|Brenda Benet and Chuck Connors|
Back in the seventies there were only three channels on
UK TV and you pretty much had to watch what you were given. Was it a co-incidence
that families watched TV more as one and that there were many successes in
appealing to their common tastes? Content was targeted at this mass demographic
and was designed to appeal and not challenge… With our modern array of styles
and genres – yet still an amorphous mass of the similar and the same on the
hundreds of available channels – it’s hard to be measured about the output of
the time. A little tame, a bit tame… obvious and predictable… really? So, not
as cutting edge as XFactor
or Bake Off
then? How we’ve changed…
Movies began being made just for TV, spearheaded by CBS
and ABC in the US, who were committed to producing family fare much removed
from an increasingly explicit mainstream cinema. Probably it was a more
cost-effective way of exploiting the newer medium – a low-cost ad-revenue-based
|Buddy Ebsen, Lynn Loring, France Nuyen and Paul Winfield are shocked!|
So it was that films like The Horror at 37,000 Feet were unleashed on the Saturday night
public with special effects strictly limited to a not too convincing model 747,
moody gurgling carpets and the odd flash of light.
This may have been the first time I’ve seen this film in
over forty years (yikes!) and it still projects a residual impact: Shatner’s
acting, David Lowell Rich’s well-disciplined direction and what I can now see
as more than just fresh-faced charm from the lovely and then ubiquitous Darleen
Carr… This is a visit to my primal televisual state when that tiny curved
screen in the living room opened up the World to my pre-teen eyes.
It’s impossible to view on its own terms anymore and yet
you can catch admirable glimpses of fine acting – it is a strong cast - and
appreciate the construction of genuine suspense aboard that generic platform
for so much dramatic tension: the jet plane. Where once people of different
backgrounds convened at country mansions for murder and self-realisation, then
as now the venue is likely to be a Boeing jet: shakes on a plane. Shivers too.
The flight is captained by Captain Ernie Slade (chiselled
Chuck Connors) a man of heroic bearing who you’d trust to ride any horse and
fly any plane… he’s aided by second-in-command Jim Hawley (Russell Johnson) and
navigator Frank Driscoll (H.M. Wynant).
|Darleen and Buddy|
Naturally, there are two pretty
stewardesses, super Sally (Brenda Benet) and the lithe Margot (Miss Carr) whose
short skirt and tight-fitting, leg-revealing stewardess uniform provokes that
instant connection with youthful response: topped off with her regular
open-featured prettiness and you have the epitome of the American TV girl of
the period. It may be just me but… I remember you well Darleen.
Of course she’s also a fine actress and she’s going need
to be if we’re to survive the next 73 minutes…
|Jane Merrow and Roy Thinnes|
Other good actors with sometimes difficult words to say
include Roy Thinnes (remember The
?) as devil-may-care architect, Alan O'Neill and playing his
long-suffering wife, Sheila, English export Jane Merrow – she of the ace-face
and doe-eyed delivery. Sheila is from old money and has allowed marital loyalty
to override her inherited duty: mad Al has uprooted the remains of a druid
grave and is transporting it, lock, stock and headstone to top off a new
apartment he’s building – oh, how the godless rich spend their money…
Objecting to all this, in the weirdest-possible terms, is
the earnest Mrs. Pinder (Tammy Grimes) a woman from Sheila’s parish who
understands far more about the true significance of the remains… she makes one
last plea for O’Neill to abandon his plan before promising that he will regret
it… In practical terms her intervention is a little late as the relic is all
packed up in the hold and they are about to take off but… you know. Mrs Pinder
has brought her dog along which is odd especially given the British control on
animal movement… she must be thinking of more than a short stay in America as
these things take so long to sort out…
|Mrs Pinder issues a grave warning...|
Anyway… Mrs Pinder is in first class with a second class
ticket and is encouraged back to her seat allowing Sheila and Alan to continue
an ongoing spat – his infidelity, lack of empathy, regard for tradition and so
on… He leaves to go find a drink in the upstairs lounge bar.
