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The High and the Mighty (1954)

Not Rated | | Action, Adventure, Drama | 3 July 1954 (USA)
2:53 | Trailer
When a commercial airliner develops engine problems on a trans-Pacific flight and the pilot loses his nerve, it is up to the washed-up co-pilot Dan Roman to bring the plane in safely.


William A. Wellman


Ernest K. Gann (screenplay), Ernest K. Gann (novel)
Won 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
John Wayne ... Dan Roman
Claire Trevor ... May Holst
Laraine Day ... Lydia Rice
Robert Stack ... John Sullivan
Jan Sterling ... Sally McKee
Phil Harris ... Ed Joseph
Robert Newton ... Gustave Pardee
David Brian ... Ken Childs
Paul Kelly ... Donald Flaherty
Sidney Blackmer ... Humphrey Agnew
Julie Bishop ... Lillian Pardee
Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez ... Gonzales (as Gonzalez Gonzalez)
John Howard ... Howard Rice
Wally Brown ... Lenny Wilby, navigator
William Campbell ... Hobie Wheeler


On a flight from Hawaii to California, the engine dies on the plane Dan is flying. As he prepares for a crash landing, the passengers reassess their lives. The template for disaster movies with an Oscar-winning score and a cast list that reads like a who's who of 1950s film. Written by Jwelch5742

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The 2-year best seller blasts to the screen with every kind of love there is! See more »


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Release Date:

3 July 1954 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

William A. Wellman's The High and the Mighty See more »


Box Office


$1,470,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo | Mono (RCA Sound System)


Color (WarnerColor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


John Wayne's first film in CinemaScope. See more »


The sound of the yellow flying bomb is wrong. It is audibly a jet engine, but the flying bomb is actually a German V1 which is powered by a ram jet: slats on the nacelle let in air that was mixed with fuel and ignited by a spark plug. The machine in flight sounded like a backfiring automobile. See more »


[first lines]
Ben Sneed: Hey fella, ain't you Dan Roman?
Dan Roman: Yeah.
Ben Sneed: I heard you whistlin' and I said to myself only one guy does that just so.
See more »

Alternate Versions

A very few prints were made for release in the Los Angeles area during December, 1954 which included a vocal version of the Main Theme from "The High and the Mighty" in the closing credits. This was done to qualify the film for eligibility in the AMPAS Best Song category for the year. However, the Best Song award went to "Three Coins in the Fountain". See more »


Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech
Whistled by John Wayne
See more »

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User Reviews

Not the classic everyone "remembers"
13 July 2005 | by JimB-4See all my reviews

I went to the DVD premiere screening of THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY tonight (12 June 2005) at Paramount studios. It was a big red-carpet event, and I saw a number of people associated with the film there, though there are a scant handful of the cast still surviving. Pedro Gonzalez-Gonzalez, William Campbell, and Robert Easton were there, and from bits of applause during the screening, I suspect that a few others were there as well. Of course, all of the major character players are gone: Wayne, Stack, Trevor, Day, Sterling, Harris, Newton, Brian, Kelly, Blackmer, and Qualen. Other than Karen Sharpe and William Schallert, I'm not certain whether anyone yet unmentioned is still alive. Doe Avedon probably is (she was really lovely as the flight attendant).

As some have speculated, there's no way for this film to live up to the hype that has grown up because of its near-forty year unavailability. It's been beautifully restored. The picture quality seems to my uneducated eye to be impeccable, and the sound is really magnificent. And there are some moments of nice performance, particularly by Wayne, Robert Stack, Jan Sterling, and John Qualen. But as much as I would love to say this is a resurrected masterpiece, it simply isn't possible for me to do so honestly. After AIRPLANE!, I'm not sure it's reasonable to expect people to take a Fifties airliner disaster movie seriously. But the level of corn and hokum and treacle and syrup in which the film wallows (especially in the primary sections dealing with the passengers rather than the crew) is simply intolerable in today's world. I'm not referring to the fact that it's a different practical world now, one in which it would be ludicrous to show a passenger pulling a gun on another passenger on an airliner of today. I'm referring rather to the simple unbelievability of the human behavior exhibited. I'm willing to accept a passenger getting aboard a trans-Pacific airliner with a gun in his pocket in 1954. I'm not willing to accept him pulling that gun, threatening other passengers with it, having it taken from him, and later having it handed back to him just because he says, "I'm all right now, I've calmed down." Phil Harris, fifty at the time and looking sixty, plays a 38-year-old, and 43-year-old Ann Doran plays his 30-year-old wife. Laraine Day berates her husband and demands a divorce, and good ol' Phil says to the husband, "You think you got problems?" and proceeds to tell him about how rain and crummy hotels ruined his vacation, and the husband (John Howard) thus sees his own life in a new perspective. Every cliché imaginable comes into play, and rarely is there a moment that can be easily swallowed, even with Herculean efforts to place oneself mentally in the zeitgeist of the film.

Only in the cockpit are things comparatively realistic and believable, and even there big pills must be swallowed. One of the reasons John Wayne comes off so well in this film is he has relatively little to say. It's probably the lowest line-count of any of Wayne's leading roles, and thus unsaddled with the maudlinities and sappiness of the dialog the passengers are stuck with, he comes off better than anyone in the picture. Spencer Tracy was supposed to play Wayne's role but turned it down (according to various stories) either because he thought the script was lousy or he didn't want to work for taskmaster William Wellman. I'm betting on the former reason.

There are still things to like in THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (Dimitri Tiomkin's Oscar-winning score among them), but an awful lot of people have been waiting forty years to see this "masterwork" again, and an awful lot of them are going to be either seriously disappointed or forced to convince themselves that it's not as bad as it seems.

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