This evening we continued our recent tradition of watching a hokey disaster film on New Year's Eve.
On New Year's Eve 2006 we watched TWISTER (1996). In 2007 our New Year's Eve film was SKYJACKED (1972), which was delightfully entertaining.
Tonight's movie was even more fun: ZERO HOUR!, which has to rate as one of the best bad films of all time. Sterling Hayden also gives what must be one of the most unintentionally funny performances of all time.
Ted Stryker (Dana Andrews) has never gotten over a bad war experience of a decade earlier, when his decision to go ahead with a mission led to several men in his flight squadron crashing in foggy weather. When Ted's wife Ellen (Linda Darnell) leaves him, Ted follows her onto her airplane flight despite the fact that flying makes him break out in a cold sweat.
The pilot and copilot make the fateful decision to have fish instead of meat for dinner and are incapacitated by food poisoning. As the doctor who just happens to be on board tells the stewardess: "Our survival hinges on one thing: finding someone who not only can fly the plane, but didn't have fish for dinner!"
As it turns out, there's only one man on board who has any hope of landing the plane: Ted, with Ellen serving as his co-pilot. And wouldn't you know, Captain Martin Treleaven (Sterling Hayden), the pilot on the ground who's going to talk Ted through flying a jet for the first time, is -- of course! -- one of the men who flew with Ted during the war. Ted and Martin are not exactly friendly but have to work together to safely land the plane.
Dana Andrews is an excellent actor, as always, and nothing much can injure his dignity; he plays it absolutely straight and is very believable. However, he's surrounded by classically hokey dialogue, situations which probably seemed contrived even to 1957 viewers who hadn't seen AIRPLANE!, and Hayden's deadpan, unbelievable line delivery, which in a couple spots had us laughing till we had tears in our eyes. ("Flying's just like riding a bicycle!") Linda Darnell does what she can with her part, but the moment near the end when they chose to have her look straight into the camera as she gazes admiringly at Dana Andrews was another unintentionally hokey moment.
ZERO HOUR! provided a reunion for Andrews and Darnell, who costarred in the 1945 noir classic FALLEN ANGEL, reviewed here.
As recounted at the website Something Old, Nothing New here and here, the spoof AIRPLANE! (1980) lifted entire sections of dialogue from ZERO HOUR! absolutely verbatim. (Unfortunately the video links that accompany these posts are no longer active.) AIRPLANE! also borrowed from THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY and AIRPORT, but AIRPLANE! basically remakes ZERO HOUR! ZERO HOUR! is so much fun I'm not sure how AIRPLANE! could improve on it, but I'll have to watch that one in the future.
Along for the plane ride are Peggy King as the brave stewardess and Jerry Paris as her boyfriend. Geoffrey Toone plays the calm doctor.
ZERO HOUR! was directed by Hall Bartlett, who co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur Hailey (AIRPORT) and John C. Champion. The movie was shot in black and white and runs 81 minutes.
ZERO HOUR! is available on DVD in the Terrorized Travelers Cult Camp Classics boxed set, or as a single title DVD release.
It'll be hard to top this one next New Year's Eve, as it was grand fun.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Update: Thanks to Carrie and my dad for mentioning that January 1st is the centennial of Dana Andrews' birthday.