John Wayne traded out the Wild West desert for the high seas for this wildly uneven but nevertheless entertaining flick. He plays a grizzled sea captain with a major grudge with a shipping magnate because he stole Wayne’s woman (Gail Russell). Flashbacks reveal the cat and mouse games they played for Russell’s affections as well as Wayne’s standoff against a hungry giant octopus.
Wayne gives a complex and brooding performance that’s one of his best. The Duke commands the screen during the seafaring scenes where he’s in command of his vessel and is excellent while barking orders out at his men and running a tight ship. He’s also pretty solid in the romance department too. And then there’s the scene where Wayne tangles with a giant octopus that is just flat out wonderfully nutty.
Wake of the Red Witch is more of a romance movie than an action flick though. There are a lot a slow lovey dovey passages and doldrums set in whenever Wayne isn’t at sea. Also the flashbacks are awkwardly paced and irrationally timed. Often the movie will feel like it SHOULD be over and then they hit us with ANOTHER flashback.
Whenever director Edward (The Fighting Seabees) Ludwig isn’t hitting us over the head with long winded flashbacks, he does offer up some very cool scenes. The sinking of Wayne’s boat, The Red Witch is atmospheric and effective and the scenes involving the jungle natives are all well done. And then, there’s that octopus scene. No matter what shortcomings the film had, you have to admit that scene rocks. I mean where else are you going to see John Wayne locked in mortal combat with a giant rubber octopus?
By the way, that giant octopus was later stolen by Ed Wood who used it for his immortal classic, Bride of the Monster.
Wake of the Red Witch has enough golden octopus fighting to land it at the Number 10 spot on The Video Vacuum’s Top Ten for the year 1948, just below Sorry, Wrong Number.