Cecil B. DeMille's Technicolor historical spectacle Reap the Wild Wind was to have starred Gary Cooper, but Cooper's prior commitment to Goldwyn's Pride of the Yankees compelled DeMille to recast the leading role with John Wayne. The film, set in the mid-19th century, centers around Key West, Florida, where piracy reigns unchecked and steam engines are beginning to replace tall ships. Jack Stuart (Wayne) is a sea captain who crashes his vessel on the shoals of Key West. Loxi Claiborne (Paulette Goddard), the hoydenish manager of a salvage firm, arrives on the scene, but discovers that her rival in the salvage business, King Cutler (Raymond Massey) has reached Wayne first and lashed him to the mast, and is proceeding to ransack the ship with the aid of his partner-in-crime, younger brother Dan Cutler (Robert Preston). The Cutlers have built up quite a reputation for reaching wrecks ahead of competitors - to such a degree that some suspect them of making under-the-table deals with dishonest captains. While the men continue to ransack the ship, Loxi nurses Jack back to health, and the two fall in love; meanwhile, Jack worries openly that he'll lose the privilege of piloting his company's newest steamship. To ensure that this doesn't happen, Loxi offers to travel to Charleston, South Carolina and convince investigators that pirates were responsible for what happened to Jack. Subsequently, the company attorney, Stephen Tolliver (Ray Milland) must go to Florida with Jack's commission papers, and investigate the circumstances of the incident prior to givng the papers to the captain. In the process, Jack and Stephen become intense rivals for Loxi's affections.
by Hal Erickson synopsis