In The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) based on a novel by Elleston Trevor, an airplane crash lands in the Sahara Desert. This dramatic beginning opens into an amazing tale of character, adventure, & survival.
There may be no other film that so completely balances a tale of characters with a tale of suspense & action. Pushing two & a half hours in length, the pacing makes it seem shorter than it is.
The character array is extraordinary, the cast includes Jimmy Stewart, Richard Attenborugh, Ernest Borgnine, Dan Duryea & others. Each actor captures his character beautifully.
But the highest winner of the cast is Hardy Kruger as the aeronautics engineer who thinks he may be able to direct the rest of the survivors in repairing the plane.
The intimations that he was a Nazi engineer makes him despised though his expertise may be all that will save them all. The revelation of who he really is, provides one of the many twists & surprises of a great film.
No Highway in the Sky (1951) finds James Stewart on yet another doomed airplane.
Theodore Honey (Stewart), an eccentric aeronautics engineer enroute across the Atlantic, has worked out an equation that proves the airplane they're on will have metal fatigue resulting in catastrophic failure at a very specific time.
He strives to convince the crew & captain they must land quickly or all is lost. When his warning is not taken seriously, he has no choice but to take direct action.
Non-stop suspense is conveyed by a realistic, understated script & superb acting. Marlene Dietrich as "the movie star," & spectacular support roles from Glynis Johns & Jack Hawkins, all lend credibility to the nightmare flight, which could well have been one of Richard Matheson's inspirations for the Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" (1963).
When this film was made, there had as yet been no airline accidents ascribed to metal fatigue, but within a year or two of its release, No Highway proved itself tragically prophetic, not from luck or fortune-telling, but because the novel it was based on was the work of a chap who akin to Theodore Honey did know some cutting-edge stuff, namely Neville Shute.
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