Island in the Sky (1953) Poster

Island in the Sky (1953)

  • Rate: 6.9/10 total 1,550 votes 
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama
  • Release Date: 5 September 1953 (USA)
  • Runtime: 109 min
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Island in the Sky (1953)

Island in the Sky 1953tt0045919.jpg poster

  • IMDb page: Island in the Sky (1953)
  • Rate: 6.9/10 total 1,550 votes 
  • Genre: Adventure | Drama
  • Release Date: 5 September 1953 (USA)
  • Runtime: 109 min
  • Filming Location: Donner Lake, Truckee, California, USA
  • Budget: $967,000(estimated)
  • Director: William A. Wellman
  • Stars: John Wayne, Lloyd Nolan and Walter Abel|See full cast and crew
  • Original Music By: Emil Newman  Hugo Friedhofer (uncredited)  
  • Soundtrack: Island in The Sky
  • Sound Mix: Mono (WarnerPhonic/RCA Sound System) | 4-Track Stereo (WarnerPhonic/RCA)
  • Plot Keyword: Canada | Airplane | Cigarette Smoking | Food Rationing | Navigation

Writing Credits By:

  • Ernest K. Gann (screenplay)
  • Ernest K. Gann (novel "Island in the Sky")

Known Trivia

  • The little yellow radio shown in the movie was a actual radio. Its design is based on a WWII German emergency transmitter. It is a BC-778/SCR-578/AN-CRT3 emergency transmitter (it could not receive) affectionately called ‘Gibson Girl’, a name taken from the narrow-waisted female drawings of 1890s fashion artist Charles Gibson. Its shape allowed the operator to hold it between the legs while cranking it the necessary 80 RPM to produce enough electricity to operate. It could be set to automatically send an SOS signal or switched to send Morse Code signals. Early models transmitted only on 500kHz, later models also could transmit on 8280kHz (later modified to 8364kHz). It was notorious for being tough to crank.
  • The general plot is based on a true story that the author, Ernest Gann related in his 1961 autobiographical book about his flying career, “Fate is the Hunter”. He and other pilots searched successfully for a lost fellow pilot in the wilds of northern Canada during World War II.

Goofs: Factual errors: Hearing an incorrect latitude reading, Dooley says it could put them in Paris, Vladivostok, or Bangor ME, "all on the same latitude". The last two cities are at latitudes 43.1° and 44.8° north, which might be considered roundly the same, but Paris is significantly farther north at 48.8°. As a pilot with experience on Atlantic flights, Dooley would certainly know this.

Plot: A C-47 transport plane, named the Corsair, makes a forced landing in the frozen wastes of Labrador, and the plane's pilot… See more »  »

Story: A C-47 transport plane, named the Corsair, makes a forced landing in the frozen wastes of Labrador, and the plane's pilot, Captain Dooley, must keep his men alive in deadly conditions while waiting for rescue.Written by Jim Beaver <[email protected]>  


Synopsis: A simple group of commercial flyers, post WWII, one plane is downed in uncharted Canadian tundra, dead of winter, wicked cold. Limited resources. Other pilots start a search. Simple, huh? Remember…No GPS, No Radar, Limited radio and supplies! And that relentless bitter cold! But wait. These aren’t ordinary commercial pilots. We soon learn these guys have some real history, military types, probably in WWII. They’re tight, driven and fearless, and they’re gonna find and rescue The Duke and his crew if it kills them! Like a fine wine, what starts out as a simple story draws us into the lives of these fine men, and their families as well. Before you know it, your heart is racing, and the tears are flowing! Perhaps an overused cliche, but truly, they just don’t make films like this anymore! What’s more, you get to see James Arness cry! Real men, these.


FullCast & Crew

Produced By:

  • Robert Fellows known as producer (uncredited)
  • John Wayne known as producer (uncredited)

FullCast & Crew:

