The High and the Mighty (1954)

Genres - Action  |   Sub-Genres - Disaster Film  |   Release Date - Jul 3, 1954 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 147 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

The High and the Mighty has aged well -- seeing it anew in 2005, twenty-some years after it was last shown publicly, it's possible to pick out scenes and shots that might be cut or shortened, but ultimately it's not much more than a few minutes longer than it might ideally have been, even based on modern sensibilities; and, yes, parts of the Dimitri Tiomkin score are much more romantic than audiences are accustomed to in movies today. But otherwise, there's not much glaringly out-of-date in the style of the movie. On the other hand, to fully and properly appreciate it, one must remember that in 1954, when it was made, and in 1953, when it was in pre-production, all of what is depicted in the movie, in the way of trans-Pacific and trans-global commercial flight, was new. The idea that ordinary people, middle-class (or, really, mostly somewhat upper-middle-class) Americans would routinely cross the Pacific on scheduled airlines was something new, so there was an intrinsic sense of adventure in watching the movie in 1954. One of the virtues of the film today is that it still has that sense of adventure, which continues to radiate off the screen, from the tone of the acting and the performances, and the script. The interlocking and interwoven personal stories may seem hackneyed today, but in fact, with the exceptions of Casablanca -- which is a different kettle of fish -- and Hotel Berlin in 1945 (itself based on a book by Grand Hotel author Vicki Baum), no Hollywood movie since Grand Hotel, in 1932, had tried to weave together characters like this on this level -- and doing it in this airborne setting was startlingly new and dramatic. It's one of the great achievements of Wellman's career that he was able to pull this off as well as he did. Apart from a few slow moments in the pacing, and some shots and scenes that could have been shortened, it still works, although anyone watching it in the 21st century should be aware that The High and the Mighty has to be seen letterboxed -- this is an early Cinemascope movie, with a very wide aspect ratio and with most of the screen used most of the time; cropping it to fit an ordinary television screen is equivalent to not showing it at all.