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Island in the Sky


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Adventure/Drama, USA, 1953, 109 min.

Synopsis During World War II, Capt. Dooley, a commercial airline pilot serving in the Army Air Transport, experiences bad weather conditions during a flight. Unable to get his bearings, he crash-lands the four-engine Corsair on a frozen lake in an uncharted area of Labrador. Dooley takes stock during the night, as the temperature drops to seventy below, noting that he and his crew have thirty gallons of gas left to run the generator and six days of rations. Realizing that panic and brutal temperatures may diminish their mental clarity, Dooley prepares to keep up his men's morale. Miles away, on Presque Island, Maine, Army Col. Fuller calls in all available pilots for a search and rescue operation, and news of Dooley's predicament brings many volunteers from the close-knit fraternity of pilots, including Dooley's friend Moon. However, bad weather conditions and poor visibility hinder the team's efforts. In the days that pass, temperatures at the crash site rise no higher than forty below zero. D'Annunzia, Dooley's radioman, nurses the Corsair's dying generator. After he reports that the generator has little power left to transmit messages for help, the young navigator, Murray, and engineer Stankowski take turns cranking a hand-operated generator, which provides only a weak signal. Although the rescue team receives a transmission from Dooley's crew, they are unable to make out the stranded crew's bearings. On the ground, Dooley and his men prepare for a brutal storm and not until evening does Dooley realize that co-pilot Lovatt has slipped away alone, against direct orders, to hunt for game. Dooley and the men search for Lovatt, but find it difficult to maintain a sense of direction in the falling snow and darkness. They call out and shoot into the air to give him a sound to follow, but Lovatt has already succumbed to the bitter cold, hallucinating that he is riding a carousel with his girl friend, which is across a fairway from a shooting gallery. In reality, Lovatt is wandering circles through the snow and finally drops, and the next day Dooley and the crew find his body several yards from the aircraft. As they bury Lovatt, rescue planes pass over, but fail to see them. However, Moon, who is piloting one of the planes, senses that the downed crewmen are near and has his radioman telegraph a message in Morse code, suggesting that Dooley build a large fire to mark his location. Dooley's men get the message and prepare a bonfire with what they can find, but their attempts to radio Moon fail. As night approaches and an ice storm makes flying hazardous, the rescue team returns reluctantly to Presque Island, again passing over the stranded men below. Aware that a low pressure weather system is forming and will soon halt the search for several days, Fuller and the flyers debate whether to use the time they have left to search in a new area or return to areas they have already flown over. After Moon convinces them to re-comb previously explored areas, Fuller orders a night search and the pilots return to the skies for a last-ditch effort to save their colleagues. In the air, they retrieve a weak radio message from Dooley, asking the planes to "return to the same place," and they attempt to retrace their previous search flights. Unaware that his message has been received, Dooley, who hides the panic he feels, has the men crank the generator to transmit radio signals and shoots flares and pistols. Eventually, his activities are spotted by the searchers, who are nearly out of gas after flying all night. After dropping off emergency supplies and a note promising that ski planes will be sent to rescue them, the search planes return to Presque Isle.

Directed by William A. Wellman  

Starring John Wayne, Lloyd Nolan, Walter Abel, James Arness, Andy Devine, more...

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