When I was a kid, I caught part of a plane crash movie on TV one night and from there I was scared to death of flying. But my mother, in all her wisdom, warned me that one day I would probably get a job where I had to fly a lot…and she was right. I have been on hundreds of flights over the last 18 years, and though certain things about flying still rattle me a bit, I’ve gotten quite used to the whole process. But I still don’t often seek out movies that deal with trouble in the air. Yet somehow I managed to brave today’s film…1961’s “The Flight that Disappeared.”
The film begins in Los Angeles as a flight prepares to head for Washington DC. The pilot, Hank Norton (John Bryant) is anxious to get this one over with and get to his new assignment flying jet engine planes rather than props. The co-pilot, Jack Peters (Brad Trumball) has his mind on his upcoming marriage to flight attendant Barbara (Nancy Hale). Meanwhile, the passengers are getting on board, several of whom are headed for the same meeting at The Pentagon. Among them are scientist Dr. Morris (Dayton Lummis), his assistant Marcia Paxton (Paula Raymond), and ballistic missile designer Tom Endicott (Craig Hill). There’s also a strange man named Walter Cooper (Harvey Stevens) traveling with his blind wife Helen (Meg Wyllie). Walter recognizes Dr. Morris and wonders out loud if the doctor will listen to his warning. He is desperate since the newspapers and radio stations have ignored him. Just what his warning is, we don’t know.
As the flight travels east, things are pretty normal at first. In fact, like a real flight, it’s downright boring. But Tom and Marcia occupy themselves by heading to the lounge to flirt with each other. But, unknown to the passengers, things start to get a bit strange for the crew up in the cockpit. It seems that the plane is increasing in altitude, and nothing the crew does will stop it. Hank lets officials on the ground know about their situation, but there is nothing they can do.
Meanwhile, Walter has found his chance to chat with Dr. Morris. It seems that Morris has theorized about creating an ultimate weapon. Walter believes that this weapon must be created and must be dropped on our enemies before they have the chance to beat us to it. As the two are told to go back to their seats, the plane continues to rise and the passengers begin to get nervous.
The air gradually begins to get thin. Both the passengers and the crew begin to pass out from lack of oxygen. But Walter begins to lose his mind…pounding at the door in the rear lounge of the plane. Before Tom can stop him, Walter opens the door and hurls himself out of the plane. Tom then returns to his seat and fades off to sleep like all the other passengers.
Later, Tom, Marcia and Dr. Morris awaken. They soon notice that though they seem to be perfectly fine, their hearts aren’t beating. Plus, all of their watches have stopped at the same exact time. Everyone else on the plane looks dead. As the three of them discuss their situation, they are soon joined by a strange man (Gregory Morton) who walks into the plane in a cloud of smoke. This man represents a jury made up of people from the future. They accuse our three scientists of working toward the eventual destruction of humanity…ah, the big meeting at The Pentagon…the ultimate weapon. Now, this whole bit is somewhat confusing. If humanity is destroyed then where do these guys come from? Sorry folks, it’s too much for my simple brain to handle. So, now it’s up to this jury to decide if our heroes should remain in this place where time doesn’t exist (that’s why their watches stopped) or if they can be trusted to go back and possibly change their destructive ways.
This is another film that feels a lot like a story you would see on a series like “The Twilight Zone” or “The Outer Limits.” Having said that, much of the early parts of the film feel like padding. I mean, I’m all for character development, but all of the pilot’s talk about wanting to fly jets and the sarcastic advice he gives his co-pilot about marriage is all just fluff. Likewise, when Tom, Marcia and Dr. Morris end up on trial, there’s an awful lot of future-talk mumbo jumbo that only succeeded in making my brain hurt. The filmmakers were clearly trying to stretch their thinn story idea which I dare say may have worked better as a TV production with a shorter running time.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t intrigued with the film’s premise. I was a teenager in the 80’s, a time where our teachers tried to make sure that the nuclear war boogeyman was always in the back of our minds. This film reminded me of the sort of stories we were exposed to at the time. The idea that a plane carrying bomb makers headed for Washington is snatched up by inhabitants of the future has potential. But there are missed opportunities here. The people of the future actually seem to have it pretty good, they’ve got matching outfits after all. They should’ve been people ravaged by war, desperately trying to save themselves by changing the past. The filmmakers also manage to eliminate the most interesting character, Walter, before we meet up with the future people. Had he met them he would surely have thought it was really a plot by our enemies. How would he have tried to retaliate? There’s such missed potential there.
I found “The Flight that Disappeared” to be an interesting film, and worth a watch, but ultimately a bit frustrating as well. It becomes a bit too concerned with it’s message, and unfortunately the story suffers.