Why John Wayne’s Film With a Giant Squid Was an Unlikely Success

by Tia Bailey
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Classic actor John Wayne still has people talking about his films. The actor appeared in many beloved movies, and many people have stories about him. A film of his from 1942 has had people talking in the age of CGI and special effects.

Wayne starred alongside Ray Milland and Paulette Goddard in the adventure/romance movie “Reap the Wild Wind.” The film synopsis reads: “Clipper ships taking the shortest route between the Mississippi and the Atlantic often end up on the shoals of Key West in the 1840s. Salvaging the ships’ cargos has become a lucrative business for two companies–one headed by a feisty young woman. Then she falls in love with the captain of a wrecked ship while he recuperates at her home. She travels to Charleston and is charming to the man most likely to be head of the captain’s company, thinking she will be able to get the captain the position he wants on the company’s first steam ship.”

And who else made an appearance in the film? A giant squid, of course. The movie was made well before the CGI and special effects audiences are used to today, but it was a huge success. The squid, even by today’s standards, was great. The movie ended up being the fourth highest-grossing film of that year.

“Reap the Wild Wind” was a huge success for Paramount. Screenwriter Charles Bennett had the idea while in the bathtub, according to the book “Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne” by Ronald L. Davis.

John Wayne Film Featuring Giant Squid Proved to be Great Idea

Bennett pitched the scene to screenwriter Cecil B. DeMille. He said: “I was John Wayne, I was Ray Milland, I was the squid … I acted the whole scene out in front of DeMille.”

After he did this, DeMille went for it. He said the movie just needed to be shot in technicolor.

The giant squid was 14 feet long, and required a huge underwater set. Paramount had a giant tank in the studio lot that the team used for the movie.

“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,” Ray Milland said.

Although fans know the behind-the-scenes details of the set, Paramount never explained how the squid was made. Countless fans asked the company how it was made, but nobody ever told to keep the magic of it all.

The film still holds up to this day. Audiences are still in awe of the giant creature in the film. “Reap the Wild Winds” currently has an 80% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

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