and William Wellman for Best Director. Wellman lost out to Elia Kazan for "On the Water Front".

One of the two Best Supporting Actress nominee's was Jan Sterling. She didn't win the Oscar, but Sterling won the Golden Globe in the same category

Jan Sterling's name may not be familiar to my readers, but this "B" Actress was as close to an "A" List Actress as they came. Prior to portraying passenger "Sally McKee". Sterling had appeared in several interesting films and roles. She portrayed the wife of a man trapped in a cave-in that an unscrupulous reporter, Kirk Douglas, turns into a major story, He convinces the contractor working on the rescue to drill from above the cave-in rather than to shore up the existing passages to get to the man. The movie was director Billy Wilder's classic "Ace in the Hole" aka: "The Carnival".

The actress appeared in a western role somewhat like "Calamity Jane" in 1953's "Pony Express".
She co-starred with Charlton Heston as "Buffalo Bill" and Forest Tucker as "Wild Bill Hickok". Just before "The High and the Mighty" Jan Sterling starred in a great and forgotten"B" picture entitled "Split Second". It was directed by actor/.director Dick Powell and is about two escaped killers who take hostages and plan to hide in a deserted town. The only problem is in the morning that town is to be destroyed by an Atomic Bomb test.

The character of "Sally McKee" talks to one of the passengers seated next to her. Over the flight she mentions when the plane arrives in San Francisco she is to meet her fiancée Roy, played by William Hopper, who doesn't know what she really looks like and this scares her. The other passenger convinces her to show him the truth. Once the plane lands she removes all her make-up and realizes Roy loves her not for her looks, but for who she is.

Below Jan Sterling as we first meet "Sally McKee".

Below Jan Sterling as "Sally McKee" before she departs the plane.

Portraying the passenger, "Donald Flaherty". who convinces "Sally McKee" to show her fiancee the truth about her looks was actor Paul Kelly.

My reader might recognize the face rather than Kelly's name from films such as the James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart "Roaring Twenties", John Wayne's "Flying Tigers", Errol Flynn's "San Antonio", 1951's "The Painted Hills' starring Lassie, Gary Cooper's "Springfield Rifle" and even "Split Second" with Jan Sterling."

The second Best Supporting Actress nominee portraying "May Hoist", described as "a jaded former motion picture actress", was Claire Trevor. As with Jan Sterling she lost the Oscar to Eva Marie Saint for "On the Water Front".

Claire Trevor had played "Dallas" in John Ford's 1939 classic "Stagecoach" opposite John Wayne as the "Ringo Kid". She appeared two other times with Wayne prior to this film. The first the same year as "Stagecoach" in "Allegheny Uprising" and the following year in 1940's "Dark Command" featuring Walter Pidgeon and the lead singer of the original "Sons of the Pioneers" named Leonard Franklyn Slye now calling himself Roy Rodgers.

Also in the cast once more was Paul Fix. This time portraying terminally ill passenger Frank Briscoe.

Along with Regis Toomey as the operations manager at the San Francisco Air Port.

There were of course other actors in the picture, but I have to wonder how Spencer Tracy, Barbara Stanwyck and the other "A" Lists felt having turned down roles in "The High and the Mighty"?

I've mentioned that haunting theme song from the film by Dimitri Tiomkin that had lyrics by Ned Washington. before. Talk about bait and switch.

One of the biggest singles in 1954 was "The High and the Mighty" reaching #4 on the Billboard Charts. It was re-recorded as a single again in 1955 by several other artists with equal success. It was even used partly by Simon and Garfunkel at the fade out of their song "Punky's Dilemma".

The bait and switch by Warner Brothers was that the theme song with the lyrics only appeared in one print of "The High and the Mighty" and not the General Audience release. This was to get the song qualified for an Oscar nomination. Which Warner Brothers used later to promote the movie to potential audiences. I remember waiting to hear it on the DVD I purchased a couple of years back, but of  course it wasn't there. It isn't, as of this posting, even as an extra on the Blu-Ray restoration release.

After all that the theme song lost, anyway, to "Three Coins in the Fountain" from the popular love story, that same year, which was sung over the opening credits by Frank Sinatra.

Back to Wayne's character of "Dan Roman". In the version presented for Academy Award consideration by Warner Brothers. Robert Stack's "Captain Sullivan" asks "Whistling Dan Roman" to:
Whistle me a tune Dan. I like music when I work
The tune whistled in that print was the Tiomkin "The High and Mighty " theme. However, in the General release print the song whistled by "Dan Roman" is a recognized refrain from "I'm a Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech" instead. In 1952 Georgia Tech had won six straight titles under Footbal Coach Bobby Dodd and most adults knew the tune and associated it to success. A hint the plane was going to make it to San Francisco.

The following photo is of  Douglas Fowley who played "Alsop" the ticket agent for the airline in Honolulu. Character actor Fowley had been in pictures since 1933 and was a familiar face to many. Three of his 336 appearances included 1949's "Mighty Joe Young", the same years classic WW2 movie "Battleground" and 1952's "Singing in the Rain". He became a regular on television's "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp" as "Doc Holliday" in 1961. While Doe Avedon only had 12 roles to her credit and only one motion picture besides "The High and the Mighty".


One of nine year old Lloyd's favorite John Wayne pictures was "Blood Alley" released on October 1, 1955. I saw it at the Dome Theater, at the Ocean Park, CA Pier.
Hey Baby?
The motion picture was based upon one of the adult themed novels, of the same title, by mainly Children's author, Albert Sidney Fleischman, William Wellman and John Wayne hired the author to write the screenplay. Fleischman would work on other Wellman films and write the screenplay for Sam Peckinpah's first feature film as director "The Deadly Companions" based on another "Sid" Fleischman novel "Yellowleg".

