Wayne reaches for the Wuthering Heights
The story of unfortunate lovers who, despite a deep affection for one another, are forced by circumstance to live apart, nope I'm not on about "Wuthering Heights" but in fact "Wake of the Red Witch". But it would be understandable if you thought I was as "Wake of the Red Witch" borrows heavily from "Wuthering Heights" in fact it borrows from a few movies but doesn't do a bad job of all this borrowing to cobble together quite an entertaining movie. And "Wake of the Red Witch" is also a movie which sees John Wayne delve deep inside himself to create a rather impressive character and shows that he was capable of a lot more as an actor than so many gave him credit for.
Captain Ralls (John Wayne - Red River) and first mate Sam Rosen (Gig Young - Kid Galahad) join forces to sink their ship The Red Witch so that sometime in the future they can return to retrieve the millions in bullion which went down with it. Whilst Sam believes that Ralls is only in it for the money he soon discovers there is more to his actions when a year later they find themselves on an island near the sinking where shipping magnate Mayrant Ruysdaal Sidneye (Luther Adler) lives. Sam quickly discovers that Ralls and Sidneye have history having fallen in love with the same woman, the beautiful Angelique Desaix (Gail Russell) with Rall losing out when her Uncle got involved.
Now "Wake of the Red Witch" is one of those movies which is a story inside a story, so whilst it may start off with Captain Ralls purposefully sinking the Red Witch so that along with a select crew can return later on to salvage the bullion on aboard, this is just a storyline which book ends the movie. But whilst seemingly only there to act as a beginning and an end it's a reasonably clever storyline as we Watch Ralls cover his tracks when it comes to the sinking of the Red Witch and we all so see how the Marine court are suspicious of him and those such as Sam Rosen who assist him. And the actual final part of this storyline is quite good as well, surprisingly dramatic if a little too fanciful, watch it you will understand what I mean.
But as I mentioned this is really just the lead in to the main storyline which is the story of not only how Ralls and Sidneye became partners but also enemies when they both fell for the beautiful Angelique Desaix. Now to be honest love triangles are nothing new and they weren't back in 1948 either, so someone always loses out and in this case it is Ralls who loves Angelique and she him but due to his social standing ends up losing out to Sidneye. But it is a surprisingly beautiful and tender love story which allows John Wayne to show his softer side whilst also delivering plenty of power. And it is full of memorable scenes such a certain death scene which whilst basically a copy of "Wuthering Heights" still works.
It's not all romance and there is also a fair bit of action going on right from the start as we watch sailors beating the crap out of each other. For a movie which is over 60 years old the action still stands up surprisingly well especially when it comes to the various boat scenes. Although a scene which sees Ralls battle an octopus does cheapen things ever so slightly.
Now for anyone who says John Wayne couldn't act and played John Wayne in every movie really should watch "Wake of the Red Witch". Wayne as Captain Ralls maybe a macho captain who throws punches and acts tough but he also has a sensitive side which adds a very different layer of interest to his character. And that is not the only layer as there is also the raging beast side where he falls into an angry trance when he drinks too much. It is a very good performance from Wayne and whilst others such as Gig Young and Luther Adler also put in good performances they are easily out shone. The exception comes from Gail Russell as Angelique because not only is she beautiful but she gets across the character of a woman torn by love.
What this all boils down to is that "Wake of the Red Witch" is another good John Wayne movie which may borrow heavily from various other movies including "Wuthering Heights" does a good job of stringing it all together. It's not the epic that it is trying to be but it is an above average love story which sees John Wayne showing that he was capable of a lot more than just playing himself in movies.