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Pairing John Wayne With A Giant Squid Proved A Winning Move For Paramount

When was the last time you were truly dazzled by a special effect? Our mainstream media landscape has been consumed by CGI to the point where we don’t even think about the logistics of what we see anymore. In the series premiere of “House of the Dragon,” Were you awed by the presence of multiple dragons, or did you just go, “Oh, yeah. Dragons. Sure?” Bear in mind, these creatures don’t exist in real life and look entirely real.
At a time where effects are more seamless than ever before, we no longer feel their power because entire movies and television shows go by without a single frame using them. Before digital effects, you had to build this stuff by hand and have them ready to shoot on the day. Because they took so much time, money, and manpower to create, productions would focus their special effects on one single thing: a set piece, a creature, or just a moment of magic. While this was usually done for practical reasons, what it did was give these effects more of a “wow” factor, making audiences wonder about how the thing they just saw was done. They couldn’t just say, “Computers.”
One such instance of this kind of practical effect magic comes from Cecil B. DeMille’s 1942 sea-faring adventure film “Reap the Wild Wind,” starring Ray Milland, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, and a whole host of familiar faces. That film’s climax features Milland and Wayne’s characters underwater, battling a gigantic squid. Even today, the creature work leaves you slightly slack-jawed, and it riveted audiences at the time, making it the fourth-highest grossing film of the year. And people were clamoring to know how they made it.
A bathtub thought

ParamountWhen breaking the story for “Reap the Wild Wind,” Cecil B. DeMille and his trio of screenwriters, Charles Bennett, Jesse Lasky Jr., and Alan Le May (plus the uncredited contributions of Jeanie Macpherson and Theodore St. John), could not come up with an ending to the picture they were all happy with. As recounted in the book “Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne” by Ronald L. Davis, Charles Bennett, who wrote the screenplays to many of Alfred Hitchcock’s pre-Hollywood films, was taking a bath one morning and had his own “Eureka!” moment. His big thought was “Giant squid!” Well, he had a little more than that. He had the whole scene in his head.
Bennett recalls the meeting where he pitched the scene to DeMille:
“I was John Wayne, I was Ray Milland, I was the squid … I acted the whole scene out in front of DeMille.”DeMille was satisfied, adding that it all needed to be, “In Technicolor.” The giant squid was in the picture, and it was going to kill John Wayne’s character, a rarity for the actor so often held up as the bright, shining hero of his pictures. His second-billed turn in “Reap the Wild Wind” is for a character who makes some not-so-savory choices, and him meeting his fate at the hands (or tentacles) of the giant squid is his punishment, even if he does save Ray Milland’s character’s life while doing so.
They had the scene, but they still had to construct how this underwater beast would actually function on film.
Ten days in a tank
ParamountIn order to have a giant squid, you need a giant set to put it in, or in this case, you need a giant tank for underwater photography. Luckily, Paramount had a gigantic tank on the studio lot ready for them to utilize. Ray Milland says of the massive underwater set that was constructed for the scene:
“The tank was almost the size of a football field and about twenty-five feet deep at the deepest part … Down there they had built a marine wonderland: the hull of a wrecked ship, strange and jagged rocks, a slowly moving aqueous forest. And caves, dark and frightening.”Then came the giant squid itself. In total, the squid was 14 feet long. The head of the creature was not particularly articulative, and if you watch the scene, it’s fairly obvious. The thing was clearly quite heavy, and once they got it in the water, it was going to lay where it lay. That was not the case with the tentacles, which are quite remarkable in their dexterity, able to seamlessly wrap around and grip the two actors. They are so convincing that they cover up any deficiencies the squid’s head presents. Its eyes, while clearly fake, do hold some strange menace in them. Cecil B. DeMille said of the creature, “It was truly a marvelous piece of work.”
The whole sequence cost $250 thousand, which is a bit over $5 million today. As for the film’s box office, it grossed $4 million, or nearly $73 million today. Pretty good return on investment.
Won’t say how they did it
ParamountAs movie fans in the age of home video, we have been lucky to dive deep into the special features on a movie and watch all of the behind-the-scenes documentaries. They have been invaluable for us who have ever wanted to know what goes into the filmmaking process, even if it meant breaking the reality of a film to do so. For some people, finding out this information enriches our love of the medium. For others, though, it makes the film not seem as special as it once was.
For “Reap the Wild Wind,” Paramount wanted everyone to be in complete awe of the giant squid. They received letters from people of every walk of life inquiring about how they made the squid for the film (Remember, kids, this was before the Internet). To maintain the air of magic, Paramount’s standard reply to this was simply:
“It is the policy of the studio to release no information on technical details of any motion picture because it would detract from the dramatic illusion.”I can’t help but respect the whole “Accept the mystery” element of the statement. They have even carried that forward onto the Blu-ray release, which features no “Making Of” documentaries (and that comes to us from Kino Lorber, who are usually pretty good about including those kinds of features).
I also wish that Paramount would do a better job of letting people today see this film. Currently, that Blu-ray is the only way you are able to watch “Reap the Wild Wind.” It’s not on a streaming service or available to purchase or rent digitally in any way. That is fine for a physical media fiend like me, but Paramount … let people watch your “John Wayne vs. Giant Squid” movie.
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John Wayne

