Last updated: August 07. 2014 10:02AM - 319 Views
Tom Doty Times Columnist

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Thirty-eight passengers on an airplane face extreme peril when their flight crew is stricken with food poisoning in this early attempt at domestic disaster flicks.

Our story actually begins in 1942, with pilot Ted Stryker leading an air mission during the war. His men do fine when they come across some Nazi aircraft, but their mission is doomed. Turns out a thick fog has rolled in but Stryker opts to lead the attack anyway. Unfortunately, his team crashes into the landscape and everyone perishes, except Stryker.

Cut to 10 years later and our hero is a train wreck. He hasn’t stepped into a cockpit since the war and can’t keep a regular job. He heads home after his latest interview to find a note explaining his wife and son have left. He hits the airport and gets a ticket for their flight in a last ditch effort to save his marriage.

His efforts don’t go well. Luckily, the plane is in the air, so she can’t run away, but Mrs. Stryker is not at home to a reconciliation. Their son is up for a trip to the cockpit and enjoys a complimentary plane toy, but mom and dad appear to be headed for a disaster. So does the plane.

Food poisoning attacks everyone who ate the fish (which includes the flight crew and Stryker’s little boy). Ted is their only hope to get on the ground safely before they perish from the bad halibut, but can he do it under the tremendous weight of the grief he feels for his fallen crew? Can he pull it together long enough to save the day and his marriage? Hey, this may a cheap disaster flick but it is still a Hollywood.

This plot probably sounds familiar to anyone who saw 1980’s “Airplane.” Turns out, this movie was the inspiration for that one, and they even cribbed a lot of the dialogue. The characters are all there (including the doctor and having one pilot played by a sports legend, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch). The singing nun that Helen Reddy played doesn’t show up, but you do get a ventriloquist in second class.

The actors do a fine job of playing this straight. Best is Dana Andrews as the grief-stricken Stryker. For him it’s personal since the sick child on board turns out to be his son. This gives Andrews plenty to work with, and he delivers. Sterling Hayden is also on hand as the old school pilot who served with Striker and thinks he will get these people killed but must sound encouraging and try to guide him through the landing.

This would be a great film to watch before seeing “Airplane,” but it is still entertaining and the actors do a fine job, despite budgetary restraints.

Arthur Hailey wrote the script and would go on to pen “Airport,” which would usher in a new era of disaster flicks. This film is part of a box set called. “Terrorized Travelers.” All of the films focus on trips that go badly. The set features Charlton Heston in “Skyjacked,” as well as a second appearance by Dana Andrews as a dad whose road trip vacation comes under attack by a band of outlaw bikers in “Hot Rods to Hell.” Good stuff, if somewhat dated and melodramatic.

1957, unrated.

Best Lines

“There is no telling where this plane might come down.”

“Our survival hinges on one thing: Finding someone who not only can fly this plane but who didn’t have fish for dinner.”

“Well, he’s a doctor, not a mathematician.”

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