"Blood Alley" is strongly anti-Chinese Communist reflecting the attitudes of Americans two years after the Korean War had ended. A Merchant China skipper "Tom Wilder", John Wayne, and his crew were captured by the mainland Chinese Communists and he's been in prison for two years at the opening of the picture. To keep himself from going crazy "Captain Wilder's" has created an invisible girl "Baby" that he talks too. This has convinced his guards that he is crazy.

A small village pays the guards to look the other way and executes a rescue of Wayne's "Captain Tom Wilder" from the prison. Their plan is for "Wilder" to take the entire village, men, women, children, all the live stock, their dead ancestors. a large Communist family, they fear would be killed if left in the village after their escape, down a large river through the area known as "Blood Alley" to freedom in British held Hong Kong. The problem for "Captain Wilder" is they want to use a flat bottom ferry boat.

An added problem is an American doctor's daughter "Cathy Grainger", Lauren Bacall, whose father has been taken to operate on a Chinese General. The doctor is known to be an alcoholic and this worries the village elders. There fears will come true as the General dies while be operated upon and the father is stoned to death.

The motion picture is also a reflection of John Wayne's politics, but author Fleischman and director "Wild Bill" Wellman don't let that get in the way of this terrific action yarn. Which is still very exciting.

"Blood Alley" like most Hollywood pictures of the time never used oriental actors in leading roles. Wellman and Wayne made some interesting choices for four of the main Chinese roles.. Back as the Village Elder "Mr. Tso". Who is behind the entire plot to take his village to safety was Paul Fix. Center in the following photograph. It is rumored, but never supported that Fix also rewrote most of the sceenplay prior to the start of filming.

Portraying "Old Fang" the Communist Family patriarch was actor Barry Kroeger (Kroger). He was was known for playing really bad, described "Slimy", characters in 1940's movie and had started out on radio as the detective, based upon "The Saint", known as "The Falcon".

Barry Kroeger as he looked without make-up

Berry Kroeger

In "Blood Alley".

Professional wrestler turned actor Mike Mazurki portrayed "Big Han". Who becomes "Captain Wilder's First Mate".

Mazurki appeared in many classic films such as 1944's "Murder My Sweet", 1945's "Dick Tracy" as "Split Face" and Cecil B. DeMille's "Unconquered" in 1947 and DeMille's 1949 "Samson and Delilah" among his 100 motion pictures.

Portraying "Big Han's" wife "Wei Ling" was Swedish actress Anita Ekberg. The one time "Miss Sweden" would be remembered more for Italian director Federico Fellini's 1960 "La Dolce Vita", Then any other performance.

Below Ekberg in "Blood Alley".

Two of the Chinese leading roles in this picture were actually portrayed by oriental actors Actress Joy Kim was back as "Susu", "Cathy Grainger's match making housekeeper". Seen below as "Captain Wilder's" barber attempting to find out his material status.

The wise cracking role of "Tack, the Chief Engineer on the Ferry Boat" was portrayed by Japanese/American actor Henry Nakamura. Nakamura was known for the excellent WW2 motion picture about the Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team "Go For Broke" starring Van Johnson and the western "Westward the Women" starring Robert Taylor.

As with "The High and the Mighty" John Wayne wasn't supposed to be in "Blood Alley". Initially the role of "Captain Tom WIlder" had been cast with Robert Mitchum, but the actor was known to have a fiery temper and it went off at Wayne, Wellman and Robert Fellows. Robert Mitchum was fired before the filming began. The role was next offered to Gregory Peck, but he turned it down and Lauren Bacall's husband Humphrey Bogart was offered "Wilder". Bogart asked for too high a salary and it was not negotiable. The end result was great chemistry between Wayne and Bacall in a very memorable fan favorite.

The role of "Tom Wilder" reminded some fans of "Jack Stuart" in Cecil B. DeMille's 1942 "Reap the Wild Wind" and "Captain Ralls" in 1949's "Wreck of the Red Witch". A strong man of the sea, but as with the first two films I've mentioned against John Wayne's "Cowboy Image". Which the critics and fan base preferred him to be. There were four specific films, three in the 1950's and one in 1964, that Wayne choose in an attempt to break away from that image. A link to the stories of these pictures can be found also at the end of this article.

The Warner Brother's publicity departments best promotion for "Blood Alley" involved the extremely popular "I Love Lucy" television program. In the first of two episodes that aired nine days after the movie first opened on October 10, 1955. Lucy and her friend Ethel steal John Wayne's footprints from in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater. This leads to the two meeting John Wayne on the set of "Blood Alley" and another scene where a studio employee holds up to the actor a poster for the picture. The second episode, also with Wayne, completes the story of the stolen footprints.

The following links are for my readers interested in a little more about John Wayne.

This link will take my reader to my blog article on "The Big Trail" the first movie with the name John Wayne on the marquee:

I mentioned those four roles Wayne took to change his Cowboy Image. This link will take you to the article:

The actor's politics are very interesting. The following link takes my reader to an article comparing his views to Jane Fonda over Vietnam.

