(director: John Ford; screenwriters: from the book by Commander Frank “Spig” Wead/Frank Fenton/William Wister Haines; cinematographer: Paul C. Vogel; editor: Gene Ruggiero; music: Jeff Alexander; cast: John Wayne (Frank W. ‘Spig’ Wead), Dan Dailey (‘Jughead’ Carson), Maureen O’Hara (Min Wead), Ward Bond (John Dodge), Ken Curtis (John Dale Price), Edmund Lowe (Adm. Moffett), Kenneth Tobey (Capt. Herbert Allen Hazard), Tige Andrews (Arizona Pincus), Mae Marsh (Nurse Crumley); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Charles Schnee; MGM; 1957)

“This routine sentimental biopic is directed with much feeling by John Ford.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the book by Commander Frank “Spig” Wead; the screenplay is by Frank Fenton and William Wister Haines. This routine sentimental biopic is directed with much feeling by John Ford, but it’s not one of Ford’s better efforts. Though it’s a fitting homage to Ford’s dear friend and collaborator (screenwriter for Air Mail and They Were Expendable) Commander Frank “Spig” Wead, who was influential in bringing “air power” to the U.S. Navy. After falling down a flight of stairs in his home, Wead broke his neck and became paralyzed. Wead became a writer and after many rejections was accepted by Hollywood as a screenwriter. He wrote Ceiling Zero for Howard Hughes. The WW1 fighter pilot’s story spans from the days of Calvin Coolidge’s presidency to the beginnings of WW11. It unsuccessfully tries to mix bawdy comedy with solemn drama.

Ward Bond plays irascible Hollywood director John Dodge, a caricature of John Ford. Bond, Ford’s longtime drinking buddy, looks and acts like Ford. John Wayne plays the charmer Wead, who is pictured as a gung-ho but reckless Navy aviator. Maureen O’Hara is Minnie, Wead’s beleaguered wife, who embodies all the domestic virtues that scare him off as he chooses the Navy over her and their children. After his baby son’s death, they become more apart even though they have two girls.

After Wead’s crippling accident, the brave action hero must learn how to face life anew. Upon his request, Wead becomes estranged from his wife. In a hospital bed for 8 months, Wead battles to move his toe while strapped down in bed. Wead keeps saying to himself “I’m gonna move that toe,” while carefree Navy mechanic buddy “Jughead” Carson (Dan Dailey) plays the uke and tries to help by being constantly at his bedside. Wayne as a cripple in agony, calls for a different kind of acting from him.

Success comes to Wead as he gets out of poverty through his writing and manages to eventually walk around with a cane. After the attack of Pearl Harbor, Wead uses his influence with Admiral Moffett to return to active duty. He contributes to the war effort by supervising the construction of “jeep carriers,” the Navy’s escort carriers, which become invaluable because they did the routine patrol work, scouting and escorting of convoys that their larger fleet-type counterparts couldn’t do.

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