Our August theme of the month, High Seas, continues with our film of the month, Wake of the Red Witch (1948).

PAUSE IT: What do you see? Page one, chapter one… our story begins. These opening shots of Edward Ludwig’s Wake of The Red Witch (1948) are that of the cover and opening pages of Garland Roark’s 1946 novel by the same name. By visually showing the first pages of the source material, the filmmakers have made visible the normally hidden act of storytelling. In this case we are not meant to take what we are about to witness as fact or reality, but rather we are meant to immediately dive headlong into the world of make believe and fairy tales. Just as school children do, we know when we see the book flipped open to its first page that we are about to be told a story. This use of this literary conceit is what’s known as a framing device. A framing device is used to orient the audience’s understanding of the story they are about to see. Sometimes this comes in the form of a flashback or dream sequence, but here in the first few minutes of Wake of the Red Witch it is the image of a book which sets us on our way. There are countless movies which have been adapted from literary sources, yet most no longer do so in such self-reflexive a manner (or with as great effect). Our theme of the month being High Seas, the framing device in this instance is paired with a perfect genre match. When we think of stories about swashbuckling pirates and buccaneering sailors it is often in terms of bigger than life personalities and epic, even legendary, tales. So too is it here. By beginning our adventure in the pages of a book there is the sense that, with the turning of a page, danger and adventure are afoot.     

Wake of The Red Witch (1948)
Director: Edward Ludwig
Cast: John Wayne, Gail Russell, Gig Young
Director of Photography: Reggie Lanning
Available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.