Wake of the Red Witch

Wake of the Red Witch is a 1948 American adventure film directed by Edward Ludwig and starring John Wayne, Gail Russell, Gig Young, Adele Mara, and Luther Adler. Produced by Edmund Grainger, it is based upon the 1946 novel of the same name by Garland Roark. The film was distributed by Republic Pictures. Rare for a film produced by Republic Pictures, Wake of the Red Witch is an A movie that had a relatively high budget for its production, later becoming one of Republic Pictures' most successful releases.[3]

Wake of the Red Witch
Theatrical release poster
Directed byEdward Ludwig
Produced byEdmund Grainger
Screenplay byHarry Brown
Kenneth Gamet
Based onWake of the Red Witch
by Garland Roark
StarringJohn Wayne
Gail Russell
Gig Young
Adele Mara
Music byNathan Scott
CinematographyReggie Lanning
Edited byRichard L. Van Enger
Republic Pictures
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
  • December 30, 1948 (1948-12-30) (Houston, Texas)
  • March 1, 1949 (1949-03-01) (United States)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.1 million[2]

John Wayne stars as a sea captain in the early 1860s East Indies out for revenge against a wealthy shipping magnate.


The film is about an ongoing rivalry between two men of the sea: Mayrant Sidneye (Luther Adler) owner of the shipping company Batjak Limited, and Captain Ralls (John Wayne).

The first part of the film depicts Captain Ralls as the ruthless master (captain) of the Red Witch, Batjak's flagship. For reasons not entirely clear, Ralls deliberately wrecks and sinks the Red Witch and its cargo of gold bullion worth five million dollars. He escapes a charge of barratry when Batjak unexpectedly withdraws its complaint.

Ralls and his first mate Sam Rosen (Gig Young) spend some time as fishermen on a schooner. They eventually follow a treasure map to an uncharted island. They are greeted on the island by Sidneye, the map turning out to be a ploy to lure Ralls to the island so Sidneye can deal with Ralls in his own way.

The film then uses a series of flashbacks to describe how Ralls and Sidneye first met and how Ralls became captain of the Red Witch. Specifically, it is revealed that both Ralls and Sidneye fell in love with the same beautiful woman, Angelique (Gail Russell). When Ralls accidentally killed Angelique's uncle, Angelique married Sidneye even though Ralls is the man she really loved. However, when Angelique became ill and was dying, she somehow got word to Ralls and he returned to the island. Angelique dies in his arms soon after he arrives. It is strongly hinted that Ralls's deliberate sinking of the Red Witch was an act of revenge against Sidneye for depriving him of the woman he loved.

After the flashbacks the film returns to the present. Ralls and Sidneye strike a deal in which Ralls will reveal the exact location of the wreck of the Red Witch in exchange for a portion of the gold recovered from it. But when the salvage operation is to begin, it is discovered that the wreck is resting precariously on an underwater ledge, half on the ledge and half hanging over deeper water, making salvage extremely dangerous. Ralls is the only one willing to take the risk. He dives down to the wreck and manages to get a portion of the gold back up to the surface. But then the wreck begins to slide off the ledge. Falling debris traps Ralls inside the wreck, and he dies after the descending wreckage severs the hose supplying him with air.[4][5]


Original novel

The novel was published in 1946. It was written by Garland Roark, a Texan who worked in advertising.[7][8] The Washington Post called it "a smashing melodrama."[9] The book became a best seller[10] ultimately selling over a million copies.[11]


Republic Films paid $100,000 for the screen rights to the book, reportedly the most money that studio had ever paid. (Traditionally Republic focused on making medium and low budget Westerns and serials.) Edmund Grainer was assigned the job of producing. John Wayne, the studio's biggest star, was always discussed as a possible lead. Charles Laughton was also mentioned as possible casting.[12][13]

The movie was part of an attempt by Herbert Yates, head of Republic, to increase the prestige of the studio's output. Other films around this time made by the studio include Orson Welles' version of Macbeth and The Red Pony.[14] Wake of the Red Witch was to be a "deluxe" production, and was given one of the highest budgets in Republic's history.[15]

The budget was originally $1.8 million but this was reduced to $1.5 million then $1 million.[16]


Wake of the Red Witch represented the second screen teaming of John Wayne and Gail Russell, after Angel and the Badman the previous year, during which he and Russell allegedly had an offscreen affair, a claim which both Wayne and Russell denied; the film must also have held some special significance for Wayne, since he named his own production company, Batjac, after the shipping firm depicted in the picture named "Batjak".[17]

Wake of the Red Witch shares similarities in both character and climax to a similarly titled earlier John Wayne sea picture, Cecil B. DeMille's Reap the Wild Wind, but this film has a more direct approach in exploring the complex motivations of its characters.

Filming started in July 1948.[18] The island scenes were shot at Rancho Santa Anita, formerly owned by Lucky Baldwin, with sea footage shot at the Isthmus on Catalina Island. Underwater scenes meant extensive work was done in post production.[19]


A new restoration of Wake of the Red Witch by Paramount Pictures, The Film Foundation, and Martin Scorsese premiered at New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on August 9, 2018. The screening was part of the museum's program of showcasing 30 restored films from the library of Republic Pictures curated by Scorsese.[3]

See also


  1. Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (1975). "The Economic Imperative: Why Was the B Movie Necessay?". In Flynn, Charles; McCarthy, Todd (eds.). Kings of the Bs : working within the Hollywood system : an anthology of film history and criticism. E. P. Dutton. p. 30.
  2. "Top Grossers of 1949". Variety. 4 January 1950. p. 59.
  3. "Martin Scorsese Presents Republic Rediscovered: New Restorations from Paramount Pictures, Part 2". MoMA. The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 11 July 2018.
  4. Wake of the Red Witch  (1948 film);  produced by Republic Pictures
  5. TCM plot summary (click "READ THE FULL SYNOPSIS"); Retrieved February 29, 2016
  6. Freese, Gene Scott (10 April 2014). Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s: A Biographical Dictionary (2nd ed.). McFarland & Company. p. 75. ISBN 9780786476435.
  7. People Who Read and Write: Off the Cuff April Shower Help, Help Round Two By JOHN K. HUTCHENS. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 31 Mar 1946: 140.
  8. Books of the Times: A Tyrant Meets His Match A Tale That Tells Itself By ORVILLE PRESCOTT. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 02 Apr 1946: 25.
  9. Wake of the Red Witch. By Garland Roark. Little Brown. $2.75. The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 07 Apr 1946: S5.
  10. The Best Sellers New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 23 June 1946: BR11.
  11. Novel Source of New Movie Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 01 Feb 1949: 17.
  12. Republic Pays $100,000 for Roark Best Seller Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 28 Sep 1946: A5.
  13. BY WAY OF REPORT: Out of France You Don't Say-- Sold, Repulblic! By A.H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 06 Oct 1946: X5.
  14. Republic Plans for 27 Features Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 Aug 1947: 5.
  15. DRAMA AND FILM: Twins' Stock Soaring; Ganqster End Foreseen Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 16 Oct 1947: A9.
  16. https://archive.org/stream/variety169-1948-02#page/n132/mode/1up
  17. "Wake-of-the-Red-Witch - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes - NYTimes.com". movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  18. Andrews Star in 'Mews;' Luther Adler to Return Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 July 1948: 20
  19. Letter From Hollywood By Frank Daugherty Special to The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) [Boston, Mass] 22 Oct 1948: 5.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.