Here Are the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Westerns of All Time

The American Film Institute decided the top 10 Westerns of all time and we’ve got the 411 on the ones that ranked. People have always loved Westerns, and we’ve listed 8 of the most popular according to AFI.

First up, Cat Ballou, the 1965 Western comedy from Elliot Silverstein. It starred Jane Fonda as Cat and Lee Marvin in a dual role as both the man who killed Cat’s father and the gunslinger who helps her get revenge. Narrated through song by Nat King Cole and Stubby Kaye, what made “Cat Ballou” so special was the female lead, which was rare for a Western.

Next, John Ford’s turning-point 1939 film, Stagecoach. It starred John Wayne and Claire Trevor. The film follows a group of interesting characters as they travel in a stagecoach together, which paved the way for the road trip trope. The passengers have to contend with the Ringo Kid, an outlaw, and the threat of Apache attack as they travel to New Mexico in the 1880s.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Robert Altman’s 1971 film, was a Revisionist Western piece starring Warren Beatty and Julie Christie. The film follows gambler John McCabe as he upstarts a successful brothel in a Washington town with Constance Miller’s help. The two strike up a romance, but when a mining company offers to buy his property, McCabe refuses.

No list of Westerns would be complete without Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The 1969 film from George Roy Hill starred Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Redford as the Sundance Kid. The two got into all sorts of trouble, fleeing from the law after train robbing. The pair escape to Bolivia, but find they must fight the urge to commit crimes.

AFI’s Top Ten Westerns: Stagecoaches, Shoot-Outs, and Searchers

Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch comes up next. The 1969 Western starred William Holden, with Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, and Ben Johnson as his gang. The outlaws prepare to go through with a heist, only to find out the whole thing is a setup. The film is full of gratuitous violence and bloody shootouts; sure to satisfy fans of more gory Westerns.

Up next on the list, Red River. This 1948 Howard Hawks film follows John Wayne as Thomas Dunson, who aims to drive his cattle to Missouri for a better price. Montgomery Clift stars as Matt Garth, an orphaned youth whom Thomas takes under his wing. The film was shot on a grand scale, with sweeping landscapes and plenty of cattle. This is a must-watch for those who love big Westerns.

Then, Western star Clint Eastwood took a stab at directing his own with 1992’s Unforgiven. Starring Eastwood and co-starring Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris, the film follows Eastwood’s William Munny as he comes to town to catch a group of bandits. Harris’ English Bob comes to town as well, for the same reason, and the two outlaws clash with the local sheriff.

Additionally, the 1953 film Shane takes the American cowboy and turns him on his head; the cowboy retires to a ranch in Wyoming, but while working there falls in love with the ranch owner’s wife. He realizes that to save the ranch he has to fight the big cattle baron threatening to take the land. There’s something about watching a kid shout “Shane! Come back!” over an echoing, barren wasteland that tugs on the heartstrings.

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John Wayne

John Wayne: Which of the Duke’s Films Made the Most Money?

During his iconic Hollywood career, John Wayne made many popular films. These filmed are remembered for their drama, action, locations, scenes of heroism, and of course, for the Duke himself.

His films were usually Westerns or were about war. Wayne’s was a career that pretty much anyone hoping to make it in the movie business would envy.

Here’s an interesting question: Out of all of those popular movies, which of the Duke’s films was the most successful financially? Let’s find out.

