Watched March 1, 2009: Zero Hour! directed by Hall Bartlett, starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden.
Zero Hour!, story by Arthur Hailey (of “Airport” fame), is the movie that was later remade as the fantastic comedy Airplane!. Ted Stryker (Andrews) was a WWII fighter pilot who had made a critical mistake that cost the lives of some of his men. Psychologically scarred, he can’t find work and his marriage is in trouble. One day he comes home to find that his wife Ellen (Darnell) has left him, taking their son Joey on a flight westward across Canada to Vancouver. Stryker summons up his courage and boards the airplane to try to convince her to stay. But trouble looms: food poisoning strikes down the pilot and co-pilot, and Stryker – the only man aboard with any flying experience – must bring the plane safely down, guided on the radio by his former commander Martin Treleaven (Hayden), who is sure that Stryker will fail.
This was not my first viewing, but I had seen Airplane! many times before having seen this film for the first time. While Airplane! also borrows from others and adds a lot to the mix, most of the basic elements are here; there’s even a sports star, Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, playing the role of pilot. If you’re familiar with Airplane! (and probably anybody who sees Zero Hour! nowadays is) then watching this movie is a bit of a dissociative experience. You follow the story, you hear familiar lines said in dead-serious tones, you want to laugh – you do laugh. You hear lines that nobody says, and you laugh at those. You think Sterling Hayden does a great impression of Robert Stack. It’s an entirely different experience than was originally intended, altogether. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to see this movie first; would it be memorable, or would it just be seen and vaguely remembered? Perhaps being remade as Airplane! has given this movie a longer, although different, life that it might have had. Surely that’s not a bad thing.
But if you like Airplane!, spend 80 minutes and watch this, maybe with some friends. That’s just what they’ll be expecting you to do.