Saturday, August 06, 2005

The High and the Mighty

I can't remember why this John Wayne classic has been kept out of circulation for decades, but it's available now on CD and I rented it from Netflix. As a gripper, it holds up, this story of a plane with a bad engine limping its way from Honolulu to San Francisco and all the drama that entails, but if you look at it from today's perspective, it sure has a lot of funny stuff in it.

  • I was surprised, for example, that the passengers about to board the plane had to present passports and report to Immigration. I'd forgotten that Hawaii wasn't a state until 1959 and this movie was made in 1954. I'll have to remember to ask Walt if he needed a passport to leave the island (he was raised there, and left in 1955).
  • The stewardess for the flight worked at the check-in desk and introduced herself to each passenger as they checked in.
  • The plane. Ahhh...the plane. There were (I counted) fifteen passengers on board and there were more empty seats than there were full ones. When is the last time you found even half a dozen empty seats on an airplane.
  • There was one flight attendant--they were still called stewardesses back then. Those were the days when they were chosen as much for their youth and appearance as for their competence, I believe.
  • She actually seemed to cook meals individually (which is perhaps why there were only 15 passengers!).
  • John Wayne's total job seemed to be to stand in the cockpit and look out the window, until Robert Stack (the pilot) began to fall apart, upon which time he slapped Stack and took over the controls.
  • Many passengers smoked (and the stewardess even carried matches for a passenger who had forgotten his lighter).
  • Everybody in the cockpit had a lighted cigarette in their hands.
  • A passenger had a gun in his jacket pocket and actually pulled it out, brandished it, and shot it inside the plane.
  • The airplane gave a teeny shudder and everyone fell apart, including one woman who cried "I don't want to die" for the rest of the flight (presumably 6 hours, since they'd said it was a 12 hour flight and that they had "just passed the halfway point).
  • After that the plane was not only smooth, but silent as it headed for San Francisco. I've experienced more turbulence on a "smooth" flight than this flight in danger of crashing for 6 hours experienced.
  • Everyone dressed up to ride the airplane. Anybody remember when you got dressed up to ride a plane?
  • The seatbelts stayed off until the very end.
  • The overhead racks had no doors on them.
In spite of how dated it all was (which was, in itself kind of an historical glimpse of flight in the 50s), the movie still held up as one which kept you on the edge of your seat--even if you do know the end before it begins.

Ironically, I had seen the movie when it first came out and I only remembered two scenes, but very clearly--the stewardess blowing up the life vest of the sleeping child, so as not to wake him, and Wayne walking away from the airplane, whistling the theme song.

Good movie. Rent it.


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Anonymous said...

I too, have noticed most of the actors smoked in old movies and men wore hats. In the cop vs robber movies they would always say. "Calling All Cars", and shoot to a scene where the policecar is going at best 20 miles an hour and everyone seemed to move in slow motion even when they were running from the bad guy or a monster.

Anonymous said...

Most of the actors smoked in old movies because most people smoked in real life. I can remember even smoking during class in college (the professors as well as students). In fact, the only smoke-free places were the library, the gymnasium, and laboratory classrooms.

Anonymous said...

p.s. In fact, even fifteen or twenty years ago smoking was allowed on airplanes -- there was a smoking section and a non-smoking section, but there was nothing separating the two sections except the dense cloud of active smoke in the smoking section and the slightly thinner cloud of second-hand smoke drifting back over the non-smoking area.