"The Alamo" was Wayne's pet project and this link takes my reader to that story:

Although not specifically about the actor. This article looks at the three motion picture versions of "Stagecoach":

Saturday, July 15, 2017

A FAN REMEMBERS GEORGE PAL: From "Puppetoons" to "Doc Savage, Man of Bronze"

I’m sure there are many people familiar with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and the opening song “Science Fiction Double Feature.” containing the above refrain. However, some of the fans of that film and play may not have a clue as to the significance of that name, or what that comment about “When Worlds Collide” might actually mean.
He made 14 feature length films and half of them were Oscar Winners. Mostly for the quality of the Special Effects used at the time. He was born Gyorgy Pal Marczincsak on February 1, 1908 in Cegled, Hungary, but song writer/actor/fellow film buff Richard O’Brien and I knew him as George Pal.

Over his career he would be credited with being a cinematographer 22 times on his "Puppetons", a producer of both his "Puppetoons" and feature length motion pictures 41 times, a director in both mediums 60 times, film editor 5 times and an actor twice including playing a bum in a street scene in his 1953's "War of the Worlds".

The above photo was taken on November 27, 1946, or one month and eleven days after my birth. In George Pal's hand was one of his "Puppetoon" characters. While Walt Disney, Max Fleischer and others were bringing animated drawings, cells, to life as cartoons. Pal starting in 1930's Europe used stop motion hand carved wooden puppets with multiple heads, arms and legs.

I first met the work of this imaginative film maker while sitting in the backseat of my parent’s car wearing pajama’s at the tender old age of three and a half. The setting was some forgotten Los Angeles area Drive-In Theater. The typical 50’s type with a play area with swing sets and a sand box to give your father the fun later of cleaning off the back seat and floor of his car. A concession stand pushing Hot Dogs, Candy, Popcorn and something called Pizza. It was at these theaters that the Pizza craze took hold outside of the Italian community. Then there were those prize drawings between the double feature. Where with the ticket given out with the car’s admission. You might win a toaster or the much hope fore place setting of Melmac dishes, a colorful form of plastic, very popular at the time. Eat your heart out Alf! An of course there where those speakers you had to place upon the driver’s side window to hear the movie and pray when the film started they actually worked, or Dad had to move the car to another maybe less choice spot.
My first George Pal motion picture was “Destination Moon” and although I would not know it for many decades. The story and screenplay were co-written by author Robert A. Heinlein. Who would later adopt that 1950 screenplay into a novella of the same name.

The picture was 100 percent scientifically accurate for the year it was released and was praised by Scientific magazines. The accuracy was reflected in the detail of how a space craft, at the time believed to be a single stage, would need to be constructed to make such a flight to our nearest neighbor and how that same flight would work. Heinlein’s influence had the space craft being built not by the military, but private business a reflection of his political views. Ex-German Rocket Scientist, he fled Germany in late 1930's, Willy Otto Oskar Ley did the technical work.

The one part of "Destination Moon" that always remained in three-and-a-half-year-old Lloyd's mind was the "Woody Woodpecker" cartoon from Walter Lantz's studio. It was used to explain Space Flight. and was actually very informative for the time.

Following Willy Ley's scientific writings and thought. George Pal's screenwriters Robert A. Heinlein, James O. Hanlon and Alford "Rip" Van Ronkel showed the effects of G-Force on the crew and the need for spacesuits. The colorful suits was designed as such for two reasons. One to identify each crew member for the audience, but also to be easily seen in space. Those suits would be reused in several early 1950's science fiction motion pictures such as the following years "Flight to Mars". Where the Martians wore them.

"Destination Moon" won George Pal the first of those seven feature film Academy Awards, It was nominated for two "Visual Effects" and "Art Direction" and won for the first.

Pal's production inspired Neil Armstrong, among others, to become an Astronaut. The only major scientific mistake for 1950 was the design of the Moon landscape. It was scientifically believed that the Moon might be full of craters. Instead of basically flat and sandy as Armstrong, himself, would discover on July 21, 1969  taking that “one small step for (a) man---" .

1951 found George Pal turning Philip Gordon Wylie and Edwin Balmer’s 1933 end of the world novel “When Worlds Collide” into his second Oscar winning feature.

The movie was updated and remade in 1998 by Steven Spielberg as “Deep Impact” and Wylie and Balmer's idea of Arks to save mankind would be reused again by Roland Emmerich, along with other lifting’s, in his film “2012.”
So now you have the source behind Richard O’Brien’s refrain about George Pal's "Terrible Thrills" in “Science Fiction Double Feature”.

For those of my readers still wondering about all the other references O’Brien made in that one song tribute to 1950’s and 1960’s science fiction and horror. This link will take you to my article explaining all of them,

"When Worlds Collide" tells of the discovery of two new planets heading toward Earth. The first "Bellus" will pass close to the planet causing massive Earthquakes, Tidal Waves and Volcanic Eruptions. The second "Zyra" will hit the Earth directly and destroy it. Mankind is given eight months to live. Some members of the United Nations science community say it won't happen, others say "Bellus" and "Zyra" will come close, but there will be no collision. The film watches as a group of scientists and technicians race the clock to build "Arks". The purpose of these space craft, at sites around the Earth, is to save as many people from annihilation as possible by flying them to "Zyra". After it takes the same orbit of the Earth.

One of the means of building tension as the 83 minute motion picture progressed  was to show a daily count down to each of the two on coming planets. In the below shot "Zyra" had reached the Earth and the destruction starts.

Five year old Lloyd was amazed at the special effects as where adults who saw the film with it's tight story line.

Although very dated by today's standards are the use of matte shots in "When Worlds Collide". One of his second Special Effects Oscar sequences enthralled audiences as we saw for the first time New York City destroyed as the Atlantic Ocean turned into a giant tidal wave.

