There are many well-known air disaster movies. Airport and its sequels come instantly to mind, as does the Abrahams/Zucker Brothers genre parody Airplane! Here are three lesser known movies from earlier decades, when the air disaster genre was considered still to be in its infancy. If you thought those air disaster stereotypes were old hat in 1970, wait until you see these.
Plot summary: A Fox Airways Douglas DC-3 loses an engine over the Alps and crash-lands on a glacier. The surviving passengers are forced to contend with dwindling food and water supplies, extreme temperatures and the high probability that they will never be rescued.
Appreciation: This film is allegedly based on a real-life crash two years before. The acting is over the top and the only two characters I ever really cared about were the co-pilot and the air hostess (flight attendant). Still, it’s an interesting look at post-war aviation and is a lot more entertaining than Fate is the Hunter. I give this movie 6 out of 10.
Things to notice: The aircraft’s peculiar registration: F-XGP.1.
Movie link: IMDb – Broken Journey
Specifications: U.K. 1948. Produced by Gainsborough Pictures. Directed by Ken Annakin and Michael C. Chorlton. Starring Phyllis Calvert, James Donald, Margot Grahame. Also known as Notlandung (German).
The Crowded Sky
Plot summary: A U.S. Navy Lockheed T-33 and a Trans States Douglas DC-6 are flying in opposite directions across the North American continent. They are supposed to be separated by 1,000 feet, but a faulty radio on the T-33 and bad weather below the DC-6 force them much closer than that. At the point where their flight paths intersect, a mid-air collision seems unavoidable…
Appreciation: Dana Andrews is his usual reliable self. The other players do an okay job, though the script doesn’t give them much to work with. Most of the film is devoted to flashbacks, unfunny humour and internal monologues of the passengers and crew. Very dated, but worth the watch if only for the collision at the end of the film. I give this movie 5 out of 10.
Things to notice: Genre stalwarts Dana Andrews (Zero Hour!) and Efrem Zimbalist Jr, who would come together again for a very similar movie: Airport 1975.
Movie link: IMDb – The Crowded Sky
Specifications: U.S.A. 1960. Produced by Warner Brothers. Directed by Joseph Pevney. Starring Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Also known as SOS für Flug T 17 (German).
Fate is the Hunter
Plot summary: A bird strike shortly after takeoff downs a Consolidated Airlines passenger jet, killing all but one of the 53 passengers and crew on board. Early in the investigation, it is found that the Captain shut down the aircraft’s one good engine for no reason, and may have been drinking as little as an hour before the flight. Consolidated Airlines’ operations manager, an old war buddy of the Captain, sets out to prove his pal’s innocence…
Appreciation: The premise is more interesting than the actual film. It often feels tedious and patchily constructed. Glenn Ford is a good actor, but is utterly wasted here. Even Ernest K. Gahn, who wrote the book this is very shakily based on, asked his name to be removed from it; it’s that bad. I give this movie 3 out of 10.
Things to notice: The unnamed jet airliner: it’s really a DC-6 in disguise.
Movie link: IMDb – Fate is the Hunter
Specifications: U.S.A. 1964. Produced by Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Ralph Nelson. Starring Glenn Ford, Nancy Kwan, Rod Taylor.Also known as Le crash mystérieux (French), Bezwinger des Todes (German).