  • John Wayne known as Capt. Dooley
  • Lloyd Nolan known as Captain Stutz
  • Walter Abel known as Col. Fuller
  • James Arness known as Mac McMullen
  • Andy Devine known as Willie Moon
  • Allyn Joslyn known as J.H. Handy
  • Jimmy Lydon known as Murray (as James Lydon)
  • Harry Carey Jr. known as Ralph Hunt
  • Hal Baylor known as Stankowski
  • Sean McClory known as Frank Lovatt
  • Wally Cassell known as D'Annunzia
  • Gordon Jones known as Walrus
  • Frank Fenton known as Capt. Turner
  • Robert Keys known as Maj. Ditson
  • Sumner Getchell known as Lt. Cord
  • Regis Toomey known as Sgt. Harper
  • Paul Fix known as Wally Miller
  • Jim Dugan known as Gidley
  • George Chandler known as Rene
  • Louis Jean Heydt known as Fitch (as Louis Heydt)
  • Bob Steele known as Wilson
  • Darryl Hickman known as Swanson
  • Mike Connors known as Gainer (as Touch Connors)
  • Carl 'Alfalfa' Switzer known as Sonny Hopper (as Carl Switzer)
  • Cass Gidley known as Stannish
  • Herbert Anderson known as Breezy (as Guy Anderson)
  • Tony De Mario known as Ogden
  • Dawn Bender known as Murray's Wife (uncredited)
  • Gene Coogan known as Stutz's Navigator (uncredited)
  • Ann Doran known as Moon's Wife (uncredited)
  • Ed Fury known as Server in Officer's Mess (uncredited)
  • John Indrisano known as Mechanic (uncredited)
  • Tom Irish known as Dusty – McMullen's Co-Pilot (uncredited)
  • Fess Parker known as Fitch's Co-Pilot (uncredited)
  • Richard Walsh known as (uncredited)
  • Michael Wellman known as Mike Moon (uncredited)
  • Tim Wellman known as Jim Moon (uncredited)
  • William A. Wellman known as Narrator (voice) (uncredited)
  • Phyllis Winger known as Margaret – Girl in Flashback (uncredited)



Supporting Department

Makeup Department:
  • Web Overlander known as makeup artist

Art Department:

  • Joe LaBella known as property man (as Joseph La Bella)




Production Companies:

  • Warner Bros. Pictures (presents)
  • Wayne-Fellows Productions (as A Wayne-Fellows Production)


  • Warner Bros. Pictures (1953) (USA) (theatrical) (as Warner Bros.)
  • Warner Bros. Films (1954) (Finland) (theatrical)
  • Warner Bros. (1955) (West Germany) (theatrical)
  • Paramount Home Entertainment Finland (2007) (Finland) (DVD)
  • Paramount Home Video (2005) (USA) (DVD)
  • Yleisradio (YLE) (2008) (Finland) (TV)



Other Stuff

Release Date:
  • USA 3 September 1953 (Los Angeles, California) (premiere)
  • USA 5 September 1953
  • UK 9 November 1953
  • Japan 15 December 1953
  • France 30 December 1953
  • Finland 15 January 1954
  • Sweden 21 January 1954
  • Denmark 8 June 1954
  • Spain 6 June 1955
  • West Germany 1 July 1955
  • Portugal 9 August 1955
  • Austria September 1955



Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database

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Posted on January 16, 2013 by freeonlinemoviestreaming in Movies | Tags: , , .


  1. Piafredux from United States
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    "Island in the Sky" has long vanished from television station inventories:Ilast saw this movie in, best guess, 1960. But I’ve never forgotten it, &twoyears ago I tracked down the knuckle-biter Ernest K. Gann novel on whichthefilm is strongly based.

    When a transport plane goes down in the white-blindness of sub-arcticLabrador its crew is in dire straits: howling winds, icy weather, almost nofood, and no shelter or heat source. Fellow pilots & aircrews organize anair search, but the Labrador landscape they search is vast, monotonous &unforgiving of downed airmen: the searching crews know they’re in a raceagainst time, that the odds against their downed mates’ survival decreasewith every tick of the clock. The film sublimely depicts the searchers longhours of tedium in their inadequately heated Douglas C-47 flight decks, allthe while with their hope for sighting their downed comrades dimming. Theybattle the ice-fog, the weather fronts, the monotonous vastness of thelandscape, the limits of their aircraft and radios and compasses, and thehuman limits of their flying and navigational skills and their powerfulfatigue. Yet nobody will give up the search: each of the rescue crews knowsthat they themselves might, at nature’s or a fouled sparkplug’s whim, havebeen the men crash-landed in the frigid wasteland beneath theirwings.

