NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (1951), a film about a scientist trying to prevent plane crashes.
FATE IS THE HUNTER opens in nerve-wracking fashion, with the crash of a jetliner piloted by Captain Jack Savage (Rod Taylor). Many are quick to point fingers at Captain Savage and blame the crash on pilot error, suggesting Savage had been drinking prior to flying, but airline exec Sam McBane (Glenn Ford) cannot believe that his war buddy was responsible.
McBane sets out to unravel the true cause of the accident; as he interviews people who knew the pilot, flashbacks help tell the story of the real Jack Savage. McBane then recreates the crash, assisted by stewardess Martha Webster (Suzanne Pleshette), who was the lone survivor of the actual incident. McBane ultimately discovers an unlikely cause of the tragedy.
This is an interesting and absorbing film. It moves a bit too slowly at times, after the nail-biting opening sequence, but the gradual piecing together of Savage's true character was well done, and the film builds to another tense flying sequence with a rewarding conclusion. A small, seemingly insignificant incident turns out to have enormous repercussions, supporting McBane's theory that perhaps the crash was simply...fate.
The cast is excellent, particularly Pleshette as the traumatized flight attendant and Wally Cox and Mark Stevens as men who had served with Savage in the military. Constance Towers plays McBane's loyal secretary; it's hinted there is something more to their relationship, but I had a feeling perhaps an explanatory scene or two was left on the cutting-room floor.
Dorothy Malone has an unbilled scene as one of the women in Savage's life, while Nancy Kwan portrays the woman he seems to have truly loved. Jane Russell plays herself and sings in an extended wartime flashback sequence.
Other actors in the cast include Nehemiah Persoff, Mary Wickes, Robert J. Wilke, and Max Showalter. Showalter previously acted under the name Casey Adams in films like NIAGARA (1953).
FATE IS THE HUNTER was directed by Ralph Nelson. Nelson started out as a TV director, whose credits included the famous live broadcast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's CINDERELLA (1957) starring Julie Andrews. His film credits included REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT (1962), LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963), FATHER GOOSE (1964), and DUEL AT DIABLO (1966).
This black and white CinemaScope film runs 106 minutes. It was based on a book by Ernest K. Gann, who also wrote the books which inspired the films ISLAND IN THE SKY (1953) and THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY (1954).
FATE IS THE HUNTER does not appear to have had a release in the United States on either VHS or DVD. It's available on a Region 2 DVD from Spain.
January 4th Update: (Spoiler alert!) This news story shows that the flight safety issue raised in the film is still around decades later.