Late this evening it was time for our annual New Year's Eve tradition: watching a hokey disaster movie. Previous New Year's Eve entries include TWISTER (1996), SKYJACKED (1972), and ZERO HOUR! (1957).
Tonight's movie was THE CROWDED SKY, a fairly silly yet quite entertaining film in the airplane disaster genre. The film borrowed heavily from THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954), with the disaster-bound crew and passengers all having flashbacks, and as in ZERO HOUR! we once again find Dana Andrews heroically piloting a passenger plane.
In THE CROWDED SKY Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is piloting a military jet which has lost its radio and ability to read altitude. Troy Donahue is also aboard the plane as Zimbalist's passenger -- he should have listened to the warning at the airport and waited for another ride east! Zimbalist is on a collision course with Andrews' passenger plane. The disaster climax was actually rather shocking; I didn't expect things to go quite the way they did.
I don't know if it was coincidence or a deliberate tribute to this film, but in AIRPORT 1975 (1974) Zimbalist and Andrews were cast in flip roles, with Andrews piloting a small plane hurtling toward a passenger jet piloted by Zimbalist!
The movie has some delightfully bad dialogue, as well as some lines that were quite surprising for 1960. (Rhonda Fleming musing about why she likes banana splits was a real eye-opener.) The flashbacks were pretty awful, with the camera zooming in and the background behind the actors going black, although they weren't as groan-worthy as the gauzy flashbacks with the cheesy '70s music in SKYJACKED. Nor were they as boring as the too-long flashbacks in the otherwise entertaining HIGH AND THE MIGHTY.
As always, Dana Andrews plays it straight and ends the film with his dignity intact. January 1st, incidentally, marks the 101st anniversary of Andrews' birth.
Fleming plays Zimbalist's unfaithful wife, with Karen Green as their young daughter. John Kerr is Andrews' copilot, who is torn between flying, art, and whether or not to marry pretty stewardess Anne Francis. Joe Mantell plays the navigator. The passengers include Keenan Wynn, Patsy Kelly, and Ava Gardner lookalike Jean Willes.
This film was directed by Joseph Pevney. It was shot in Technicolor and runs 105 minutes.
THE CROWDED SKY is available in a widescreen DVD-R print from the Warner Archive. For the most part it was an excellent, crisp print, other than a few faint black lines which appeared randomly near the start and end of the movie.
On March 5th, 2010, Turner Classic Movies will show THE CROWDED SKY as part of an evening of airplane disaster movies. The other films to be shown are CRASH LANDING (1958), ZERO HOUR! and the spoof AIRPLANE! (1980), which recycled huge chunks of the ZERO HOUR! script. Click here for a page to sign up for TCM to email a reminder the week the movie airs.
THE CROWDED SKY is a worthy entry in the hokey airplane disaster movie genre. A good time was had by all.
Update: Be sure to read a fun review of the DVD-R posted by Glenn Erickson at DVD Savant. Erickson terms the film "a hugely enjoyable Bad Movie."