Island in the Sky (1953) starring John Wayne, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Abel, James Arness, Andy Devine, Allyn Joslyn, Jimmy Lydon, Harry Carey Jr., Wally Cassell directed by William A. Wellman Movie Review

Island in the Sky (1953)   3/53/53/53/53/5

John Wayne as Capt. Dooley in Island in the Sky

Wayne's Lost in Labrador

It would be fair to say that most people think of John Wayne as starring in either westerns or the occasional army movie and to be honest his career was dominated by these two genres but he did make other sorts of movies which often showed that he was capable of more than what most people gave him credit for. One of those movies is "Island in the Sky" which whilst starring John Wayne isn't all about his character, in fact it isn't really about any one character but about a situation. And that situation is a plane forced to land in the frozen wastes of Labrador and the desperate attempts of rescue pilots to try and find them before it is too late. But whilst that may make "Island in the Sky" sound like some sort of edge of your seat action adventure movie it really isn't, but an interesting look at how those stranded cope whilst those trying to find them struggle. As such "Island in the Sky" is both entertaining and interesting but not a classic.

Having flown into a snow storm Captain Dooley (John Wayne - The Quiet Man) is forced to land his plane in the frozen Labrador waste land and wait with his men to be rescued. But with few rations, a fading battery and no real idea where they are it is a desperate situation. And it is just as desperate for the men who attempt to find them battling the sub zero temperatures which ice up their planes and cause their navigational equipment to fail.

James Arness as Mac McMullen in Island in the Sky

There are two elements to "Island in the Sky" and the first strongly reminds me of "The Flight of the Phoenix" which actually came later. We have this situation of a group of men stranded in the middle of nowhere following a forced landing and we watch as being stuck with few rations and no way of getting out affects them. We see the desperation take grip, the realisation that they are not easy to see and the realisation that they may die all ebb away at their resolve. It's not the most in-depth look, there is still some machismo going on to all of this but it is interesting.

The other side to "Island in the Sky" is that of the rescue team's attempt to find them especially as the men are all friends of Capt. Dooley. And so we watch as navigation in the frozen air becomes impossible with their instruments not working, the ice forming on their wings and with time running out before the next major weather front moves in we have an element of the clock ticking down. Again it's not that in-depth and again there is plenty of machismo going on but it gives you an insight into the difficulties.

These two elements are good although it does end up a very clunky movie as we go from down on the ground to up in the air with no real linking. There is a narration by director William A. Wellman which often feels out of place and awkward but it does feel like a lot of mini episodes. But often in-between you do get some wonderful camera work and the actual shots of the planes flying being from down on the ground or up in the air is brilliant. And as such "Island in the Sky" does have some of the best real flight footage I have seen for a movie of its age.

Now because "Island in the Sky" is all about the situation it means that whilst John Wayne as Capt. Dooley is the main character not everything revolves around him. And as such we do get a bit of a different performance from Wayne, one which at times is still full of machismo but is often restrained as he delivers the emotion of knowing that the situation is getting more desperate. It's certainly different from what you expect to see from John Wayne and whilst not his best dramatic performance is interesting because it is about him acting rather than him riding off or shooting a gun.

Aside from John Wayne there are some other nice performances especially from Wally Cassell who as the radio operator does a nice job of delivering desperation. But then you get an element of humour thrown in and whilst both Andy Devine and James Arness are entertaining the comical attitude they bring feels out of place in what is essentially a drama.

What this all boils down to is that "Island in the Sky" is an entertaining movie and very different to what you expect from something starring John Wayne. It's by no means a brilliant movie and to be honest not that memorable but watching Wayne restricted to just a single location and his own skills as an actor makes for an entertaining experience.