Based on Thelma Strabel’s story that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Cecil B. DeMille’s Reap the Wild Wind is an Antebellum epic filled with thrilling adventure but a puzzling love triangle, but the former makes up the latter.
Set in 1840, the dangers of seafaring are revealed as the Jubilee, with Captain Jack Stuart (John Wayne) knocked out, wrecks along the rocks off Key West, Florida. Ships head out to save the cargo and crew. Loxi (Paulette Goddard), much more independent than the other women of her era, has taken over her late father’s salvage business, though she develop feeling for Jack. The Cutler brothers are competitors. Not only do they fire upon the Jubilee to keep its distance, they have an inside man responsible for the wreck. Adding to their villainy, the Culters only want the ship’s goods and don’t care about its crew. Complicating matters, Loxi’s cousin Drusilla (Susan Hayward) is secretly seeing Dan Cutler (Robert Preston), but the way their relationship impacts the story is nice surprise.
In Charleston, South Carolina, Loxi meets lawyer Steve Tolliver (Ray Milland) who works for the Devereaux shipping company which employs Jack. She pretends to be interested in Steve, thinking it’ll benefit Jack. When rumor spreads about an engagement between them, Loxi puts an end to it, leading Steve to give her a spanking for fooling him. She and Jack plan to head back to Key West, but before the ship’s captain can offer the vows, Steve arrives. He fights Jack and throws Loxi overboard, leading to her to sail back to Key West with him where he plans to investigate the piracy against his company’s ships. King Cutler (Raymond Massey) doesn’t want Steve snooping around, so he sets him up to be shanghaied on a whaling vessel for three years. Loxi learns of this and has Jack help save him. The former rivals form a truce but it’s temporary.
When Jack learns Steve has become the head of Devereaux, he worries that Steve will sabotage his career, so he makes a deal with King Cutler to steal the cargo from Southern Cross. Steve figures it out, and takes Loxi and her boat to stop Steve. She refuses to believe Jack would do such a thing, but after the ship is wrecked, a trial is held. When it’s suggested that Drusilla may have been aboard and not survived, Jack and Steve don diving suits. The dangers of the sea test the men and reveal their character.
Loxi begins as an compelling character, but she becomes less interesting as the men fight over her. Although she began the love triangle, it never becomes a serious one and her importance in it diminishes as the film progresses. While Steve is a decent and smart fellow, she isn’t shown seriously considering him as a suitor. Plus, the plot forces her hand and doesn’t allow her to decide the victor. The relationship/rivalry between Steve and Jack, which believably ebbs and flows, is much more interesting, and Milland and Wayne play off each other well.
The special effects team of Gordon Jennings, Farciot Edouart and William Pereira (photographic); Louis Mesenkop (sound) won the film’s only Academy Award. Minus Pereira, the team repeated, having won for I Wanted Wings, and notably beat themselves that year having been also nominated for Aloma of the South Seas. In particular, the miniatures work of ships was impressive.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The colors appear in realistic hues, though faces skew a tad pink. Black are inky. The texture detail in the costumes and miniatures is very fine and in the case of the latter adds to the believability of the objects. The focus isn’t always sharp within the frame. Objects in the backgrounds and foregrounds can be soft. Dirt and other marks appear throughout.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and comes through with a pleasing dynamic range for an older title. The dialogue is consistently clear. Victor Young’s score comes through with good fidelity. The crashing of waves during storms are nicely augmented by bass.
The Special Features are a bit lacking. An Automated Image Gallery (16 min) and trailers for Reap the Wild Wind, The Spoilers, Pittsburgh, Legend of the Lost, Branigan, Panic in Year Zero, The Premature Burial, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes.
For those seeking classic Hollywood adventure, Reap the Wild Wind will fit the bill. Although the video has room for improvement, Kino’s Blu-ray offers a satisfying high-def experience, even though I would have liked a featurette or two about its making and those responsible.