According to, that title goes to the 1962 film, “How the West Was Won.” This film also starred James Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Gregory Peck in this movie about the expansion into the American West. It made $440 million. (The website has adjusted the earnings of each of these films. The figures presented here are the films’ domestic grosses.)

Interestingly, the second most financially successful film of Wayne’s career was also released in 1962. It was “The Longest Day” and made $382 million. This film told stories from D-Day during World War II. The cast also included Fonda, Richard Burton, Sean Connery, Eddie Albert, and Richard Beymer.

Bringing in the third-highest gross of the Duke’s career was “Reap the Wild Wind.” It was released in 1942 and made $361 million. It also starred Paulette Goddard and Ray Milland and followed the events that took place after a shipwreck in Key West.

The 1954 film “The High and the Mighty” comes in fourth place on the list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films. It made $347 million. In fifth place is the 1955 film “The Sea Chase.” It also starred Lana Turner and “Gunsmoke” star James Arness.

List of John Wayne’s Most Financially Successful Films Also Includes One That Won Him an Oscar

The top 10 list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films includes some of his most popular, as well as the film that won him an Academy Award.

Rounding out the top 10 highest-grossing John Wayne movies include “The Alamo” from 1960 in sixth place with $300 million. “The Sands of Iwo Jima” from 1949 comes in seventh place with almost $296 million. “Red River,” which was released in 1948 is in eighth place with almost $270 million.

The 1969 film “True Grit” is in ninth place with $262 million. It was his role as Rooster Cogburn that won John Wayne an Academy Award. The movie also starred Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall, Dennis Hopper, and Kim Darby.

Rounding out the top 10 was the Duke’s 1959 film “Rio Bravo” with almost $251 million.

Now we know which John Wayne’s movies were his biggest financial successes in the United States. So, which film came in last on that list? This title goes to the 1929 film “Words and Music.” It reportedly grossed $13.6 million.

Interestingly, the list of John Wayne’s highest-grossing films worldwide is different from the domestic list shared above. The top five films on this list, from No. 1 to No. 5, are: “How the West Was Won”; “The Alamo”; “The High and the Mighty”; “Rio Bravo”; and “The Sea Chase.”

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John Wayne Turned Down ‘Waco Kid’ Role in 1974’s ‘Blazing Saddles’: Here’s Why

“Blazing Saddles” fans, you almost had John Wayne playing the “Waco Kid” in Mel Brooks’ classic film. But “The Duke” said no.

Mel Brooks, who directed and co-wrote the script for “Blazing Saddles,” was asked about Wayne turning down the role in a 2016 interview with Philly Metro.

“He did,” Brooks said in confirming Wayne turned down the role. “I wanted him to play the Waco Kid, because the Duke was such a good actor. His reality is that he is the cowboy Western.

“We were in the commissary at Warners, I gave him the script and he promised he’d read it overnight,” Brooks said. “The next morning I saw him and he says that he loves it — every beat, every line — but that it’s too blue, that it would disappoint his fans. He said, though, that he would be the first one in line to see it.”

Gene Wilder Takes Over Role In ‘Blazing Saddles’

When Wayne passed on it, Brooks initially looked to actor Gig Young to play the “Waco Kid.” Young, who battled alcoholism, showed up for the first day of filming. It did not go well. He collapsed during his first scene while dealing with withdrawal symptoms.

So, who did Brooks eventually turn to for this role? It just took one phone call to Gene Wilder, who flew out to Los Angeles and started filming.

Brooks and Wilder had worked together on an earlier Brooks film, “The Producers.” Wilder actually turned down another role in the film, that of Hedley Lamarr. Comedian Harvey Korman, who made a name for himself on “The Carol Burnett Show,” eventually was cast in that role.

Cleavon Little Role Originally Set For Richard Pryor

Of course, Cleavon Little plays Sheriff Bart in the movie. It was a role that Brooks wanted to give to Richard Pryor, who was a co-writer of the movie script. Warner Bros., though, was reportedly scared off by his drug arrests.

They wouldn’t insure Pryor for the movie, so the part went to Little. Other cast members include Madeline Kahn, Slim Pickens, and former National Football League star Alex Karras.

The studio gave Brooks a $2.6 million budget for his 1974 release. As of 2012, “Blazing Saddles” had earned $119.6 million in the United States and Canada combined.

One could say that Warner Bros. earned back what it put out, and then some, from the witty, wild mind of Mel Brooks.

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