Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released in the UK on June 28, 1951 and in the US on September 21, 1951
Directed by Henry Koster
Written by R.C Sherriff, Oscar Millard, and Alec Coppel
Cast: James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins, Janette Scott, Ronald Squire, Niall MacGinnis, Kenneth More, Elizabeth Allan, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Dora Bryan, Jill Clifford
James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich star in this British-made airline disaster film that, contrary to what the poster depicts, is neither sexy nor action-packed (nor is it all that disastrous, either). What it is, however, is flat-out well-made and compelling, as Stewart tries desperately to convince anyone who’ll listen that the passenger jet they’re traveling on is about to break apart in mid-flight.
Stewart plays Theodore Honey, a nerdish RAE research engineer who’s testing the tail section of a new commercial jet, the Reindeer, for metal fatigue in the airframe, which he’s convinced was the cause of a recent crash involving another Reindeer aircraft in Newfoundland. He’s soon sent to Canada to investigate, and during his flight realizes he’s actually on one of these planes, and after a nervous check of the flight log discovers the plane has flown enough miles to be at risk, and according to his calculations, is doomed to crash at any moment.
This to me is what filmmaking is all about: a well-written and character-driven story, with moments of natural interaction and subtle humor, that steers clear of overblown and unnecessary plot developments and sticks to the story at hand, without the need for action at every turn to keep a thrill-happy audience occupied. Henry Koster did a fine job directing, not only with his choice of camera framing and visuals, but by using the actors’ performances and dialogue to maintain interest and deliver tension. And tension aplenty there was, because I seriously did not know where all this was going to lead, or when and where this plane was going to fall apart. That is, if it was going to fall apart.
Stewart, not surprisingly, was simply amazing in his portrayal of Honey, stepping out from his usual acting comfort zone and becoming a character who made me not only appreciate his skills, but at times made me forget it was even Stewart in the role. His slouched gait, his absent-mindedness, and even his diction and mannerisms not only defined his character (and defied what most would consider a typical Stewart performance), but added to the overall story arc as well; eventually, these traits belied Honey’s intelligence and knowledge, and had those around him questioning his sanity.
Equally outstanding was Dietrich, in a quiet and compassionate performance as a movie starlet and a passenger flying alone, who at first was put-off by Honey’s attempts to warn and protect her, but soon came to believe in him, and warmed to his kindness and sincerity. However, if I had to pick a favorite, my vote would go to the lovely Glynis Johns, as the sympathetic flight attendant Marjorie, who had Stewart’s back from square one, and was so adorable, even I would’ve chanced a flight on a Reindeer if I knew she was also on-board.
For such an unheralded little film, this one really delivered the goods, and in the end actually foretold of similar jetliner crashes that would occur just a few years after its release. And though some of the effects may seem dated today, to me these were offset by a pair of sudden and astonishing shots that were not faked, and added another layer to the precision realism of the film. From the direction of Koster, to the solid screenwriting, and to the acting of Stewart, Dietrich, and the terrific supporting cast, No Highway in the Sky gripped me from beginning to end, and is definitely worth checking out. (9/10)