Island in the Sky

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Plot
Island in the Sky" follows the personal drama of a pilot and crew of a World War II-era C-47 Skytrain (the military version of the DC-3) trying to survive after a forced emergency landing on a frozen lake in the uncharted wildlands of Labrador, Canada. The plane's pilot, Dooley, is a former airline pilot who, like many others, was pressed into duty hauling war supplies across the northern route to England. Weather, combined with the immense difficulty in navigating the northland, force the plane to land in an unknown location. After escaping death by finding a lake for a landing field, Dooley must keep his men alive in deadly conditions while waiting for rescue. Fellow airmen (Lloyd Nolan, James Arness, Andy Devine, Paul Fix) are determined to find them before hunger and the 70-below winter do them in. Wellman provides the narration for the stoic characters that tells us what is going on inside their minds. There is tension and fear-filled war council among the search pilots when no one's quite sure what to do next — the wrong decision could doom the missing crew — and so no one looks anybody else in the face.

Details such as the ice pick kept handily embedded in a barracks wall so that pilots can break the ice sheet on their morning wash water add to the sense of reality provided by the film.

This script was based on the true story of a flight on February 3, 1943, though the co-pilot did not actually die.

Island in The Sky is a 1953 film released through Warner Brothers. The film starred and was co-produced by John Wayne, directed by William A. Wellman, and written by Ernest K. Gann, who also wrote the novel (Island in the Sky) on which the film is based.

Island in the Sky and its "sister" film, The High and the Mighty, are American movie oddities in that they are two of the first all-star "disaster" films which paved the way for Airport and its sequels twenty-plus years later. Both films are early John Wayne co-productions in which he also starred. The two films shared many of the same crew members (producers, director, writer, cinematographer, and editor), and in addition to Wayne, no less than six other actors also have parts in both films: Regis Toomey, Paul Fix, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Ann Doran, George Chandler, and Michael Wellman. In addition both films are based on original stories by Ernest K. Gann who also wrote the screenplays.

Both Island in the Sky and The High and the Mighty were out of circulation for about a quarter-century due to legal issues. They finally returned to television in July 2005, the first such broadcasts in twenty years, and also released as special edition  DVDs that August.

Transocean pilot, Captain Frank Kennedy, was a personal friend of Ernest Gann and performed some of the flying scenes.  His story is below.