Reap the Wild Wind is a 1942 film starring Ray Milland, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, Robert Preston, and Susan Hayward, and directed by Cecil B. DeMille, his second picture to be filmed in color. It is based on a serialized story written by Thelma Strabel in 1940 for The Saturday Evening Post. The movie, released shortly after the United States' entry into World War II, was a swashbuckling adventure set in the 1840s along the Florida coast, and was wildly successful.
While he based his film on Strabel's story, DeMille took liberties with details such as sibling relationships and sub-plots, while staying true to the spirit of the story, which centers on a headstrong, independent woman portrayed by Paulette Goddard.
As the film opens, Loxi Claiborne (Paulette Goddard) is running a marine salvage business started by her deceased father. A hurricane is passing through the Key West area, leaving behind at least one wreck on the nearby shoals. The Jubilee founders, and Loxi and other salvagers race to claim the cargo. Not arriving first, Loxi and her crew rescue the captain, Jack Stuart (John Wayne), but do not share in the salvage rights. It appears that the first salvor on the scene, King Cutler (Raymond Massey), may have actually planned the wreck.
Nursing Jack back to health, Loxi falls in love with him. When she visits Charleston with her cousin Drusilla (Susan Hayward), Loxi schemes to win a plum Captain's position for Jack by seducing Steve Tolliver (Ray Milland), who is running the sailing ship line Jack works for. Steve falls for Loxi and returns with her to Key West to investigate the truth about Jack's shipwreck.
Drusilla goes home to Havana when Loxi and Steve return to Key West. Steve has come to rid the Keys of pirates like Cutler (and to be near Loxi). Cutler, in turn, arranges to have Steve shanghaied by the crew of a whaler. Loxi hears of the plot and gets Jack to help her save Steve. Later, they discover that Steve has concealed Jack's appointment to the steamship Southern Cross on orders from his superior. Angry over a seemingly underhanded act, Jack meets with Cutler. He learns that Steve's boss has just died and that Steve will be taking over the shipping line. Jack realizes that he is unlikely to keep his command with Steve in charge and agrees to work with Cutler to sabotage his new ship; he sails to Havana to take command.
Rumors circulate and prices of the cargo of the Southern Cross fluctuate wildly, leaving Steve to suspect a wreck is planned. He commandeers the Claiborne with Loxi on board and heads to Havana to stop Jack. Loxi, believing Jack is innocent, disables her ship; and they sit becalmed in a fog bank as the Southern Cross piles into a reef and sinks. Unknown to Jack, Drusilla had stowed away to be with her lover, King Cutler's brother Dan (Robert Preston), and she is drowned.
Jack is put on trial for wrecking his ship. The testimony reveals a woman may have been on board, though none was rescued. To determine if a woman is in the wreck, Steve agrees to dive to the wreck with Jack. While down in the wreck, Jack and Steve discover proof that Drusilla was on board and has been drowned. They are attacked by a giant squid. Jack saves Steve's life but is lost when the Southern Cross slips off the continental shelf into deep water. Dan Cutler accuses his brother of murder and is shot dead by him, whereupon, Steve shoots King Cutler, killing him.
Loxi and Steve return to Charleston, together.Ray Milland as Steven Tolliver
John Wayne as Jack Stuart
Paulette Goddard as Loxi Claiborne
Raymond Massey as King Cutler
Robert Preston as Dan Cutler
Lynne Overman as Captain Philpott
Susan Hayward as Drusilla Alston
Milburn Stone as Lieutenant Farragut
Charles Bickford as Bully Brown
Walter Hampden as Commodore Devereaux
Louise Beavers as Maum Maria, the Claiborne Maid
Martha O'Driscoll as Ivy Devereaux
Elisabeth Risdon as Mrs. Claiborne
Hedda Hopper as Aunt Henrietta Beresford
Victor Kilian as Mathias Widgeon
Oscar Polk as Salt Meat
Raymond Hatton as Master Shipwright
Lane Chandler as Sam
William 'Wee Willie' Davis as The Lamb
Ben Carter as Chinkapin
Janet Beecher as Mrs. Mottram
Dave Wengren as 'Claiborne' Lookout
Davison Clark as Judge Marvin
Louis Merrill as Captain of the 'Pelican'
Frank M. Thomas as Dr. Jepson
Victor Varconi as Lubbock
Sue Thomas as Belle at Ball
Cecil B. DeMille as Narrator (uncredited)
The film is unusual among films starring John Wayne. Foremost, it is one of relatively few films in which he plays a character with a notable dark side. He had second thoughts about signing on since he was unsure how his fans would react to him being bested by a "foppish" Ray Milland. Additionally, it is also one of only eleven feature films in which Wayne's character is dead by the closing credits. The other films are The Deceiver, The Sea Chase, Central Airport, The Alamo, The Cowboys, Wake of the Red Witch, The Fighting Seabees, Sands of Iwo Jima and The Shootist. The eleventh is The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance though his character was dead at the beginning of the film and his death was not depicted in the film.
This film also marks the final appearance by Hedda Hopper as an actress in a significant role. The gossip columnist would, however, make cameo appearances in subsequent films.
The film won an Academy Award and was nominated for two more:Won
Best Visual Effects (Farciot Edouart, Gordon Jennings, William L. Pereira, Louis Mesenkop)
Best Art Direction (Hans Dreier, Roland Anderson, George Sawley)