Wake of the Red Witch at the IMDb
Sorry fans of the supernatural there is no actual witch in this film - it’s the name of a boat - albeit a boat with a grudge! It also has John Wayne and the best rubber octopus fight you’re ever likely to see so it must be great right? Mmmmm…
Wayne stars as Captain Ralls. We know he’s a bit loopy from the off when he punishes men caught fighting by making them have a big fight. That’ll learn them. You do have to be sympathetic though as the ship commanded by Wayne is a stock footageship and a poor one at that - every time we see it in an establishing shot it’s doing the same turn - he must have been going around in circles for years!
Anyway it’s the 1860s and Wayne is running a cargo of $5 million of gold bullion. No sooner has he welcomed a new officer on board that he decides to crash the ship and tell a tale to the board of enquiry. Suspicious insurance types will thinks he’s after a payoff or plans to go back and salvage the gold when no one is looking but c’mon - it’s John Wayne!
Narration is taken up by his new officer Sam Rosen who has a thin moustache and is easily lead. The scallywag sailors hire a boat and sail about a while trying to shake off the insurance men who don’t believe the false co-ordinates the rascals gave for the wrecked ship’s location. After buying a treasure map at a bar, as you do, the lads arrive at a remote island inhabited by some pearl divers and a couple of dubious Frenchies.
We soon learn in narration and flashback that the trap is nothing of the sort and Wayne has orchestrated things to get back to the island and reclaim his girl, We learn that seven years before Wayne fought a big octopus for a box of pearls and in return was given the captaincy of the Red Witch. He’s rather have the girl however and despite losing her to the nasty Frenchman decides to win her back. Sadly she snuffs it and although his first mate gets a squeeze of another lady in a big frock Wayne agrees to go back to the wreck of The Red Witch to get the gold - can he find the cargo or does a greater prize await him?
This was an over long and needlessly complex bit of nonsense but I actually quite enjoyed it. It made no concessions to John Wayne being cast as a maverick seafarer and he certainly didn’t bother with any accent or characterisation - he is John Wayne after all. Although set in the South Seas it looks like Wayne never left the studio with one memorable scene showing him walking by a projection of men who appeared to be watching a projection of Islanders in their canoes. Not so much you can see the joins as the joins are all there is to see!
The characters were as you’d expect - villainous and broadly sketched. The evil French overlord had no redeeming features although for some reason he was sad when Wayne was mistakenly thought dead despite trying to kill him throughout. The best bit was of course the underwater octopus fight. Wayne was really fat and puffed his way down about ten feet to retrieve a chest that the locals had failed to capture for many years. Not satisfied with this he jumps back and rolls about with the beast in a scene terrifying to anyone with a phobia of vulcanised products.
The ladies had nothing much to do apart from look pretty and Gail Russell certainly managed this im a series of low cut tops. Seemingly she and Wayne hooked up after this film and you can see he got a better return than the audience! The finale which sees Wayne in a massive diver’s suit plundering the wreck is good for a few laughs as every gold bar lifted causes it to see-saw violently - who stored them exactly in the middle! The slightly shock ending added an extra tick and overall this was a fun outing with a couple of standout scenes that could have been lifted straight from the Marx Brothers.
Best Bit : Put that tentacle there John
‘W’ Rating 14/23