    We also see the plight of the downed aircrew scrabbling in their plane’swreck for morsels of food, shelter, clothing, and with their frozen fingersstruggling to whirl the crank of a "Gibson Girl" emergency radiotransmitterof dubious value. We feel their growing, chilling despair: after all,they’re veteran airmen who know the odds against a search crew sightingtheir snow-covered wreck in this sub-arctic expanse where, from the air,every lake, hummock, snowfield, depression, hill and endless sweep ofterrain looks alike. They know their would-be rescuers are flying overuncharted space, without a single reliable reference point; and they knowthat magnetic compasses (long before GPS satellite navigation came on thescene)in the Labrador region are subject to grievously false readings -theyknow the searchers could well be flying the same search routes over andoveragain without even realizing it: and the search crews know it too. Andbecause there are no distinguishable landmarks, and because compasses areuntrustworthy, the shivering men know that even if they are sighted it’slikely that a rescue plane at the limit of its fuel could well be unable torelay accurate headings or recognizable landmarks to the crew of afollow-upaircraft.

    The script neatly follows Gann’s novel & its spirit: man and his pitifullyinadequate, yet much-ballyhooed technology pitted against nature, againstwhat has been called "the benign indifference of the universe". Gann was aveteran transport pilot whose novels, and this one is no exception, conveythe grim obstacles airmen faced in aviation’s primitive days. Gann’scharacters aren’t heroes: they’re just guys who happen to operate equipmentwhich, like the men themselves, has finite limitations in the face ofremorseless nature. Like the novel’s, the film’s dialogue is terse, thecasting superb: you can imagine each actor being the man Gann wrote aboutinhis novel. "Island in the Sky" is a no-frills film: no special effectsworthmentioning, and none are necessary. You get to be on the frozen earth inthemiddle of nowhere, and on the flight deck with the weary, half-snowblind,anxious search crews. You feel the fear, the anxiety, the pressure, thecold, the crews’ frustration with the limits of their technology andabilities.

    I’d love to see "Island in the Sky" come out on DVD: a solid,bare-bones, no glamor, no mercy story well told.

  2. bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    All I can say is the Wayne family estate is really making the Duke'sfans salivate over seeing this film and The High and the Mighty. Islandin the Sky came first and a lot of the same people have credits on thisand The High and the Mighty. William Wellman directed both, both fromnovels by Ernest K. Gann, and William Clothier photographed the aerialsequences in both.

    The only criticism I have of Island in the Sky is that I wish it hadbeen done in color. Those bleak vistas of the tundra where Wayne andhis crew are stranded would have really been outstanding in color.

    John Wayne and his crew have to make a forced landing in the bleaktundra of very northern Quebec and they have to hope to be rescuedbefore to long. It's either freezing or starvation, not a pleasantchoice. The Duke is a civilian pilot contracted to the army to flysupplies.

    When word of the fact he's down gets out his fellow civilian pilotcontractors drop whatever they're doing to search for Wayne. The restof the film is the story of that search and as the action shifts backand forth from the search to the men on the ground, the suspense neverlets up. Wayne gives one of his outstanding performances as the pilotin charge who has to hold his crew together until rescue comes. Somecloseup shots reveal his torment, but the men must never see it. Thisis a different John Wayne, battling the elements instead of bad guys.

    He gets great support from a great cast of players. I'd like to singleout Lloyd Nolan and Sean McClory in particular. Lloyd Nolan is one ofthe other pilots searching and he has a terrific scene on the telephonewith the wife of one of Wayne's crew, trying to comfort her and giveher hope and hopefully psyche himself up. It's beautifully played.

    Sean McClory is one of Wayne's crew on the ground and I won't tell youhis scene, but it is unforgettable and haunting.

    Of course the credit here also goes to director William Wellman.Wellman before he became a director was a real adventuring character inhis youth which included a stint in the Lafayette Escadrille. Hedeveloped a life long love of aviation and a lot of his films have anaviation background and theme.

    One other thing that's probably reason enough to get this film if itcomes out. Andy Devine is another of the pilots searching for Wayne. Acall is placed to his home and his wife in turn relays it to Andy whois at a public pool with his two kids. He takes the call and then sayswe have to leave, but one more race to the other side of the pool. Hetosses the kids in and then does a great belly flop dive in the poolhimself.

    Andy was a big fat man. God only knows where they got a bathing suit tofit him. But he's quite a sight doing that dive and in a bathing suit.

    If it is ever shown on TV catch it if at all possible.

  3. Marta from United States
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    This is one of my husband’s favorite films, but he won’t write reviews soit’s up to me. Wayne and his crew crash in a bitterly cold mountainousregion, and spend the rest of the film trying to contact someone to rescuethem. Their radio is out, and all they have is a hand-cranked signaldevicethat must be continuously operated if they have a chance of being found.They slowly lose crewmen as the hours go by to injuries and the cold.Willthey be rescued?

