Thursday, March 5, 2020

THE OUT TO SEA BLOGATHON: Wake of the Red Witch, 1948


Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini is hosting The Out to Sea Blogathon on March 6 - 8. Check out the incredible lineup HERE.


"From the Marquesas to the Celebes, from Sumatra to the Hawaiis, the idyllic peace and beauty of the South Pacific lay undisturbed for centuries, but the white man came eventually. He rolled it up, put it in his pocket, and took it home to sell. His great trading empires like Batjak Ltd., the Batjak of the Dutchman Mayrant Sidneye reached out everywhere; hungry, greedy, demanding. In the year 1860, I shipped out on the Red Witch, flagship of the Batjak line under the command of Captain Ralls."

Gail Russell, John Wayne, Luther Adler

So begins Wake of the Red Witch, the successful Literary Guild selection of 1946 novel by Garland Roark. And so begins the 1948 film adaptation from Republic Studios. The story is narrated by the first mate of the Red Witch, Sam Rosen played by Gig Young. Sam becomes embroiled in crimes at sea, and crimes of the heart. The epic vendetta at the core of Wake of the Red Witch is between Captain Ralls played by John Wayne and Mayrant Sidneye played by Luther Adler. Both men are ruthless, greedy, and embrace the darkness in their souls. Both men fall under the spell of Angelique Desaix played by Gail Russell. Only one can have her love. 

Sam Rosen becomes loyal to Captain Ralls through circumstance and admiration. Along with shipmate "Ripper" Arrezo played by Paul Fix, they help Ralls scuttle the Red Witch leaving five hundred million dollars in gold bullion at the bottom of the sea. The money rightfully belongs to Sidneye yet he withdraws his charges against Ralls despite the convincing testimony of the ousted first-mate Mr. Loring played by Jeff Corey. This is a matter that must be settled personally. Captain Munsey of the Royal Navy played by Dennis Hoey patiently observes the actions between the two, biding his time until official justice can take a hand.

Adele Mara, Gig Young

Sam has been left in the dark as to the full depth of the hatred between Ralls and Sidneye. Sam will be enlightened by Sidneye, and learn much more from Sidneye's niece Teleia played by Adele Mara. Sam is falling for the lovely young woman and his feelings will help him to understand what she has to say. 

When Mayrant Sidneye arranged with Angelique's uncle, played by Henry Daniell, for her hand in marriage it was with the knowledge between them that Angelique was in love with Captain Ralls. Ralls returned her love, but tried to deny it. Due to his dark past, Ralls was convinced he didn't deserve Angelique and that someday he would hurt her. That day came to pass when the fight between Ralls and Sidneye for a treasure trove of pearls belonging to island natives, led to Ralls being responsible for the death of Angelique's uncle. In the time that followed, Ralls was banished and Angelique was married to Sidneye. This contest of wills can only have one winner. Will that winner be greed or love?


Angelique: "Ships fascinate me. They seem so - so alive, and yet just wood and iron, beams and planks. And yet someone somewhere put it together and it becomes alive. It slides down the waves and it becomes a ship."

Ralls: "It's more than a ship. It's a home, a world, a breathing thing. Nothing holds it back. The wind takes it and carries it for 10,000 miles and any one of those miles, you're free. Like being a bird, instead of the sky, it's the sea. You have a whole empire of freedom, sea freedom. You're alive the same way the ship is alive. You run before the wind. You never want to stop."


Roark's novel was adapted for the screen by Harry Brown (A Place in the Sun) and Kenneth Gamet (Flying Tigers) and directed by Edward Ludwig, who made The Fighting Seabees with John Wayne in 1944. Ludwig's forte was action features, and he would later turn to television westerns such as John Payne's The Restless Gun

Outdoor scenes for Wake of the Red Witch were filmed at Santa Catalina Island, Rancho Santa Anita, and underwater scenes at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden. Cinematographer Reggie Lanning worked mostly on westerns, including a few of John Wayne's B westerns of the 1930s. He would revisit the briny with the 1953 feature Sea of Lost Ships.

Republic Pictures staff composer Nathan Scott provides a soaring yet unobtrusive score that supports the epic emotion of the characters and the excitement of the action scenes.

Gail Russell, John Wayne

Gail Russell was John Wayne's leading lady in the previous year's Angel and the Badman under the banner of John Wayne Productions. Their on-screen chemistry in both films is undeniable and bolsters both of the stories.

When Wayne co-created his own production company in 1952 with Robert Fellows, he took the name Batjak from Wake of the Red Witch. His secretary misspelled the name as "Batjac" on the corporation filing, and not wanting to make a big deal of it, Wayne went with the "new" spelling.

Gail Russell, Randolph Scott

Personal problems kept Gail Russell off the screen from 1951 when John Wayne cast her in the Batjac production of Seven Men from Now in 1956. The film is well-regarded and a major part of that is the performance of Gail as Annie Greer opposite Randolph Scott as Ben Stride.  

Gig Young, Paul Fix, John Wayne

Paul Fix, who was an early mentor to John Wayne at the Pasadena Playhouse plays shipmate Arrezo, in one of 30 movies he and "Duke" collaborated on in their long association.

Duke Kahanamoku, Henry Brandon

America's Olympic swimming star of the 1912 Stockholm games, Hawaii-born Duke Kahanamoku plays the chief of the islanders. It is one of 13 movies in which he appeared between 1925 and 1967. Henry Brandon is featured as Karinua in Wake of the Red Witch. He also played opposite John Wayne as Bald Knobber in The Shepherd of the Hills, 1941 and Scar in The Searchers, 1956.



