Wake of the Red Witch

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Wake of the Red Witch
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edward Ludwig
Produced by Edmund Grainger
Screenplay by Harry Brown
Kenneth Gamet
Based on Wake of the Red Witch 
by Garland Roark
Starring John Wayne
Gail Russell
Gig Young
Adele Mara
Music by Nathan Scott
Cinematography Reggie Lanning
Edited by Richard L. Van Enger
Distributed by Republic Pictures
Release dates
  • December 30, 1948 (1948-12-30) (Premiere)
  • March 1, 1949 (1949-03-01) (US)
  • June 5, 1949 (1949-06-05) (UK)
Running time
106 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,200,343

Wake of the Red Witch is a 1948 drama film from Republic Pictures starring John Wayne and Gail Russell, produced by Edmund Grainger, and based upon the 1946 novel with the same name by Garland Roark. The supporting cast includes Gig Young, Adele Mara, and Luther Adler, and was directed by Edward Ludwig.

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


The focus of the film is the deadly rivalry between two men of the sea. Ship's captain Ralls (John Wayne) nurses a long-standing grudge against shipping magnate Mayrant Ruysdaal Sidneye (Luther Adler). The reason for the animosity: Sidneye stole away Ralls' love, Angelique (Gail Russell).

One day, Ralls decides to "scuttle," or intentionally ground the ship, which is carrying five million dollars in gold bullion. Ralls orders his assistant, Antonio "Ripper" Arrezo (Paul Fix), to lock the navigator, Mr. Loring (Jeff Corey), inside his cabin while he drives the ship onto a reef. When it sinks, the crew abandons ship.

First Mate Sam Rosen (Gig Young), Ripper and Capt. Ralls are called before a court of inquiry, at which Loring testifies that Mayrant Ruysdaal Sidneye (Luther Adler), whose trading company, Batjak, owned the ship, had sent Ralls an order relieving him of his duties. When questioned, Ralls lies, saying that he never received the message. Sidneye's brother, who is presenting the shipping company's complaint at the inquest, asks Ralls how he managed to be rescued so quickly, only twelve hours after the wreck, but before he can answer, a messenger arrives with word that Sidneye has withdrawn his complaint.

Ralls, Sam, and Ripper set sail as fishermen on a schooner. At one port, they are sold a map of an uncharted island. It turns out that the trio have been led to the island as a ruse to capture Ralls and his shipmates. Ashore, Sam sees Sidneye's niece, Teleia Van Schreeven (Adele Mara), swimming in the lagoon, and she invites him to dinner that evening. After Teleia overhears her uncle plotting against them, she warns Sam and Ralls that their lives may be in danger. They enter despite her warning, and Sidneye accuses Ralls of scuttling the ship. Sidneye then explains that seven years ago, after he rescued Ralls from the ocean, he agreed to a deal whereby Ralls would show Sidneye the location of some sunken pearls in exchange for command of the Witch. Sidneye agreed to the arrangement, but after Ralls identified the location, Sidneye had him thrown in the brig.

John Wayne as Captain Ralls

Commissar Jacques Desaix (Henry Daniell) and his niece Angelique meet Sidneye on the pearl island. Desaix tells them of the natives' pearl-diving challenge which involves diving into an octopus' den to retrieve a sunken chest of pearls. When a challenger attempts it, he becomes stuck in a giant seashell and must be rescued by Ralls. Later, Desaix pressures Angelique to accept Sidneye's proposal of marriage. When Ralls learns of the engagement, he gets drunk and storms off. The next day he dives down to the octopus den as the natives look on. He retrieves the chest and the natives haul it up, then dives back down to kill the octopus. It attacks, so he kills it with a knife, nearly dying in the attempt. Later, at his bedside, Ralls tells Angelique about his near-death experience. Angelique confesses her love for Ralls, and that evening, they attend a festival together. After the native chief determines that the pearls rightfully belong to Ralls, Desaix tries to have him arrested.

Later, Teleia tells Sam that Ralls first met Angelique when the Witch arrived in Bali to pick up the gold. After he sees Ralls kissing Angelique, Sidneye begs him to leave the island. Later, Angelique sickens and dies, while Ralls's ship sets sail, only to explode passing over a submerged gate at the lagoon's entrance.

Believing that he has killed Ralls, Sidneye is surprised when he walks in moments later unharmed. Finally, Ralls agrees to try to retrieve the gold from the wrecked ship, which teeters precariously on an underwater ledge. After loading the dive basket with gold, Ralls becomes trapped by debris and dies.[1]


Original Novel[edit]

The novel was published in 1946. It was written by Garland Roark, a Texan who worked in advertising.[2][3] The Washington Post called it "a smashing melodrama."[4] The book became a best seller[5] ultimately selling over a million copies.[6]


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 seriala.) 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.[7][8]

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 Macbeath and The Red Pony.[9] Wake of the Red Witch was to be a "deluxe" production, and was given one of the highest budgets in Republic's history.[10]


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".[11]

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.[12] 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.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Wake of the Red Witch (1948) - Overview - TCM.com". tcm.com. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Wake of the Red Witch. By Garland Roark. Little Brown. $2.75. The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 07 Apr 1946: S5.
  5. ^ The Best Sellers New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 23 June 1946: BR11.
  6. ^ Novel Source of New Movie Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 01 Feb 1949: 17.
  7. ^ Republic Pays $100,000 for Roark Best Seller Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 28 Sep 1946: A5.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Republic Plans for 27 Features Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 Aug 1947: 5.
  10. ^ DRAMA AND FILM: Twins' Stock Soaring; Ganqster End Foreseen Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 16 Oct 1947: A9.
  11. ^ "Wake-of-the-Red-Witch - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes - NYTimes.com". movies.nytimes.com. Retrieved 2014-01-11. 
  12. ^ Andrews Star in 'Mews;' Luther Adler to Return Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 July 1948: 20
  13. ^ 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.

External links[edit]