Consolidated Airlines 22 seemed to be embarking on just another ordinary flight tonight, but it was different in a major way as the crew and passengers would soon discover. Before boarding the aeroplane, Captain Jack Savage (Rod Taylor) spoke briefly with his old Air Force buddy Sam McBane (Glenn Ford) who heard from Jack first that he was up for a promotion in the company to Vice President, all going well. Sam was taken aback by this and sceptical, but there was no time to go into it in any depth as the pilot had to get onboard and take off, pleased to note a new stewardess as he was something of a womaniser. The more experienced stewardess, Martha Webster (Suzanne Pleshette) blocked his advances and fetched him a coffee...
Looking ahead to the airline disaster movies of the nineteen-seventies was Fate is the Hunter, very loosely based on the anecdotal book by Ernest K. Gann who had also gifted the screen two John Wayne adventure epics with an airborne theme. An experienced pilot, Gann was something of an adventurer himself who built a loyal following for his often plane-based novels, but when he saw what this production had done to his writings he disowned the results, as rather than taking the accounts from the page this was more like an update of an earlier, James Stewart-starring air accident investigation film, No Highway in the Sky, of which there was little comparison to Gann's largely autobiographical tome.
Not to worry, as this effort nevertheless established a fair audience who liked its mystery element as McBane (Ford radiating gravitas) sets about trying to discover why Flight 22 crashed into a jetty as it tried to set down on a beach after one of its engines blew. Everybody on the craft is killed aside from Martha, and Pleshette sported a sticking plaster on her forehead for the rest of the movie, it remaining unclear how she managed to get off so lightly when everyone else was obliterated in the explosion of impact. But more pressing matters are weighing heavily on McBane, for his friend Savage is being blamed for the incident, something he cannot tally with the man he knew: Jack may have been a rogue, but he would never have been out drinking a couple of hours before he flew.
However, that's the rumour going around and it gets published in the media as fact, therefore everyone believes it - can Sam clear Jack's name and restore the reputation the crash has eradicated? That was what took up most of the rest of the story, after a tense opening ten minutes depicting the calamity, and you couldn't help but notice that no matter how important it was to the hero that his pal be exonerated, it made for a rather dry set of dramatic interludes as he visits a selection of those who knew Jack to drum up support. We did get a sequence or two from their shared wartime stories (including a gratuitous Jane Russell) which showed if anyone was heroic, it wasn't so much Sam as it was Savage, wrestling at the controls of an ice-stricken cargo plane while the rest of the crew bailed out.
On the other hand, Taylor essayed the role with such bumptiousness that you were tempted to blame him for the accident anyway, he really wasn't going out of his way to make his character likeable. Though that in itself may have been a message for us: never mind how obnoxious someone is, they don't deserve to be landed as the culprit for something they never did, only that appeared to be by the by as far as this went for in the spirit of the day Savage, like his tough name, would have been regarded as a man's man and therefore deserving of justice for that reason. We see him manhandle Nancy Kwan by a river in one of those flashbacks, which led to her being his secret girlfriend (some tolerance on that woman, evidently), though taking the biscuit in the overacting stakes went to Dorothy Malone in an extended, unbilled cameo as a boozy floozy Savage was engaged to; her eye-rolling, lipsmacking interpretation verged close to outright camp. It's all sorted out by the end in a finale restaging the beginning that raises the interest once again, but it was schematic at best. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.