One of those matte shots is of the after effects. At the time impressive, but today it seems so crude due to budget constraints on producer George Pal. Even tough the non on screen credited "Executive Producer" was Cecil B. DeMille.

My favorite scene in Pal’s “When Worlds Collide”. Outside of those New York skyscrapers under water in that famous, or infamous, depending on your point of view today,  matte shot above. Occurs when actor Richard Derr being one of the few people who knows our world is about to end. Will shock wealthy diners at an adjoining New York night club table by lighting his cigarette with a $100 bill. Today that action would equate to the shock value of using a $1,000 bill.

Unlike the single stage rocket in "Destination Moon". Which was a staple of 1950's science fiction movies and television shows. A more cinematic version was used in the plot of 'When Worlds Collide". Due to the expected weight of  each "Ark" with its payload of people, animals, food and building equipment. The space crafts are built on a railway system to assist in obtaining escape velocity and offset the amount of fuel needed during take off.

Below the special effects crew works on the "Ark" seen in the motion picture.

Scenes of the "Ark's" launch as I saw it on the big screen in November 1951.

For 1950's science fiction buffs. "When Worlds Collide" was the fourth motion picture with actress Barbara Rush. Three films later she made the classic 3-D picture "It Came from Outer Space". Below Rush and Richard Derr just before he lights that $100 bill.

Footnote: George Pal wanted to film the novels sequel “After Worlds Collide” in 1955, but Paramount Pictures would not back his venture as a result of the box office failure of “The Conquest of Space” I will speak too that picture shortly.

On July 2, 1953 George Pal's production of "Houdini" was released. The film starred the recently married husband and wife team of Tony Curtis and Janet Lee to draw in the audiences. As this fictional biography of the escape artist, magician and illusionist is glossy routine entertainment and was based on a 1928 novel, not a researched biography, by Harold Kellock. I admit that as a young six year old boy having enjoyed the film also seen  from my parent's car's backseat.

After two years of development and filming. 1953 saw the release of probably the most widely known of Pal’s films. His adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds” giving George Pal his third, Academy Award for Special Effects and his Audience some more of those “terrible thrills”.

The timing of this picture's release, on August 26, 1953, from a strictly political point of view couldn't have been any better and did contribute to the film's viewership. What I didn't know, or would have understood when I first saw the picture. Was that release date had been only one day less than a full month from July 27, 1953. The day the cease fire ended the "United Nations Korean Police Action" aka: "The Korean War", America had been fighting both the Chinese and Russian Communists since June 25, 1950 with a Cold War fear of our country being overrun.

In 1952 Columbia Pictures had released  "Invasion U.S.A." speculating on what a Russian take-over of America would be like that year. George Pal's production played to my parents Cold War fears by substituting the Martians for the Communists. The prologue of the picture, as explained by narrator Sir Cedric Hardwicke, contained a history of the first two World Wars, but specifically leaves out Korea. On hindsight leaving Korea out of the narrative by screenwriter Barre Lyndon was part of the substitution his dialogue played upon. 

While I sat with my parents at the La Brea Theater in Los Angeles. I sat transfixed with the audience as we watched Los Angeles being famously destroyed by the Martian War Machines. As buildings that even at the age of 6 and locations I knew were blown to bits by the invaders. I admit to remembering having a few nightmares and wanting my parents to take me downtown to verify the city hall was still there.

Those Martian War Machine's remained completely realistic and great looking until I got my first Re-mastered DVD. I never saw the wires holding them up in all my viewing over the years, but thanks to the downside of technology I now did.

The film inadvertently contains an historical preservation never dreamed of in 1953 pertaining to Southern California.
In the fictional rural community of  "Linda Rosa"  people come out of the movie theater showing Cecil B. DeMille’s “Samson and Delilah”. DeMille was also Executive Producer on this picture again without on screen credit.

The people coming out of the theater's dialogue notes that the first Martian meteor (cylinder) appeared to land somewhere in the forest near the real community of Pomona in rural Los Angeles County. In a follow up scene we find a group of scientists fishing at a rustic lake not far from Pomona. This leads to Gene Barry as "Dr. Clayton Forester" meeting Ann Robinson as "Sylvia van Buren". Filmed partly on location and partly on a set, below.

Later in the film is the scene of a small plane supposedly carrying actors Gene Barry and Ann Robinson flying over a hilly area with rich grassland identified as Corona. In 1953 a rural community in Riverside County.

The real community of Corona was also used for the town of  "Linda Rosa".

An observation comparing the actual scenes shot in Corona and near Pomona as seen in George Pal's
"War of the Worlds" and today. The driving distance between the city hall of downtown Los Angeles and the city hall of Corona is approximately 63 miles. Add to that the distance from downtown Los Angeles to my home, also within Los Angeles County, of another 22 miles further. Making the total distance from my front door to the plane scene in Pal’s “War of the World’s” as approximately 85 miles.

Today you will not see one beautiful piece of scenery as in those four scenes I described. Everything now is wall to wall houses, apartments, businesses, streets and freeways. Without the city identification signs you would have no idea if you’re driving through one large continuous city, or all the small one's that make up that 85 miles. Therefore by watching this movie the viewer is looking at a preserved piece of the history of the original rural counties of Los Angeles and Riverside. Another aspect to those old movies you may never have thought about.
Originally the film did not intend to show the Martians themselves. Pal decided otherwise and legend has it that the creature that scares the hell out of Ann Robinson in the deserted Corona Farm House was basically put together on a technician’s lunch hour.

Side Notes:

Yes playing Tom Cruise's father-in-law and mother-in-law at the end of Steven Spielberg's 2005 'War of the Worlds"in cameo's were Ann Robinson and Gene Barry.


