Sunday, January 04, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Reap the Wild Wind (1942)

As Carrie pointed out at Classic Montgomery, this weekend was the anniversary of the birth of Ray Milland, one of my favorite actors. Ray, whose birth name was Reginald Truscott-Jones, was born in Wales on January 3, 1905. Tonight I marked the occasion by watching Ray in REAP THE WILD WIND, which I'd never seen before.

REAP THE WILD WIND is a rather florid epic by the legendary Cecil B. DeMille, who probably didn't know the meaning of the word "understated." DeMille stuffed this long, colorful movie with shipwrecks, lavish costumes, brawls, beautiful women, stalwart men, a dangerous diving expedition, and lots of animals, including a giant squid. The movie is over-the-top hokum, without much emotional depth, but it's entertaining hokum.

Paulette Goddard plays Loxi, whose family is in the business of salvaging shipwrecks off 1840s Key West. Evil King Cutler (Raymond Massey) is pushing Loxi and other salvagers out of business; in fact, he's usually the first to arrive at wrecks because he causes them in the first place!

Loxi is romantically torn between Jim, a sea captain (John Wayne, another on my favorites list), and Steve, a lawyer running a shipping company (Ray Milland). Meanwhile, Loxi's cousin Drusilla (Susan Hayward) secretly loves Cutler's brother Dan (Robert Preston). The stories converge when Jim makes the fateful decision that he'd rather make a deal with King Cutler than work for Steve...

Other than finding Jim's sudden decision fairly unbelievable, it's an entertaining movie. Goddard tries to make up for not winning the part of Scarlett O'Hara with her attention-getting Southern belle in this film; there's a twist, though, in that Loxi is as much a seafaring tomboy as she is a headstrong beauty. Goddard is fun, though I actually found Hayward more interesting as her sweet, lovestruck cousin; I wished Hayward and her storyline had had more screen time.

Milland's character is first presented as a dandy, with elaborate clothes, curly hair, and a little dog who accompanies him everywhere. However, the viewer gradually comes to realize that Steve is smart, resourceful, and might just be worthy competition with Jim (Wayne) for Loxi's hand.

Wayne's role initially seems to be that of the leading man, but after Milland finally enters the movie -- at least 20 minutes into the picture -- Wayne's part gradually morphs into more of a supporting role. He's solid as always and does what he can with a poorly written part, who goes from Point A to Point Z without hitting many of the letters in between.

Robert Preston makes the most of his few scenes as the love of Hayward's life.

The underwater sequence with the squid was technically fascinating, as an exemplar of 1940s special effects, but I found it a little too unreal to be truly enjoyable. To me, it honestly looked like a big plastic fish (grin), akin to something I'd see on Disneyland's Submarine Voyage. The scenes were filmed in a tank at the Pan Pacific Marine Museum in Santa Monica, California.

The film runs 124 minutes and was shot in vivid Technicolor. The supporting cast includes Louise Beavers, Lynne Overman, Charles Bickford, Martha O'Driscoll, Elisabeth Risdon, Hedda Hopper, and Janet Beecher.

REAP THE WILD WIND has been released on VHS. It's also available on DVD as a single-title release or as part of the John Wayne Screen Legend Collection. The Screen Legend DVD I saw was a beautiful print.

As an aside, the single-title DVD and video both list John Wayne and Susan Hayward as the leads over Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard; the reality is that Milland and Goddard are the movie's top-billed stars.

Ray Milland movies previously reviewed here, in the order they were posted: THE DOCTOR TAKES A WIFE (1940), IRENE (1940), THE UNINVITED (1944), COPPER CANYON (1950), EASY LIVING (1937), EVERYTHING HAPPENS AT NIGHT (1939), CALIFORNIA (1946), A WOMAN OF DISTINCTION (1950), LET'S DO IT AGAIN (1953), and THREE SMART GIRLS (1936). I didn't realize I'd seen quite that many Ray Milland movies in the last year and a half!

A couple days ago Mike Clark of USA Today listed Milland's THE UNINVITED as one of the six titles he'd most like to see released on DVD.

January 2015 Update: I had the opportunity to see this film on a big screen at UCLA, discussed briefly here.

September 2019 Update: REAP THE WILD WIND is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. My review of the Blu-ray, which has outstanding picture quality, is here.


Blogger Irene said...

Given the stellar cast I'm surprised I've not heard of this. The county library has one DVD in it's system but it's on hold for someone. I'm on the waiting list. If worse comes to worse they do have 5 VHS tapes available. I'm looking forward to this :)

3:03 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

Ray has a good story about being, in his own words 'stoned,' while filming the underwater scene (party the night before - and he wasn't the drunk party-type).

3:17 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

Well, that was quite some movie. I agree about John Wayne's character doing such an about face. I was routing for him at the beginning but knew as it went along that Ray Milland would get the girl in the end. And that fish ... oh, brother. Notice how the eye never moved :) Mr. DeMille certainly had a way with using water aka Ten Commandments the parting of the Red Sea. This was a fun movie.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

You're really moving along! I thought this was fun despite the flaws. A very different style from many movies. Glad you had fun with it too.


7:40 PM  

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