So, we had '59's JET STORM with Stanley Baker as the pilot with a mad bomber (Richard Attenborough) on board, SOS PACIFIC where a rackety seaplane has to crash land near a nuclear test area, can they stop the test in time?, the ropey JET ACROSS THE ATLANTIC, and my favourite the 1956 BACK FROM ETERNITY where a jet (containing Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, Rod Steiger) crashes in the jungle near a tribe of head-hunters - again, can they get away before the natives attack? Topping all these was THE CROWDED SKY and of course 1954's THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY which was far too ponderous when I finally saw it a while back, and of course 1963's COME FLY WITH ME with its 3 hostesses looking for romance is also a nostalgic treat.
Like the others THE CROWDED SKY has if not quite an-star cast, a raft of B-players. Here we have Dana Andrews as pilot of the airliner flying west from Washington to LA, while Efrem Zembalist Jr is the navy pilot flying from San Diego to Washington, with young sailor Troy Donahue on board. Both planes are on a collision course as they should be flying at different altitudes as is normal with flights on these routes. The wooden performances and variable special effects simply add to its kitsch factor; some audiences can't help laughing at it, but nevertheless enjoying themselves at the same time. It would all be so much better done now, the actual collision is obviously done with models, but it set the template for those AIRPORT movies that followed in the 70s, AIRPORT 75 being particularly choice (and of course featuring Dana and Efrem again but this time as pilots in reverse, with Dana flying his small plane into Efrem's jet, leaving stewardess Karen Black to fly the plane until Charlton Heston drops in). Of course AIRPLANE in 1980 sent the whole genre sky high!
On THE CROWDED SKY we get little snippets of the passenger's stories: characters rarely develop in films like this, and most are little more than stereotyped sketches: glamour girl Jean Willes chasing old beau Keenan Wynn (who does not recognise her), the man with the dying wife, Patsy Kelly as a showbiz agent, the couple too shy to speak to each other etc. Stewardess Anne Francis is romancing co-pilot John Kerr (as dull and uninteresting as ever here) who is at loggerheads with pilot Dana. We get several flashbacks to Efrem's failed marriage to calculating Rhonda Fleming (top billed female but with only a couple of scenes).
Tension builds slowly as Jospeh Pevney directs and it all looks good in that Warner colour. A perfect time capsule of its time then, and amusing to see again now. What a wonderful experience flying used to be; beyond slick obvious entertainment, THE CROWDED SKY has the added dimension of evoking nostalgia for a vanished way of travel. Now for the PAN AM series!