powered by AFI
Biography of Frank "Spig" Wead, the pioneer aviator who turned to writing after being grounded by an accident.
In 1919 at the Pensacola, Florida naval base, spirited young officer Frank W. "Spig" Wead, one of pilots in the first Navy flying class, has been repeatedly denied permission to fly solo by his instructor Lt. Charles Dexter. A national rivalry between Army and Navy aeronautics divisions prompts Spig to accept Army pilot Capt. Herbert Allen Hazard's challenge to fly solo one day. Although Spig's daredevil flight in a seaplane with Hazard ends in a crash-landing at Admiral Moffett's tea party, Spig is cleared of all charges when he defends his actions as necessary to furthering Naval flight experimentation and bringing the `sea eagles' to the public's attention. When a drunk Spig returns home from celebrating the victory, his wife Minnie informs him that their son is ill.
After the toddler dies that evening, the alienated parents are unable to comfort each other, despite their shared grief. As time goes by, the couple happily rear two more children; however, Minnie is unable to cope with the frequent transfers necessary to Spig's career success. Their daughters are in elementary school when the Navy decides to compete with the Army in an aircraft race round the world and choose Spig to head their team. Although the race necessitates another move, Spig accepts the challenge, causing the couple to separate when Minnie refuses to move. Weeks later in Washington, Hazard and his Army team are celebrating the upcoming race at a nearby inn, when Spig and his crew interrupt the party, precipitating a fistfight. Unable to control the men, the manager shouts "police" and then directs the panicked servicemen toward the swimming pool, causing them to tumble into the water.
Soon after, Spig learns that Congress, concerned that the nation might disapprove of funding military competition, denies the Navy permission to enter the race. Needing to prove the team's abilities, Spig decides to enter the Schneider Cup international seaplane races, which he and teammate John Price win by shattering the seaplane endurance record. As he is about to accept a post as the youngest squadron commander in Navy history, Spig decides to reunite with Minnie and the children, who are living in Coronado. When he returns to the family home unannounced, he finds house littered with empty liquor bottles and his daughters unsupervised. The children, having only known him through naval newsreels, hardly recognize their father. When Minnie arrives home later in the evening, Spig expresses his regret about leaving the family. Minnie accepts his apologies and agrees to let him live with them again. After the couple spend a romantic evening together, a sleeping Spig awakens when one of the girls cries. Bolting out the bedroom door, Spig trips and falls down the stairs, cracking several cervical vertebrae.
Paralyzed from the neck down, Spig is hospitalized at the San Diego Naval Hospital. Held face down in traction with little hope of recovery, Spig breaks up with Minnie, hoping that she can make a new life for herself if she is not held responsible for his care. Minnie is heartbroken, but accepts Spig's wishes. The next morning, Navy mechanic "Jughead" Carson, who has been dispatched on special duty to aid in Spig's recovery, explains the invalid's physical limitations in terms of mechanics and then begins a daily routine of coaching Spig to send signals from his brain through his body despite the break in his spine. After several grueling months of repeating the phrase "I'm going to move that toe," the ebullient and devoted Carson places a mirror under Spig's down-turned face so that he can see his toes and then accompanies him on ukulele. By plying his reluctant body with alcohol and jokes, Spig is finally able to sit upright in his bed. One day he spots Minnie pacing outside the hospital and realizes that the roses Price regularly delivers are actually from his wife, who is still devoted to him.
Months later, Spig recovers the mobility of his hands enough to take up Carson's suggestion that he write down his tall tales. Finally Spig recovers his ability to walk, though haltingly and with the help of leg braces and two canes. Soon after his release from the hospital, the Navy, needing publicity to secure funding for new carriers, asks Spig to write military-related scripts for Hollywood and gives him an office with director John Dodge. After several years of collaborating on many military dramas, the two become close friends. Although the now-wealthy Spig is still officially married to Minnie, he resides alone in Hollywood. Years later, while in New York for the opening of his play Ceiling Zero on Broadway, Spig accidentally encounters Carson, who snubs Spig because he had not contacted since his recovery. Carson then suggests he make amends with Minnie and drives him to airport. Spig arrives at Minnie's San Francisco apartment unannounced and proposes that they form a family again. Minnie argues that she has a new life, but accepts his invitation to move to Hollywood.
After Spig returns home to prepare for Minnie's arrival, he hears the news that the Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. Driven by his patriotic duty, Spig reenters the service despite his disabilities. Unable to recognize and appreciate that Minnie loves him more than his comrades, Spig abandons his family one more time. Minnie accepts his decision as inevitable and encourages her "star spangled Spig." Spig is reunited with Carson and Price and throws himself tirelessly into strategizing for the Navy air carriers. He develops the idea of "jeep" carriers, small carriers which will furnish the big carriers with replacement planes when U.S. planes are downed by Kamikaze pilots. Given command of his own carrier near Kwajalein Island in the South Pacific, Spig witnesses the jeep carriers provide new planes to his ship within minutes of a Japanese attack. During one attack, Carson, realizing Spig is unable to move quickly enough to avoid the gunfire, protects his friend with his own body.
Later when Spig visits the wounded Carson, Carson tactfully rejects Spig's apology for his previous behavior and his offer of help. As Spig walks away from his friend, he suffers a heart attack and is consequently forced to retire from his post. With plans to return to Minnie and his girls, Spig is officially released from duty during a formal ceremony. Price and other soldiers aboard stand at attention in a tearful tribute, as Spig is transported in a chair lift off the carrier to an uncertain future.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||New York opening: 31 Jan 1957|
|Release Date:||1957||Production Date:||
|Color/B&W:||Color (Metrocolor)||Distributions Co:||Loew's Inc.|
|Sound:||Mono (Westrex Recording System), Perspecta Stereo||Production Co:||Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp.|
Leonard Maltin Ratings & Review
LEONARD MALTIN MOVIE RATING
LEONARD MALTIN MOVIE REVIEW:
User Ratings & Review
This title has not been reviewed. Be the FIRST to write a review by CLICKING HERE >
User Ratings & Review
the spoof was on...
Sam Moss 2019-06-27
Raoul Walsh not John Ford to correct Leonard Maltin. Remember seeing this when it was released and although it starts as two services fighting over...
Half & Half
Ray from Baltimore 2018-03-20
A very unusual movie. The first half is ridiculous, but the second half (after the accident) is still worth watching. How many people know that John Wayne...
Kevin is right
John Ford is our greatest director. Such a quantity of masterpieces -- Stagecoach, The Searchers, the cavalry trilogy, How Green Was My Valley, the Long...