Sheila tries to distract herself with music but her
headphones don’t work allowing garish ageing cowboy actor, Steve Holcomb (Will
Hutchins – an ageing cowboy actor…) to try it on… he strikes out but those
headphones… there’s an other-worldly noise coming through… it’s chilling, she
can’t listen and pulls the phones off: it’s been a stressful few days but she
ain’t seen nothing yet.
Meanwhile, Mrs P’s fellow passengers are revealed: there’s
a short-haired red-head with a guitar, Manya (Lynn Loring – Mrs Thinnes as it
happens) whose long-suffering alongside a smart-looking man constantly topping
up his alcohol level – it’s Paul Kovalik (William Shatner in one of his
greatest/worst post-Trek appearances depending on who you read… it’s way more
complex than that!).
There’s kindly Doctor Enkalla (Paul Winfield) and a young
girl Jodi (Mia Bendixsen) who is travelling alone – why is there always a young
girl travelling alone? All part of the arcane conventions of the airplane
|Bill is always brilliant!|
Meanwhile in the lounge… Alan meets grizzled
industrialist Glenn Farlee (Buddy Ebsen – a long way from the Texas Tea) who
interrupts his chatting up of model Annalik (France Nuyen) to berate his
profession and question his business sense in shipping such a
commercially-irrelevant object across the Atlantic.
All is now in place for the demonic dance to begin…the
mysterious object in the hold gets cold and freezes Mrs Pinder’s dog in an
instant, as the cold mist spreads it’s also clear that the plane simply isn’t
moving… almost as if something didn’t want to be flown from England to America…
The emanating evil spreads and soon the body count begins: as the passengers
become more revolting is there any way out that avoids human sacrifice and
their reversion to savages?!
Can anyone step forward and save the day in as
dramatically efficient way as possible?
Dusty verdict: In truth it’s hard not to enjoy this film.
The story may be as thin as Gaelic mist but the cast certainly believe in it
and give their all with some fine character work. Of course no harm is done by
the frequent deployment of Darleen Carr’s legs in key shots but she also acts
up a storm as do Jane Merrow, Chuck Connors and Tammy Grimes in particular.
Bill Shatner? He does very well – yes there’s the occasional mad-eyed glint,
like Kirk under alien influence, but he’s having a ball and hasn’t overlooked
the fact that this stuff needs to be fun.
For some this is the epitome of Saturday night TV movies
for others it may be more dated and televisual than cinematic but that’s not
for want of trying.
Well worth seeking out on DVD from Amazon and elsewhere…
|This ain't Texas Tea...|
|Not a real plane|
Let's take a look around the Boeing 747...
|Here's the holding bay|
|More storage over here.|
|Wide aisles for passenger comfort|
|Exceptional all round.|
Great review--informative and entertaining! You prompted me to look up this movie and I just saw it on YouTube. A real gem from when the world was sane. And what a cast! Shatner shone brightly. It was cool to see late-Sixties sci-fi icons Captain Kirk and David Vincent together. And surreal to see Jed Clampett roughing up Kirk and Sugarfoot tackling Vincent. It was an amazing cast, and yes, Darleen Carr's gams were highlighted here like never seen on The Streets of San Francisco! Thanks for the tip to such a great movie!ReplyDelete
You're very welcome and thanks for reading! It is a fun movie and takes you right back to more innocent times - or at least less over-produced ones. The cast are excellent and,yes,Darleen...:-)Delete
There is something I just have to share with everyone who had seen this movie.ReplyDelete
Of all the characters in this film, I have to say I love Margo, the stewardess.
My heart felt touched in the scenes where she comforted and held that crying child. Something about it somehow tugs at my heartstrings. Maybe because she was young and very attractive. Few women, in my opinion, go out of their way to hold a child and to keep them warm and loved. To love that child in the way that their mother would.
I feel my eyes tearing up as I write this. I wish they would show more scenes of Margo holding the child in her lap and in her arms. I wish at near the end after where the plane reaches a safe altitude, that there would be a long closeup scene of Margo holding the child dearly to her heart, and the child sleeping.
If I were the director of this movie, this is exactly how I would arrange all this scenery.