Nice day for a trip in an aeroplane, quips the taxi driver to Ernest Tilley (Richard Attenborough) and he agrees with a distracted demeanour as he is dropped off at the airport with his wife Carol (Mai Zetterling) for a transatlantic flight, but he has plans for the expedition that nobody could have envisaged. The pilot is Captain Bardow (Stanley Baker), one of the most capable men in his position with his levelheaded approach and utter professionalism, but even he will have his nerve tested by what Tilley has in store. As the thirty-odd passengers board the craft, they have no inkling that a terrifying drama is about to unfold, and all because of what the uneasy-looking gentleman has taken on the plane...
The nineteen-seventies are often thought of as the heyday of the airliner disaster movie, but most of that rested on the notoriety of one franchise, the Airport series which also kicked off with a bomb threat provided by a misfit passenger. Back in the fifties, however, the genre was really finding its feet with titles like No Highway, Zero Hour and The High and the Mighty, all of which presented audiences with a nightmare scenario they could comfortably consume along with their popcorn, safe in the knowledge that it would never happen to them. When two decades later the world was waking up to terrorism, the seventies were more likely to exploit the fears that suddenly didn't seem so far away.
Not to mention the worry that pilot error might creep in, or some freak accident, but back in 1959 the Brits tried to get in on the act with their own all-star crisis, though exactly how many of the actors remained stars in the twenty-first century was up for debate. Take Canadian celebrity Bernard Braden, a huge star on television for his jack of all trades style to entertainment, but now you'd have trouble remembering he was ever as famous as he was, never mind why he was invited on the plane (with wife Barbara Kelly) to bulk up the cast. On the other hand, Harry Secombe's legendary inclusion as one of the Goons at least lent him some immortality, and Hermione Baddely will be recalled as long as there are people wanting to watch Mary Poppins (she was the maid).
Secombe found himself in an improbable double act with Dame Sybil Thorndike, taking a brief break from the stage to deign to grace us with her presence, and it was eccentric decisions such as that, presumably the idea of director Cy Endfield, that offered some degree of novelty. Fans of fifties rockers would enjoy seeing Marty Wilde, though perhaps not the sound of him crooning the mildly hilarious theme song (courtesy of Mr Endfield), and British king of the voiceovers Patrick Allen showed up too, as did Sean Connery's first wife Diane Cilento... you could go on, but the point was audiences of the day would, as is the case with so many disaster movies, appreciate watching familiar faces put through peril. And audiences of today would appreciate a heavy dose of camp.
Not intentional, but with some unfortunate to modern ears dialogue ("I'll give you the most humiliating licking of your life!") and a general air of barely suppressed hysteria, it was tempting to giggle, no matter its sincere grappling with the issue of what to do if someone goes off the rails and threatens to take down the rest of us with them. Baker's Captain dealt sensitively with Tilley's mental illness, but contrast with the man the disturbed plane wrecker wishes to destroy, the man who accidentally killed his baby daughter in a hit and run, and the cards are stacked so far against this miscreant that his eventual fate is more ludicrous than fitting. As the noticeably underpopulated passenger list grows divided into who wants to beat Tilley to find out where the bomb is and those who want to use the softly softly method, you could ruminate over your own reactions should the situation ever arise, and also that aside from the Captain, nobody here behaves in a convincing manner, the whole thing geared towards excitement and thrills. And laughs, now. Music by Thomas Rajna.
[Simply Media's DVD has no extras, but does boast a very clean print.]