Crowded Sky

The Crowded Sky

Director: Joseph Pevney, Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Anne Francis

Cast: Joseph Pevney, Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, Anne Francis

     
 
A navy jet piloted by Captain Dale Heath (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and carrying an enlisted man (Troy Donahue) has already taken off when Heath realizes that both his radio and his navigation equipment have malfunctioned. They might be on the right course, but he can't tell if they're at the right altitude -- 500 feet too high or too low would put him in the path of a

Overview

A navy jet piloted by Captain Dale Heath (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and carrying an enlisted man (Troy Donahue) has already taken off when Heath realizes that both his radio and his navigation equipment have malfunctioned. They might be on the right course, but he can't tell if they're at the right altitude -- 500 feet too high or too low would put him in the path of a plane headed in the opposite direction -- and he can't get through to ground control to get a fix. Heath is quietly terrified at the prospect of what may happen, not just for the obvious reason but also because he's experienced this situation once before and saved himself at the cost of the other plane and its crew. Meanwhile, flying in the opposite direction on the same course is a DC-7 commercial airliner flown by Dick Barnett (Dana Andrews), a veteran pilot, and carrying a full load of passengers, each with their own worries. Much of the first 85 minutes of this thriller is devoted to the passengers and crew of the airliner struggling with their personal problems, told in extensive flashbacks. Both Barnett and Heath have their personal trials, the latter including an unhappy marriage to a faithless wife (Rhonda Fleming); Barnett's troubles are more complicated, and concern long-time problems with his co-pilot, Mike Rule (John Kerr), whose own personal conflicts involve his artist father, his own conflicting love of flying and art, and his relationship with head stewardess Anne Francis (who never looked better than she does in this movie). The extensive flashbacks will push the patience of modern audiences almost to the breaking point, but they do pay off -- and except for the archaic late 1950s slang (which, ironically, was intended to make the movie seem up-to-date) that litters the dialogue, and a silly subplot involving a Broadway method actor on his way to Hollywood, the material is worth watching, despite the soap-opera-ish elements, as the suspense gets ratcheted up gradually. The movie piles on hints and clues (some of them false) about the impending danger that turn the last 20 minutes or so into a neat cinematic thrill-ride for its time.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
The Crowded Sky was one of the more intelligent and economical air-travel thrillers of its day. Produced by Michael Garrison (who later produced The Wild, Wild West television series), and directed by Joseph Pevney, its plot (derived and maybe even slightly improved from Hank Searls' novel) was hooked on one ingredient for suspense that Alfred Hitchcock had always regarded as sure-fire -- put the protagonist in danger, and let the audience know it. In this case, the "protagonist" was a plane-load of passengers on a collision course with another flight, stretched out to nearly an hour-and-a-half of screen time. The movie also had some of the best virtues of a sprawling big-budget A-movie with a fairly large cast, coupled with those of a neat, clean, unpretentious, and uncluttered B-picture. Not as gargantuan in running time or as ambitious as The High and the Mighty (which was distributed by the same studio), nor as cerebral as No Highway in the Sky, and more accessible than such British thrillers as Jet Storm or Jet Over the Atlantic, The Crowded Sky was a fine little meat-and-potatoes type thriller, and the film only suffered from some minor aspects of its small budget -- the canvas was perhaps not big enough to take in all of the subplots involving the passengers and pilots in the way that subsequent big-budget disaster movies like Airport did a decade later, and at a crucial point (the crash scene) the special effects took on a distinctly low-budget cheesiness. Luckily, Joseph Pevney (Away All Boats, etc.) directed with such a deftness, that, coupled with some good performances, the film overcame the latter problem and ultimately made the film enjoyable. The Crowded Sky was never going to be The High and the Mighty or Airport, but it was a fine example of professional and occasionally inspired filmmaking by an underrated director and a cast that tried hard to pull it off. A subsequent oddity about this movie came up in the casting of Airport 1975 14 years later, in which Dana Andrews and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. were once again playing the pilots of two planes on a collision course, except that in the later film, Andrews is piloting the smaller plane and Zimbalist the airliner.

Product Details

Release Date:
03/23/2009
UPC:
0883316126530
Original Release:
1960
Rating:
NR
Source:
Warner Archives
Presentation:
[B&W, Wide Screen]
Time:
1:45:00
Sales rank:
28,667

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Dana Andrews Dick Barnett
Rhonda Fleming Cheryl Heath
Anne Francis Kitty Foster
Efrem Zimbalist Dale Heath
John Kerr Mike Rule
Keenan Wynn Nick Hyland
Troy Donahue McVey
Joe Mantell Louis Capelli
Patsy Kelly Gertrude Ross
Donald May Nonn Coster
Louis Quinn Sidney Schreiber
Ed Kemmer Caesar
Tom Gilson Rob Fermi
Hollis Irving Beatrice Wiley
Paul Genge Samuel N. Poole
Jean Willes Gloria Panawek
Frieda Inescort Mrs. Mitchell
Nan Leslie Bev

Technical Credits
Joseph Pevney Director
Michael Garrison Producer
Alixe Gordin Casting
Eddie Imazu Art Director
Tom McAdoo Editor
Leonard Rosenman Score Composer
Charles Schnee Screenwriter
Harry Stradling Cinematographer

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