Wake of the Red Witch

Wake of the Red Witch

DVD - 2007
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"John Wayne battles enemies above and below the waves-including a giant killer octopus-in Wake Of the Red Witch. This sprawling epic adventure pits the tough-minded Captain Ralls (John Wayne) against the treacherous Captain Sidneye (Luther Adler) in a bitter rivalry on a South Seas isle. At stake is a fortune in pearls hidden in an underwater cave. At risk is the hand of the beautiful Angelique (Gail Russell), daughter of Desiax, the tyrant ruler of the island who plans to marry her off to Sidneye. In an attempt to rescue Angelique, Ralls must seize the pearls and exchange them for her freedom. The danger continues as fate holds on final test of strength for the bold Captain and the woman he loves."--Container.
Publisher: [Santa Monica], Calif. : Lionsgate; [Toronto] : distributed in Canada by Maple Pictures, 2007, c1948
Characteristics: 1 videodisc (106 min.) : 2.0 Dolby digital Surround sd., b&w ; 12 cm

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ThomasWMutherJr
Oct 09, 2018

A Patchwork of a Film, Redeemed by the Strength of It's Characterizations

Essentially a "Wuthering Heights" on the high seas, this occasionally confusing film is really a piecing together of two previous films: The 1939 version of the Bronte Classic, and the 1942 Cecil B. DeMille actioner, "Reap the Wild Wind." Scenes from both of these films have been lifted whole from the originals and welded into the flimsy supporting latticework of its plot. What weaknesses the film has, however, are more than made up by the vividness of the characterizations, a powerful romance, and one of the best portrayals of a grudging symbiotic relationship in cinema.

The plot revolves around three characters, Ralls (John Wayne), ship's captain with a dark and dangerous side, Mayrant Sidneye (Luther Adler), an ubber-wealthy shipping magnate, and the beautiful Angelique (Gail Russell)--focal point for the romance. (There is a fourth "main" character, Sam, played by Gig Young, but he serves only as observer and narrator.) Ralls and Sidneye have a curious, bitter rivalry. Clearly, these men have a long history between them--a history which goes back much farther, and is much more complex than can be explained by their competition for Angelique's affections. Indeed, it is the relationship between these two men that powers this movie along, much more than the wonderfully played romance. These men hate and despise one another, yet there is clearly a grudging respect between them--and something more. Here are two men whose very existence and reason for being depends on the other. Every move they make is calculated as to its effect on their adversary. Though their mutual hatred extends well into the murderous range, neither would ever conceive of killing the other. So tied up in each other's fate are they that they would do just as well to kill themselves.

**SPOILERS** The doomed romance plays out between the three principles much as it does in the aforementioned '39 film "Wuthering Heights," complete with a virtual duplication of the dying scene--in this case with Angelique in Ralls' arms, looking out to the sea (instead of the heather), with Sidneye, the husband, looking helplessly on. That this is a virtual copy of the love story from the earlier film does not detract much from its power, as these three actors are at their riveting best, almost making us forget the Olivier/Oberon/Niven flimization. Luther Adler is terrific in his perhaps finest role. He makes his obsession with Ralls palpable, both his hatred and respect seem to ooze from his pores in equal measure. Though his character is confined to a wheelchair, his power is never doubted, making him every bit the match for his more physically imposing rival. Gail Russell is an actress whose flame died out too quickly. Here she gives us one of her two best performances, the other being in "Angel and the Badman" from the year before which also starred John Wayne. Though the main focus is on the two male characters, her luminous, fragile Angelique gives the viewer a sympathetic refuge from the often ruthless machinations of Ralls and Sidneye.

Undeniably, John Wayne gives one of his best--and most complex-- performances here. That he was an excellent actor should be undisputed, though too often he found himself in roles where he played one-dimensional characters that would have bored except for his considerable charisma. Here, his character is alternately charming and broodingly malevolent, given to alcohol fueled bouts of violence and self-loathing, his motivations are often morally ambiguous. Wayne hits all of these notes with perfect pitch, and does something many actors would not have been able to accomplish--he makes us care about this often unlikable personality through the sheer force of his remarkable screen presence. It is this performance, most of all, that keeps "The Red Witch" from sinking under the bleak, sometimes oppressive weight of its plot.

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