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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Will It Or Won't It Crash?


Brit Cool Is Novelty Of Air Thrilled No Highway In The Sky (1951)

James Stewart is a believable science geek trying to forestall air disaster he knows will occur after quantity of hours flown. Done in the UK under Fox auspices; they sent over JS and a staff director (Henry Koster), but balance of cast is refreshingly Brit and/or Euro-flavored (Marlene Dietrich). This may be Marlene's best performance; certainly she's close as ever to mirroring herself on film. As a celebrity caught in peril aloft, Dietrich captures star need of adulation from strangers, without allowing any of them to get too close. The actress makes most of good dialogue toward something truer than mere melodrama. Absent-minded professorial Stewart doesn't overplay his part as would be case in twelve-year later Dear Brigitte (similar, but pitched to comedy). Did he low-key in deference to Brit players who were masters at that? Many here get early licks at screen prominence: Glynis Johns, Niall MacGinnes, Wilfred Hyde-White, Kenneth More. These could make any American interloper look to laurels, even Stewart at a peak of star status. The concept of tails popping off planes due to vibration are one more reason for me to go on avoiding the things, real tension maintained during mid-length of flight with principals all aboard. I'd assume Fox did No Highway In The Sky to thaw frozen funds; it regrettably lost a pile ($1.1 million) due to neg costs unusually high ($2.1 million) and starkly poor domestic rentals ($863K). It deserved lots better. No Highway In The Sky HD-plays here and there, definitely a flight worth boarding.

8 Comments:

Blogger kenneth Von Gunden said...

Frozen funds? Yes, many U.S./Brit productions were shot in England after WWII to free up cash that could not be taken out but could be spent. Disney, especially, made many such productions that are still beloved by people like me who were kids at the time.
The Wolf, man.

8:53 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer supplies some aeronautical background for "No Highway In The Sky":


The Rutland Reindeer, the fictional airliner which was the subject of the movie, will seem a strange beast even to movie-goers familiar with prop-driven commercial aircraft of the 1940s and 50s. It does bear a close resemblance to another aircraft, however, this one for real, which was under development while Nevil Shute was writing “No Highway,” the 1948 novel from which “No Highway in the Sky” was adapted.

The Bristol Brabazon was a huge airliner intended to transport passengers across oceans in luxurious comfort. It was bigger than the much later Boeing 747, with a longer and wider fuselage and a much longer wing span. Where the 747 was meant to carry as many as 660 passengers, however, the Brabazon only carried 100, with separate sleeping and dining rooms and a cocktail lounge. Readers of this site will be glad to know that there was also a 23-seat movie theater in the rear of the airplane.

By the time of its first test flight in 1949, however, it was already obsolete. Its thick wing, carrying eight radial engines coupled together to turn four counter-rotating propellers, was less efficient than the arrangement of such American airliners as the Lockheed Constellation and DC-8, which could cruise at from 40 to 50 miles per hour faster. That and the relatively small number of passengers it carried, when airlines were trying to fill their airliners with as many people as possible—why have a dining room when a passenger could be given a lap-tray?—meant that there were no orders for the Brabazon. The one and only prototype was scrapped in 1953.

There was one fascinating plot point in “No Highway” which never made the movie. A search is being made for the missing tail plane of a Reindeer that had gone down in northern Quebec. If it could be examined, it might confirm the scientist’s theory that it had failed as a result of metal fatigue, causing the crash of the airliner. Among the scientist’s esoteric interests—pyramidology is another—is clairvoyance. After putting his young daughter into a deep trance, something he’s apparently done often before, she manipulates the planchette of a Ouija board to spell out a message, which proves to be the name of a lake along the flight path of the airliner, where the tail plane will eventually be found.

Clairvoyance was a matter of special interest to Shute, and for a reason. As Nevil Shute Norway, he was on the design team of the R100, the privately built airship which competed with the British Royal Air Ministry’s R101 for a proposed Empire-wide airship service. The government-run project was fraught with arrogance and overreach, culminating in Lord Thomson, the Secretary of State for Air, insisting that the R101 fly him to a conference in India, though there were grave doubts about whether it was up to the task. The airship crashed in France on October 4, 1930 during a storm, killing 46 of the 54 people on board, including Lord Thomson. Days later, a medium began delivering messages, purportedly from members of the dead crew, as to what had gone wrong. Some of the technical data she provided could not have been known to the general public. Shute, who had inside information on some of the problems besetting the R101, was probably aware of this as well.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Dave K said...

A while back didn't you have a post about how any film, regardless of critical or box office response, might have a special place in a specific viewer's life? That was NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY as far my parents were concerned. To begin with, Stewart was always at the very top of the list of favored movie stars with my folks. Coupled with that, my dad spent his life in aeronautical design and the story of the plucky hero fighting for what his slide rule told him was right hit very close to home. Now there may have been some other personal connections with first time viewing, a particularly memorable night out or what have you, but the bottom line was that this film was something special as far as they were concerned. I know it was on the can't-miss roster whenever it popped up on the TV schedule.


3:47 PM  
Blogger Realist said...

Dan, An interesting article about a plane that was obsolete before it flew. You mentioned the DC-8, but I think you meant the DC-7, since the DC-8 was a jetliner. My Dad was a Flight Engineer for Northwest Airline in the 1950s and was part of the flight crew for both the DC-6 and DC-7.

6:36 PM  
Blogger Tommie Hicks said...

It seems much of the publicity material relating to Marlene Dietrich almost always shows her legs.

6:55 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

This is a Stinky favorite, with one of James Stewart's best performances, somewhat marred by an abrupt denouement, as we would say in French class.

It prompted Stinky to read several Nevil Shute novels; he is an excellent writer.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Interesting movie, but Stewart's toupee (or dye job) was distracting me throughout.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Kevin K., to paraphrase John Wayne, it's real hair. It's not his, but it's real.

Stinky likes Stewart's hair in this; the greying, unkempt, slightly longish hair seems appropriate for his absentminded character. It's Stinky's moderately educated guess, resulting from a lifetime of suffering from an unhealthy obsession with movie star hairlines, that Stewart is wearing something to supplement the hair on his noggin, but not a full toupee. However, this may require further inspection.

To Stinky, Stewart's hair doesn't become a distraction until Rear Window.

2:30 AM  

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