Ann Robinson appeared in three episodes of the made in Canada, 1988 to 1990, television series of "War of the Worlds". Her cameo appearance was as Sylvia van Buren aka: Sylvia Forester. Gene Barry wasn't in the program, but references are made to his original 1953 character. The viewers are informed that the Martian's didn't die at the movie's end, but went into a state of hibernation

My youthful interest was kept at it's peak in 1954. When George Pal turned Carl Stephenson’s 1938 short story “Leiningen Versus the Ants” into “The Naked Jungle” starring a Paramount Picture’s Contract Player named Charlton Heston. His co-star was Eleanor Parker. The movie was directed by Byron Haskin who had directed "War of the Worlds".

The Picture About The Marabunta
Was a great tag line as the potential audience found that these were "Soldier Ants" aka: "Legendary Ants" aka: "Marabunta".  According to the story the ant's swarm, fictionally, every 27 years and destroy anything including humans that get in the way of their march. The movie is set in 1901 South America and it has been 27 years since the last swarm.

Even the long distance animated scenes of the “Marabunta” coming over the hill tops and turning the green growth to naked dirt works in the film interspersed with shots of real ants.

The added love story line revolves around "
Leiningen's" rejection of  the “widowed” mail order bride his brother arranged for him to marry, because "Leiningen" like everything in his South American Cocoa Plantation's Main House is "new" and "untouched".

This, for 1954, odd love story works well to build up the tension for the final battle of wills between Heston and the “Marabunta.”  As we follow the discovery of the ants and the fact his plantation is directly in the line of  march.


The climax comes with the attack on the plantation proper and eventually "
Leiningen's" compound and house. Below the man operating the dam makes the mistake of  falling asleep.

As the ants approach the compound is secured as best as possible and is surrounded by oil in a plan to stop them.Heston will have to cover himself with oil and work his way through the ants to the dam and flood his land. Below a shot of the plantation after the dam flooded it.

"The Naked Jungle" is well worth a look, if you haven’t seen it.

My father was an accountant which was lucky for this developing film buff, because some of his accounts were high end movie theaters such as the Pantages in Hollywood. One day in 1957 he took me to one in the ocean side community of Pacific Palisades. As he worked I saw Elvis Presley in “Jailhouse Rock”. Which was well and good, because like all 11 year old pre-teens I was a fan of “The King”. However, it was a movie I had never heard of that was playing before it on the “Saturday Morning Kids Matinee” that I was really impressed with. The picture from two years earlier was George Pal’s financial flop the "Conquest of Space”

Technically this movie based upon a non-fiction work, of the same name, by Rocket Scientist Willy Ley was a visual success.

Story wise the movie stunk.

The plot centered not on the films title, but the conflict between "General Merritt", Walter Brooke, his son "Captain Barney Merritt", Eric Fleming, and Sgt Mahoney, Mickey Shaughnessy. The Sergeant idolizes the father and can’t understand why the son doesn’t. An old hackneyed plot which was overused in variations in both War and Western movies of the period and earlier. Otherwise the plot is about the supposed first flight to the Moon as political cover for the first flight to Mars.

On a plus side for this space adventure was the International feel to the cast of Space Explorers. The characters include actor Benson Fong as "Sgt. Moto", Ross Martin as "Sgt. Andre Fodor", Vitto Scotti as "Sanella" and John Dennis as "Donkersgoed". Also in the cast was William Hopper as "Dr. George Fenton"

Looking at the technical aspects of the motion picture. The audience familiar with Pal's "Destination Moon" noted a change in the designs of the space suits. In the five years since the other film scientists had thought two different types of suits would now be required for space travel. One for operating in deep space outside the ship and another lighter design for movement on the surface of a planet.

Above the accurate for 1955 deep space suit and below the lighter exploration version.

Of interest to the true Science Fiction Fan are the models used for the “Space Wheel” and the “Mars Rocket”. Both of which followed closely Willy Ley and Wernher von Braun's conceptional designs.

In fact thirteen years later in 1968 when Stanley Kubrick made his classic “2001: A Space Odyssey”. The only fundamental change from the facts known by Pal in 1955 and those known by Kubrick in 1968 for deep space travel was one item FOOD. In 1955 scientists thought space travelers would be required to eat pills instead of solids and in 1968 they now thought space food would be basically synthetics that tasted like the real thing.

Otherwise it was still believed that a Space Station should be designed as a wheel. Although the designs are slightly different in the two deep space crafts. Both craft designs contain a major command module with a power plant attached.

As I implied above "Conquest of Space" had a sluggish plot that ruined the film. At one point "Barney's" father starts to think that "God" is against man going into space. This mental breakdown begins after the Russian born "Sgt. Fodo" is killed by a meteorite and the "General" believes his death was a sign from "God". He first attempts to crash the space craft into the Martian surface, but "Barney" wrestles the controls from him and lands safely.

Later when his father attempts to sabotage the craft to prevent the crew from ever taking off again. There is a fight between father and son that results in the "General's" death. He had a hand gun and in the struggle it went off. The idolizing "Sgt. Mahoney" only sees the end of the struggle and believes "Barney" deliberately murdered his father. As a result the Sergeant\ wants to charge him with murder and present "Barney" to a court-marshal. Of course "Sgt, Mahoney" will have his mind changed by the end of the picture. As I said you've seen this before.