    We’ve got an old copy of "Island in the Sky" on tape or I would never havebeen able to write this review since it was made before I was born. Thisfilm is one of the Wayne estate’s hostage’s; it’s mired in legal battlesandwho knows when it will ever be out. The same used to be true of"McClintock", but that eventually came out, so there is hope.

  4. norman cerasoli ([email protected]) from New Jersey, USA
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    This is based on a true story and I had the priviledge to fly with theco-pilot of that trip of Feb 3, 1943. His comment was that he didn’t likethe movie because they showed the co-pilot dieing in the movie. On Feb.3,1993,50th annaversary of the downing of the B-24 liberator/cargo version,Iflew directly over Lac O’connor flying a trip from Frankfurt, Germany toChicago, Ill. The Lat. and Long. is roughly N54:20 and W74:30. The moviedidn’t tell the whole story;although, very well done. There was aNortheastAirlines DC-3 down also. When they first found O’Connor and his crew, theNE Airline pilot thought he could just land and pick them up. When hetouched down, he was buried in snow. They spent exactly 2 mos on thelake.They were flown out on April 3, 1943. If you can find a book by JamesMangan called westward……. something or other, has a very factual rundown. Try the C.R. Smith museum in Ft. Worth, TX.

  5. Anthony Goebel (a70boles) from Federal Way, Washington
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    I have been trying to purchase the movie for 20 year’s or more w/ noluck, I even went to San Juan Island ( where E.K. Gann Lived ),Unfortunately it was right after his death & I would not bother hiswife. It’s the only movie w John Wayne that I ever loved. I haven’tseen it in at least 20 or 25 years. I say it was Wayne’s Greatest roll,& I would pay almost anything to see it before I die. The only thingthat would have made it better, if it had been made in color. Thescenery was so beautiful, I don’t know where it was filmed, but it surelooked like Northern Labrador or Quebec. I don’t get to travel anymorebut I send to chamber of commerce & get brochure’s. Some book’s aboutsimilar area’s, that one might enjoy, would be book’s buy "FarleyMowat", People of The Deer, or "Never Cry Wolf". If you Liked the movie"Island In The Sky" You will LOVE the Book.

  6. grampa052 from United States
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    Free at last. AMC Channel is showing Island in the Sky & The High andthe Mighty the weekend of July 16 & 17. Get your recording equipmentready. I have been waiting almost fifty years to see this movie again.I think it was the first time I ever saw John Wayne in a movie. I wasabout 13. As the hero he was bigger than life to me at the time. Henever gave up even if the situation looked hopeless. As I grew olderand thought of the movie at times I was even more impressed with hisactions. I hope now that the Wayne family has released it to TV theywill also release it with a new set of DVDs. I have checked this website often to see if there were any new info on the release or showingof this movie.

  7. R. David Adams ([email protected]) from Minot North Dakota
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    It has been years since I saw the Shootist in a Theater and often wishI could see a John Wayne movie I have never seen, I just did, Island inthe Sky was a movie I have never seen… ever. and on DVD on my Bigscreen it was like seeing the Duke in a new movie… And the best partit was probably one of his best. The bad part…where the heck has thisbeen? Stunning photography mostly on location, great airborne shots.Good tense drama. The only thing is I wish they would have pickedanother actor to portray the sobbing you married man, he was just tooover the top, the rest of the cast was fun. The DVD had some fun extrason the writer and director as well as making of… I just showed it tosome friends and they agree this was a real lost gem of a movie!

  8. Michael O'Keefe from Muskogee OK
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    Slow moving and deliberate, but an over-looked William Wellman gem.Based on an Ernest K. Gann novel, ISLAND IN THE SKY has John Wayneplaying Captain Dooley, who is forced to land his C-47 transport planein the vast white wilderness of Labrador. Harsh windy weather, bittercold, no real shelter and very little food for Dooley and his five mancrew. Surviving long enough to be rescued is utmost among thoughts ofthe dedicated airmen. The uncharted tundra, ice and fog works againstthe searchers in finding the fatigued Dooley and his crew. The humancondition and spirit and fortitude of mankind itself is foremost inthis talky drama. The very talented cast includes: Lloyd Nolan, AndyDevine, Harry Carey Jr, Paul Fix, Hal Baylor, Jimmy Lydon and Carl"Alfalfa" Switzer. Over-shadowed by another Wellman/Wayne vehicle THEHIGH AND THE MIGHTY.

