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Monday, February 14, 2011

WAKE OF THE RED WITCH (1948)

At first, it’s fun to watch John Wayne working out of his comfort zone as a revenge-minded skipper in this twisty sea-faring adventure pic. But after he scuttles his fortune-bearing rig, with the help of old mate Paul Fix and new mate Gig Young, the film is all far-fetched flashbacks with Wayne’s nemesis, Luther Adler, & Adler’s pretty niece, Mara Adele, filling us in on the past. And what a past! Wooden chests filled with pearls, sunk in a deep island cove and now guarded by a giant rubber octopus! Can Duke hold his breath long enough to retrieve them! Plus, pagan rites on Easter Island II where the natives treat Wayne like a God. But can he dance? Surviving a ship explosion; racing to the bedside of your dying lover; finding the perfect revenge for those who have tormented you; searching for gold bars at the bottom of the sea. It’s hard to tell where THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO leaves off and WUTHERING HEIGHTS begins. (The bedside visit to Gail Russell, the only woman Wayne could ever love, and the film’s final ghostly image even look like William Wyler’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS/’39.) Director Edward Ludwig tries to work around Republic Studio’s cost-conscious budget, but what should be a rousing romantic South Seas adventure comes off as a shaggy dog story.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Keep your eyes peeled for THE SEA WOLF/'41 (Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield, Ida Lupino; dir. Michael Curtiz; script Robert Rosson; score Erich Wolfgang Korngold) which Warners will hopefully restore & release with the ten minutes they snipped out and tossed overboard.

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