To be fair to Pal perhaps the adult viewing audience wasn't into space pictures in 1955. The major money makers were five war films: "Mister Roberts" starring James Cagney and Henry Fonda, "Battle Cry" with a screen play by the novels author Leon Uris, "Strategic Air Command" from Paramount Pictures starring James Stewart and June Allison, "To Hell and Back" starring WW2 hero Audie Murphy as himself and "The Sea Chase" starring John Wayne and Lana Turner.

Add to those two major musical releases Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" in Todd A-O and "Guys and Dolls" starring Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons. Along with Glenn Ford, Anne Francis and Sidney Poitier in the high school shocker of the day the "Blackboard Jungle" and Walt Disney releasing his first CinemaScope animated feature "Lady and the Tramp". An it is easy to see "Conquest of Space" would have had a hard time finding an audience.

Also on the same science fiction front you had the release of the first sequel to "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" entitled "Revenge of the Creature", "Tarantula", "It Came from Beneath the Sea" from Ray Harryhausen, and Roger Corman's  "The Day the World Ended". The only other true Space adventure was "This Island Earth" which was a major money maker for Universal Studios and had that classic Metaluna Mutated Insect and Faith Domerque a eight year old boys dream.

As mentioned because of the box office failure of  "Conquest of Space" Paramount Pictures refused to finance Pal’s “After Worlds Collide”. So, George Pal said good-bye to the United States and moved his production company to MGM’s British Studios.
The move's first result was an Oscar once more in the category of Special Effects for 1958's “Tom Thumb”. A musical adaptation of the story by the Brothers Grimm starring Russ Tamblyn as the boy no larger than a thumb.

"Tom Thumb" featured two British comedians mostly unknown in the United States in 1958. They were Terry-Thomas and Peter Sellers as the inapt villains. For those, like myself, who were into British comedy. Sellers had a part in the Alec Guinness starring movie 1955's  "The Ladykillers", but I had to see it at an Art House Theater in Santa Monica. As the movie was extremely limited in release in the United States.

Portraying "Tom's" friend "Woody" was actor Alan Young. Who is in love with the "Forest Queen" played by June Thornburn.

Also appearing in some of the musical numbers are George Pal’s Oscar winning, every year from 1942 through 1948, “Puppetoon” characters. Which for 1947 and 1948 an ex-Army Serviceman named Ray Harryhausen worked upon. I recommend Ray’s excellent work: “A Century of Stop Motion Animation” for his views on George Pal and Willis O'Brien.

Two years after "Tom Thumb" and winning George Pal his fifth Special Effects Oscar. Pal had returned to H.G. Wells and released Rod Taylor in his classic 1960 motion picture “The Time Machine.”

Rod Taylor's Time Traveler character was always referred too by the name of  "George" in the motion picture. You never heard any mention of his last name and presumed "George" was his first name, but on the script and in the film's credits his full name was "H. George Wells". 

Pal used two gimmicks to advance the story in this very enjoyable film. The first has a dress shop opposite a window that George can look at from his home as he travels further into the future. The gimmick was nothing less than the dresses on a female mannequin changing while this Victorian Gentleman comments on women’s styles through the years.
The second involved actor Alan Young who had the dual role of David Filby and his son James. David is the narrator of the story book ending it within the opening and closing scenes.

The character of James appears first on leave during World War One. In that scene James informs George that his father has died, but left funds and instructions not to touch George’s house adding that he seemed to think the man who lived there, an inventor of some kind, would someday return.

The next time George meets James it is August 19, 1966. That is six years to the day after the film was actually released. The old James is trying to figure out where he has seen the still Victorian looking George, but just than the air is filled with the sounds of sirens going off and he tells George to get into a bomb shelter. In the next few seconds an Atomic Holocaust wipes out the human race, almost.

George just manages to escape death by entering his time machine and next stops on October 12, 802,701. Which begins the second half of the film in a future world of childish “Eloi” and the cannibalistic “Morlocks”. The two versions of humanity that survived that 1966 nuclear holocaust. In this future world George meets and falls in love with the beautiful "Weena" played by newcomer Yvette Mimieux.

George also discovered that the innocent "Eloi" are the cattle of the "Morlocks".

Along with a lot of other 14 year old's I really enjoyed this film and to show how much MGM agreed with us. The production’s budget was $829,000 dollars and grossed $2.61 million dollars at the 1960 box office. For comparison to 2017 as I write this article. The adult admission price for a movie theater in the United States in 1961 averaged 69 cents and remember we saw double features back then.

Although cheesy, with terrible rubber monster maaks, stock footage from films such as "Quo Vadis" and Pal's own "Naked Jungle". Not to mention props from "Forbidden Planet" such as the "Krell" instrument gauges and a giant statue from a 1955 forgotten Lana Turna "Biblical Epic" "The Prodigal". 1961 still found 14 year old Lloyd Fradkin, being used to low budget science fiction, having a good time with the hokum of "Atlantis the Lost Continent".

The movie starred Anthony Hall actually an Italian actor by the name of Sal Ponti playing a Greek Fisherman named "Demetrios". Ponti, or Hall's English language voices was dubbed. At one time William Shatner and Richard Chamberlain were considered for the role.

Out fishing with his Uncle the two men discover Joyce Taylor, who co-starred in 1960 TV series "Men Into Space" & AIP's "Twice Told Tales", floating on what is left of her ship. Of course she turns out to be an Atlantean Princess named "Antillia" and eventually convinces "Demetrios" to take her home.

Not to put down all the effects in this movie. The effects team was headed by Gene Warren, who won the Oscar for "The Time Machine", Wah Chang who built the time machine and would design the props for most of the original "Star Trek" series and Jim Danforth. Who was working at the time for Warren and Chang's "Projects Unlimited".