  9. theowinthrop from United States
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    In the 1950s there were two first rate novelists who touched upon (orconcentrated on) aviation as their theme. The Australian – English onewas Nevil Shute (Norway), who was an aviation engineer. His novel wasNO HIGHWAY, made into a 1950 film with Jimmy Steward, Glynis Johns,Marlene Dietrich, and Jack Hawkins – about the danger of metal fatigueon airplanes. He also wrote an interesting memoir of his early years inaviation SLIDE-RULE, but later left the aviation theme for his bestnovels, A TOWN NAMED ALICE and ON THE BEACH. His American counterpartwas Ernest K. Gann, who wrote ISLAND IN THE SKY and THE HIGH AND THEMIGHTY, both dealing with planes in trouble. Both were also made intofilms produced and starring John Wayne, and directed by former WorldWar I ace William Wellman.

    THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY dealt with an airliner in trouble over thePacific on a flight from Hawaii to San Francisco, and how the crew andpassengers react to the danger. Similarly, ISLAND IN THE SKY deals witha cargo plane that crash lands in Labrador and how the crew has to fendfor itself against the harsh Arctic tundra (the temperature is between40 and 70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and the area is devoid of anyedible vegetation or animals). The problem is extended due to the factthat the plane is in unexplored Arctic territory, and the crew hasdwindling power to try to keep in touch with their rescuers.

    John Wayne plays the pilot in ISLAND IN THE SKY, of a crew of fourothers (Sean McClory, Jimmy Lyden, Hal Baylor, and Wally Cassell). Hisleadership skills are tested as never before because of the hostile,deadly environment that they are in. In fact the Duke on severaloccasions displays a degree of despair in his face that one rarelysees, when rescue planes keep missing him or when equipment seems tofail. If one really doubts the cinematic acting abilities of JohnWayne, one has to watch his performance here. He is more fragile herethan in any other film, including THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE.

    The others in the crew, such as Cassell as the radio operator -struggling in that numbing cold to try to keep the electric generatorworking while he sends out a signal – are good. Another reviewersingled out Sean McClory, as Wayne's co-pilot, who does find the worsteffects of the environment when trying to return to the camp.

    The other members of the cast do well, in what is primarily a male cast(there are three women in the cast who play the love interests or wivesof some of the men). Single out young James Arness as a SouthCarolinian who hates air force red tape (and shows it forcibly to asilly officer by eating a military memo). Andy Devine gives asurprisingly effective performance in a serious part (usually playingcomic relief, as in STAGECOACH or LIBERTY VALANCE). Here he cuts shorta vacation to help lead the search for his friend Wayne – and his grimface shows his helplessness when Wayne seems more lost than expected.Lloyd Nolan and his co-pilot, Carl Switzer, make an effective pair inthe final search. Also on hand is Allan Joslyn, Louis Jean Heydt, BobSteele, Regis Toomey and (as the commanding officer heading the searchorganizing) Walter Abel. These, with Wellman's fine detail for aviationsituations make ISLAND IN THE SKY one of the most fascinating films inWayne's long career.

  10. Nick Zegarac (movieman-200) from Canada
    16 Jan 2013, 12:45 pm

    Island in the Sky (1953) is a John Wayne programmer elevated by therough and tumble, no nonsense approach in direction by William A.Wellman. Wayne is Captain Dooley, a pilot of a transport plane thatunfortunately crash lands in the middle of a frozen nowhere – actuallybilled as Labrador. Faced with imminent starvation and death, Dooleyhas to keep his wits and the spirits of his crew and cargo passengersalive until they are rescued. The plot, relatively trivial and ratherunremarkable (considering the subject matter) is greatly elevated bystrong performances from Lloyd Nolan (Stutz), Walter Abel (Col. Fuller)and Andy Devine (Moon). There’s some great tidbits of human suffrage,the prerequisite "we’re all going to die" panic scene and the even moreprerequisite "we shall overcome…look, we’re saved" finale. It is toWellman’s credit that none of the kitsch and cliché never amount toanything more than a moderately predictable scenario under which he isable to flesh out some truly inspiring performances.

    Despite being advertised as ‘meticulously restored and remastered’ theblack and white image is riddled with film grain and age relatedartifacts. Contrast levels sometimes appear a tad too low. Blacks aregenerally deep but fine details get lost in them. Whites are rarelyclean, but at least they don’t bloom or appear excessively muddy. Theaudio is mono but nicely balanced. Extras include a few featurettes,theatrical trailers, audio commentary and stills gallery. Over all,nicely put together from Paramount but we still could have used morereverence and attention to detail on the actual film transfer.

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