Seaman Sam Rosen (Gig Young) should have known something was wrong on The Red Witch as soon as he boarded, because the Captain, Ralls (John Wayne), was not a man to be reasoned with. In between staging fights with the crew as a way of sorting out any potentially disruptive behaviour, Ralls actually began to work towards scuppering his own craft, and Rosen could not for the life of him work out why. The navigator was confounded and made to look as if he was suffering some kind of mental sickness in his confused courses, but he was only following conflicting orders from Ralls - so what was going on?
How about a remake of Reap the Wild Wind? Except it's not quite that, as there were enough differences to make it distinct, but still, when both movies use underwater octopus/squid attacks, it did make you wonder. This was based on a bestselling novel, though, and certainly impressed its leading man because he adopted the name of the traders in this for his own production company when he moved into that area: Batjac. Knowing that, you might be expecting something special from Wake of the Red Witch, but actually what you were offered was broken backed as a story thanks to its reliance on great big flashbacks.
Maybe Wayne would have been better off naming his company Ringo Productions? Anyway, as there is a huge dollop of reminiscence right in the middle of this, and another, smaller one nearer the end, when you get to the present day stuff it does feel as if the ship has sailed without you and all that's left is a spot of mopping up to do. Ralls does indeed sink The Red Witch, and he and the crew are rescued, with a trial occuring soon after. For some odd reason, the owner of the ship, one Mayrant Sidneye (Luther Adler, often singled out as the best thing about this), drops the charges without explanation, leaving Rosen even more befuddled.
Not that this stops him going off to be a fisherman in the East Indies with Ralls and his swarthy, grinning sidekick Ripper (Paul Fix) for a year, but then they are brought into contact with Sidneye once again as he wants them to go down to the bottom of the sea to reclaim his bars of gold that happened to have been among the cargo. He invites them all to dine with him, but only Rosen accepts, and it is there we hear - and see - the whole sorry story of the history of the trader and the captain, and what do you know? There was a woman involved. Yes, you'll have been wondering where Gail Russell was having seen her name second billed in the opening credits, and here she is as Sidneye's fiancée.
Naturally, it is Ralls who she really falls for, but doomed romance is the name of the game here, and they are not destined to be, well, not until the very end, but to say more would be to spoil things. In the meantime, there's the one performer who truly made it into cult movie legend to contend with, and he's not a human, he's the mechanical octopus Ralls fights when he ventures into an undersea cave to fetch a treasure chest. Now, the eight-legged monster made his more celebrated appearance not in this film but in the Edward D. Wood Jr movie Bride of the Monster, where he was seen wrestling with Bela Lugosi, or Bela Lugosi's stunt double at any rate. Alas, that's probably the most interesting thing about Wake of the Red Witch, not that it's bad, it simply never works up enough of a head of steam to sustain its would-be sweeping, epic qualities. Everyone tries hard, but the magic was missing. Music by Nathan Scott.