One of their creations was the Atlantean submarine. Which I wished then, and still do, had more screen time.

The submarine crew rescue the Princess and "Demetrios" and returns to Atlantis. 
There instead of being rewarded. "Demetrois" is made a slave and has to deal with an usurper, John Dall known for Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope" and an evil sorcerer, Frank DeKova, "Chief Wild Eagle" on TV's "F-Troop" and many great bad guys.

Seen below is Lana Turner in a publicity still with the giant statue from 1955's "The Prodigal".

The same statue in "Atlantis the Lost Continent" as their "God". Azor, the priest portrayed by the future "Chief" on television's "Get Smart", Edward Platt, tells "Demetrois" of his belief is one true "God".

Below the Atlantean scientist turning a human into one of his animal people

The Giant Crystal Weapon that was suppose to help Atlantis rule the world. Goes out of control as the volcano erupts and kills the usurper.

Some of the shots of the destruction of Atlantis that were also interwoven with stock footage of a burning Rome from the movie "Quo Vadis".


To explain why movie critics considered this the worst motion picture George Pal ever made. Which adds prestige to "Conquest of Space".  David Wingrove in 
his 1985 "Science Fiction Film Source Book" referenced a reply from a preview audience viewer to the question: "What was your favorite scene?" The answer refers to the sequence where "Demetrois" saves "Antillia" from the above destruction. The audience members answer as written was: "The scene where Robert Taylor saved Deborah Kerr from the fire". Actually some of that stock footage from the 1951 MGM movie "Qua Vadis" in which you clearly see Taylor and Kerr not Sal Ponti and Joyce Taylor, no relation to Robert.

The film had a direct effect upon my future as I decided I wanted to become an Archaeologist and find missing cities. Even wrote a High School history paper on the subject which turned into one on proving the Biblical Flood actually happened. Unfortunately for my plans the Vietnam War came about, but even that had its good points in a roundabout way. I was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Shangri-la CVA-38 and spent my four years in the Mediterranean Sea visiting Greece, stationed for a while in Italy and other ancient countries and cities. I never went back to school for Archaeology. I did, however, recently purchase for $2.50 a copy of the 15 cent Dell Movie Comic I once owned.

George Pal followed this unsuccessful film with two more Academy Awards

In 1962 Pal teamed up with Cinerama Productions, the process created by Merian C. Cooper of "King Kong" fame, see link below, for a look at the incredible life of Cooper.

The motion picture was shot in the three strip Cinerama process created by Cooper. This required three cameras to film the motion picture and three projectors, at special venues, to show the picture. The screen covered the normal range of a person's eyesight and in many sequences your brain reacts as if it was actually looking at a live scene. The downside were the two lines to match the three projectors on the giant screen.

As the above poster indicates for the time George Pal put together an all star cast to tell the story of  "Wilhelm", Lawrence Harvey, and "Jacob", Karl Boehm, Grimm.

Actress Claire Bloom portrayed the dreamer "Wilhelm's" wife "Dorothea".

Barbara Eden portrayed "Greta Heinrich" who is in love with the very serious Jacob.

Pal incorporated three tales from the Brother's Fairy Tales. In the first starring from his "Time Machine" Yvette Mimieux in the title role of "The Dancing Princess". Russ Tamblyn played "The Woodman" who is in love with her and later in the picture recreated his role of "Tom Thumb" in a dream sequence.

"The Cobbler and the Elves" was the second fairy tale and had Lawrence Harvey as the Cobbler and the "Puppetoons" as the Elves.

The third fairy tale kept some of the darkness of the real story.  "The Singing Bone" starred Terry-Thomas and Buddy Hackett.

The motion picture was nominated for four Academy Awards and won for Best Costume design. It was one of the highest grossing movies of 1962. At the climax "Wilheim" becomes very sick and almost dies and in his delirium he sees all the characters that he will create and gives each a name. You can get an idea of those costumes in the still that follows.

Two years later George Pal gave his audience the “7 Faces of Dr. Lao.”

Based upon an excellent 1935 novel “The Circus of Dr. Lao” by Arizona Newspaper Man Charles G. Finney. Who wrote it at his desk waiting for something to report upon in a sleepy Arizona town. As with Finney's novel this story starts as into the town of Abalone, Arizona comes an old Chinese man on a donkey with a fish in a bowl.

He goes to the local newspaper to run an add about "The Circus of Dr. Lao" and then puts up a large circus tent with bleachers, a side show tent and other items. Where these all come from nobody in Abalone knows and to add to the mystery. He claims to be 7,322 years old. The town will never forget his visit as he works magic on the people and their problems.

The film version starred Tony Randal and he portrayed five of the seven faces. Although he is given credit for all seven. However, George Pal's son Peter played the Abominable Snowman and "The Great Serpent" was stop motion animated by Jim Danforth. The serpent does have Tony Randall's voice. You could add one more actual face for Randall as he is seen as himself in the circus audience near the films end.

The film is a makeup man’s dream and that of an actor portraying the roles as both Oscar Winner for make-up William Tuttle and actor Tony Randall learned.

Below Tony Randall as "Medusa"

Tony Randal as himself in the Circus audience center bottom row.

As I mentioned Tony Randal provides the voice for the stop motion "The Great Serpent", but it has the face of the town boss an amazed Arthur O'Connell in this scene.

Below Peter Pal as "The Abominable Snowman"

About that fish bowl with it's tiny fish. The sign next to it reads "Loch Ness Monster". It warns not to let it out of the water. The two henchmen of the town boss knock it over and it grows into Nessie. Again Jim Danforth's great work.