John Wayne as Captain Ralls fights an octopus in Wake of the Red Witch, 1948.


John Wayne as Captain Jack Stuart fights an octopus in Reap the Wild Wind, 1942.



The Red Witch sails into view.












20 comments:

  1. John Wayne fought an octopus—twice? Wow! That is pretty cool.

    That aside, this material sounds a little atypical for Wayne. The only way I can imagine him in a romantic setting is if Maureen O’Hara is involved—but then, I’ve seen pictures of Wayne from very early in his career and he was good-looking enough to do romance, I suppose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When someone has as long a career as John Wayne, you have to break up his roles into eras. "Duke" works as a romantic lead in the right material and era.

      Wake of the Red Witch is the dark, brooding sort of romance. Stuff like A Lady Takes a Chance with Jean Arthur or Without Reservations with Claudette Colbert are classic romantic comedy.

      Delete
    2. If I may butt in on this conversation, John Wayne - when young - was most certainly good in a romantic setting. He was a very attractive man. Too many people remember him old and overweight. He had great chemistry not only with Gail Russell and Maureen O'Hara, but also with Claire Trevor, Marlene Dietrich and Ella Raines.

      Red Witch is certainly a different kind of character for Wayne. I like it when he does that. Contrary to popular belief he didn't always play the upright hero. A better actor than most people gave him credit for.

      Delete
    3. I like the way John Wayne defers to or shares the screen with his leading ladies. He lets them shine whether it is someone with the chops of Marlene or a miscast Vera Ralston.

      Delete
    4. Oh dear, Vera Ralston. What Herbert Yates saw in her we'll never know. As far as I know Wayne had enough after a couple of pictures with her and refused to work with her. Quite rightfully he had the feeling it might ruin his career.

      Delete
    5. I rather like her in Jubilee Trail. I think she was starting to find her niche as a "character" person, but love is blind and I guess ol' Herb thought she should be a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.

      Delete
  2. I didn't know that was where the Batjac name came from. I always thought it was a bit of a strange one.

    I've been quite keen to see this one for a while, mainly because it's got John Wayne versus an octopus!

    Incidentally, it was actually a squid in Reap the Wild Wind. Squid don't like it when people confuse them with octopuses. They're very touchy about that in the squid community. And, trust me, you don't want to get on the wrong side of a squid.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is my face red! As someone whose children made her watch Spongebob, I should have been more aware of the squid community. There must be a great deal of pride with having been featured in a DeMille epic.

      I am surprised that TCM has not scheduled both of these movies during their March spotlight, Life at Sea.

      Delete
  3. Gail Russell - such a lovely, underrated actress, who brought such a haunting delicacy to her roles. She's wonderful in Seven Men From Now, in which her performance stands out; another excellent performance of hers is in The Tattered Dress, in which she plays a crime victim on trial. What would her career have been like had she more confidence in herself?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't recall Gail as the victim in The Tattered Dress. I do remember being impressed with her. Is it possible I may have reached my movie saturation point?

      Delete
  4. Still on my Wayne radar. I've been way too busy with blogathons. Ive got a couple dozen Wayne movies I still haven't watched including this one.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep. I've got a list of movies with a giant imaginary "S" next to them standing for "someday."

      Delete
  5. GAIL RUSSELL was married to GUY MADISON from 1949 to 1954. Guy was in TILL THE END OF TIME with DOROTHY MCGUIRE. We have mentioned that movie before. Speaking of MISS MCGUIRE I wonder if she would have been good paired up with DUKE. I think she would have. She was a great actress. The first two movies that come to mind are A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and OLD YELLER which is partly like a western. It is set in TEXAS in the 1800s.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Old Yeller is one of my favourite Disney features. I also loved Fred Gipson's book which I haven't read since childhood. Since they were both good actors, I think a John Wayne and Dorothy McGuire pairing would have been interesting.

      Delete
  6. Speaking of Out To Sea PATRICK WAYNE, the son of JOHN WAYNE, made five trips on THE LOVE BOAT. (Ive seen at least two eps.) I haven't seen the movie but Patrick was the star of SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER. JANE SEYMOUR and TARYN POWER(the daughter of TYRONE POWER) were also in the movie which came out in 1977. Patrick Wayne had a good career which he can be proud of. He may not have set the acting world on fire but he had a career to be respected.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The shipboard setting of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger would make it appropriate for the theme of this blogathon. Patrick Wayne acquitted himself well in his various roles in movies and on television.

      Delete
  7. Another excellent Gail Russell-John Wayne pairing. Love the movie. Too bad it wasn't in color. Favorite Quote: "I'm not one of those 'eye for an eye' men. No! I always take two eyes." For some reason I always forget Gig young is in the movie, and I've seen it three times!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On my recent rewatch prior to writing this piece, I too forgot that it was Gig Young playing the narrator role. It's not as if he's a forgettable sort of actor. I guess there is so much else going on in Wake of the Red Witch to take my attention.

      Delete
  8. SO sorry for the delay commenting on you wonderful post! I cannot believe I have never seen this film. It sounds just like my kind of thing. Thanks so much fo bringing it to the blogathon @

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And here I am, bringing up the rear. I'm so pleased you enjoyed the post and I think you'll feel the same about the movie.

      Delete

THE ROBERT DONAT BLOGATHON: The 39 Steps, 1935

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is hosting The Robert Donat Blogathon on July 3 to 5. Click HERE to join in the admiration for the fond...