Wake of Red Witch (1949):

“Wake of the Red Witch,” Edward Ludwig’s dreamlike, after life tale, an unusual vehicle for John Wayne, is set in the East Indies.

Wayne plays Captain Ralls, a sea captain who deliberately sinks his ship, the Red Witch sailing vessel owned by Batjack, the Dutch East Indies Trading Company.

The ensuing Maritime Commission investigation is halted abruptly by Mayrant Ruysdaal Sidneye (Luther Adler, brother of acting guru Stella Adler), Batjack’s wealthy and powerful head.

Ralls, partner Sam Rosen (Gig Young), and mate Ripper (Paul Fix) set out in a schooner, sailing in all sorts of weather. They arrive at a South Sea Island lagoon, presumably to hunt for pearls, but their real motivation is hunting a richer treasure.

Welcomed by Sidneye, Sam becomes aware of the greed and passion that motivate Ralls and the trader. After falling in love with Teleia Van Schreeven (Adele Mara), she warns him of big danger ahead. It turns out that seven years ago, the crew of Sidneye’s schooner, the Red Witch, rescued Ralls from the shark-infested waters around the Gilbert Islands.

Wayne turns to drink in ”Wake of the Red Witch,” when he learns that another man is going to marry his girl, Angelique Desaix (Gail Russell). Unbeknownst to her, the marriage had been prearranged by her insensitive father.

This is also one of the few movies in which Wayne allows himself to be seen drunk and violent with women. In one of his two (unflattering) close-ups, Wayne grips Russell’s hair for betraying him.

The ending, in which Wayne and Russell sail away on the ghostly Red Witch to happiness in the after-life has been compared to the conclusion of such romantic-spiritual tales as “Peter Ibbetson” (with Gary Cooper and Ann Harding), and especially “Wuthering Heights” (with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon)

Wayne would become a bona fide bankable star later that year, with the release of his popular WWII drama, “Sand of Iwo Jima.”

Wayne and Russell, who had previously appeared in “Angel and the Badman,” were engaged in a well-publicized affair. Suffering from alcoholism, Russell got a come-back in “Seven Men from Now,” co-starring Randolph Scott and produced by Wayne in 1956. Sadly, she died from alcoholism at the young age of 36.

Note

The  name of Wayne’s production company is inspired by tis movie, though it is  spelled Batjac (not Batjack).

Cast

John Wayne as Capt. Ralls
Gail Russell as Angelique Desaix
Gig Young as Sam Rosen
Luther Adler as Mayrant Ruysdaal Sidney
Adele Mara as Teleia Van Schreeven
Eduard Franz as Harmenszoon Van Schreev
Grant Withers as Capt. Wilde Younger
Henry Daniell as Jacques Desaix
Paul Fix as Antonio “Ripper” Arrezo
Dennis Hoey as Capt. Munsey
Jeff Corey as Mr. Loring
Erskine Sanford as Doktor Van Arken

Credits

Running time: 106 minutes
Release date: December 31, 1948
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Screenplay: Harry Brown and Kenneth Gannet, based on the novel, “Wake of the Red Witch,” by Garland Roark.
Camera: Reggie Lanning
Editing: Richard L. Van Enger
Art Direction: James Sullivan
Music: Nathan Scott
Sound: T. A. Carman, Howard Wilson