The motion picture is a classic fantasy and I highly recommend it to any of my readers.

I now come to the final two feature length motion pictures made by George Pal.

Released February 21, 1968 and directed once again by Byron Haskin was "The Power". Maybe this film didn't have the science fiction/horror of a person's blood vessels popping out on their head, or for that matter their head exploding. However, based upon a novel by Frank M. Robinson and changed slightly by screenplay writer John Gay. This picture covered the same basic territory as David Cronerberg's "Scanners" released 13 years later.

As the above poster indicates George Pal put together another very strong cast of actors for the time. For fans of the publication "Famous Monsters of Filmland". In a cameo appearance as a "Hotel Clerk" was Forest J. Ackerman.

"The Power" is considered the first motion picture to show a telekinesis "PSI Wheel". Which is used to prove that theory. The wheel is normally a pyramid shaped small piece of paper, or foil balanced on the tip of either a toothpick or needle. A person then uses their mind to rotate it without ever touching, or coming close to the "PSI Wheel".

A group of scientists at a research facility come under attack by an unknown person named "Adam Hart". Biochemist "Professor Jim Tanner", George Hamilton, believes he's actually one of their own research team. "Hart" starts to kill off the other scientists with "The Power' of his mind. This will lead to the discovery of the killer and literal battle of their minds.

Above George Hamilton and Suzanne Pleshette as "Professor Margery Lansing".

Many interesting ways are used to kill off the other scientists. One has a centrifuge turned on by the mysterious "Adam Hart's" mind without him physically touching the controls, or apparently anyway near it. The result is the death of "Professor Henry Hallson", Arthur O'Connell.

One of the interesting effects in "The Power", as funny as this sounds, was a diabolically possessed "Walk-Don't Run" street crossing sign. The sequence is classic. Another sequence had "Toy Soldiers" coming to life and firing their guns with real gunpowder and bullets. A similar idea would be used twenty-years later for the movie "Small Soldiers".

Michael Rennie was "Arthur Nordlund" aka: "Adam Hart".

The climax of the film has Hamilton and Rennie in a great battle of minds as "Professor Tanner" discovers also has "The Power".

When the picture was released it was the bottom half of a double bill and MGM didn't really promote it. The film is mostly forgotten as a result. It is available on DVD as of this  writing.

Timing is everything and George Pal's final motion picture was released at the wrong time and didn't find an audience. Also like "The Power", but this time by Warner Brothers, the studio didn't promote it properly. Fans of Lester Dent's 1930 pulp fiction hero "Doc Savage, Man of Bronze", books are still available today, mostly had no knowledge the motion picture was ever made when it was released in June 1975.

The film's tone was Chapter Serial Camp and it reproduced the 1930's era very well, but without Warner Brothers publicity department help. "Doc Savage, Man of Bronze" was up against the following motion pictures. The movie that made Steven Spielberg a household name "JAWS", "Funny Lady" the sequel to "Funny Girl" with it's build in Barbara Streisand base. "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next" starring Jack Nicholson, "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" and Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon" among other 1975 releases.

Playing "Clark 'Doc' Savage, Jr" was 1966's television "Tarzan" Ron Ely.

The motion picture was extremely faithful to the novels and was based upon the first in the series. One of the elements created by Lester Dent will surprise fans of "Superman". "Doc" had the original "Fortress of Solitude" built in the Arctic. Initially "Superman" built his first "Fortress of Solitude" during what is known as "The Golden Age of Comic Books". The mid-1930's into 1950. However, it was actually called a "Mountain Sanctuary" and was located in the mountains close to Metropolis. It wasn't until "The Silver Age of Comic Books" starting in 1951 that we find "Superman" building his Arctic "Fortress of Solitude" in 1958.

The plot has "Doc" and his Team known as "The Fabulous Five". "Major Thomas J. 'Long Tom' Roberts" played by Paul Gleason, "Colonel John 'Renny' Renwick" known for his signature comment "Holy Cow" portrayed by William Lucking, "Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Blodgett 'Monk' Mayfair" played by Michael Miller, "Professor William Harper 'Johnny' Littlejohn" portrayed by Eldon Quick and "Brigadier General Theodore Marley 'Ham' Brooks" played by Darrell Zwerling. The group goes after a Master International Criminal and Smuggler "Captain Seas" portrayed by Paul Wexler.

The plot involves a Mayan Tribe, Quetzamal, that disappeared 500 years before the story, and of course a fortune in Gold. Add in the beautiful "Mona Flores", Pamela Hensley, and you have a fun romp that as I said very quickly became forgotten and overlooked.

Six years later, in 1981, the public was ready for this type of motion picture and Steven Spielberg was back with George Lucas bringing them Harrison Ford in "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Another 15 years and the public again wasn't interested in the type of film George Pal had created in 1975. Billy Zane was 1996's "The Phantom" another camp style motion picture and another box office failure, but unlike "Doc Savage, Man of Bronze" the movie has developed a cult following.

For those of my readers interested in "Doc Savage, Man of Bronze". It is now available in both DVD and Blu-ray formats.

So I end my memories about George Pal and suggest the true lover of Science Fiction Films take a look at the above mentioned works including the flawed “Conquest of Space" and "Atlantis, the Lost Continent". They are mostly from an age of dreams rather than fact. Remember the first man to circle the Earth, Russian Yuri Gagarin, didn’t do it until April 12, 1961. That’s a year after “The Time Machine” was made and 11 years after "Destination Moon".

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