[September 11, 1961] Newest Child of The Bomb (The Flight that Disappeared)

by Gideon Marcus

The Bomb.  Since its creation and use in 1945, it has overshadowed our world.  For the first time since we descended from the trees a million years ago, humanity had the means to destroy itself in one blow.  It can’t help but influence our culture, our politics, our nightmares.  It is no surprise that atomic holocaust has figured prominently in our visual and printed media.

Last weekend, at a pre-premiere in Los Angeles, my daughter and I watched The Flight that Disappeared, the latest film to draw inspiration from the universal fear that is nuclear annihilation. 

In brief: Trans-Coastal Flight 60, an elderly prop-driven DC-6, takes off from Los Angeles Airport heading for Washington D.C.  Onboard are three pivotal characters summoned to the nation’s capitol for a top secret meeting.  One is Dr. Carl Morris, who has developed the next inevitable phase in nuclear weaponry — a device that singly can destroy an entire country.  His colleague, mathematician Marcia Paxton, is also on the flight.  Completing the trio is Tom Endicott, a rocket propulsions engineer with a design for a super-ICBM.

Hours out from LAX, after the sun has set, the plane begins an inexorable climb.  The controls do not respond, and soon, Flight 60 is ten miles up.  Its passengers collapse one-by-one from oxygen starvation, the propellers stop turning, yet still the plane rises.  It disappears from ground radar, all radio contact cut.  A massive search uncovers no trace of the missing aircraft.

Endicott awakens to find the plane in daylight, the engines silent.  All of the passengers are in a state of suspended animation save for Paxton and Dr. Morris.  Their watches have stopped…as have their hearts.  As they ponder this new situation, wondering if they are dead, a mysterious figure beckons them out of the plane.  He represents the foreman of a jury, a jury of people who do not yet exist.  They inhabit the intersection of the present and the future made possible by the vast importance of the meeting of the three key passengers.

It is presented that the marriage of Morris and Paxton’s creations will inevitably lead to a life-ending catastrophe, leaving Earth a shattered, barren land.  It matters not that the weapon is yet undeveloped or that the scientist trio will not directly build it.  Once it is conceived, it will someday be built, and our race must die.  The jury determine that the scientists are all guilty of genocide, and that they must remain in their weird timeless void forever so that the future might be saved.

Reprieve comes in the form of one of the jurors’ dissent.  It is no one’s place, he argues, to render such a judgment, even with the stakes so high.  The accused must be allowed to return, even if the consequences be destruction in the ultimate. 

We next see Endicott waking up once more.  It is night again, and the plane is not only running, but on schedule.  None of the passengers nor the flight crew remember anything out of the ordinary.  Only the trio remember.  Upon landing, they learn that their plane was missing for 24 hours beyond the anticipated flight time.  Convinced of the sincerity of the message delivered by the unborn future, Dr. Morris tears up his notes.

Little more than an overlong episode of The Twilight Zone, I can’t imagine Flight will be a big hit.  While the story is reasonably sound, if utterly predictable from the beginning, it is padded to the point of being ponderous, even for a short movie.  Had this been an hour-long TV special (with commercials), it probably would have been more effective.

That said, I did find the movie somehow compelling.  The idea that certain junctures of history are so crucial that they weaken the fabric of space-time is an interesting one.  And while the jury sequence is a bit histrionic, there is merit to pondering whether humanity should be allowed to stumble along blindly when the risk be great, like a child lighting a match in a gunpowder factory (the simile cited in the movie).  Wouldn’t it be nice if a guardian angel could tell us which line constituted a step too far in the march toward extinction. 

So I didn’t dislike Flight, nor was I particularly bored.  Perhaps a more skilled writer might recycle this premise into something truly memorable.  As is, it’s a two-star movie. 

Which is still better than a lot of the films we watch!

by Lorelei Marcus

This week we watched The Flight That Disappeared, and, unlike Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, it was exactly what it promised.  The movie wasn’t bad, but it also wasn’t anything special.  The acting was good, but nothing outstanding, the set was pretty much just an airplane the whole movie, and the plot was predictable from the start.

Something interesting about the movie itself however, was that it was in black and white.  It kept fading into what could’ve been a commercial break, which leads me to believe it was made to be aired on TV.  I have to give the film credit, it did well despite being on a small budget, though you can tell they really liked using the fog machine (to simulate being in the air, I guess).

Though the acting was nothing stupendous,there was one actor that stood out to me.  One of the three main characters, Endicott, reminded me a great deal of William Shatner, whom I saw in a previous episode of The Twilight Zone.

Anyway, that’s all I really have to say about it.  Me and my father predicted the entire movie pretty much from the start, so it was really just a matter of waiting it out.  I would give this movie a 2 out of 5. You may see it if you wish, but I highly recommend watching The Twilight Zone instead.

This is the Young Traveler, signing off.

18 thoughts on “[September 11, 1961] Newest Child of The Bomb (The Flight that Disappeared)”

  1. As soon as I started reading the plot description I thought “Twilight Zone,” as both of you also noted.  Sounds like it might have the same failing that Serling tends to have, with the heavy-handed message undermining the drama.  But it also doesn’t sound like too bad of a way to kill an hour or so.  Somehow I missed this one in the local movie listings, but I’ll have to check it out.

  2. Slightly OT – it appears that the Twilight Zone people are aware of you and your reviews – and they like them.


  3. I’m glad you watch these so I don’t have to… not that they’d ever show up at the Regal anyway.  We mostly get Westerns and an occasional late feature of some incomprehensible film in some foreign language.  Apparently it has something to do with “art.”

    Fred Astaire’s and Liberace’s shows are recorded on some kind of magnetic tape and the studio plays them back at different times in different markets.  Apparently the price of the equipment is stiff even for TV studios.  Maybe someday the price of video recorders will come down to not much more than a new car.

    1. Are you talking about the kinescoped stuff or something else?  The quality of kinescope is rather awful.  On the other hand, reception on my rabbit ears can be blurry anyway, so it doesn’t matter overmuch.

      1. Oh, no.  It’s a whole different system than the kinetoscope. They’re using magnetized plastic tape, similar to audio recorders.  The tapes are two inches wide and have four “tracks” of video which are interleaved to record a television signal.  It’s similar to the tape systems the studios started using five or six years ago, but the resolution is so good it can handle a full 525-line NTSC signal… *and* the additional data for color! 

        We’ve seen the price of audio tape equipment fall as companies amortize their development and standardize production methods.  With luck, video tape equipment may become cheap enough for local stations to tape local programs just like the big networks can.

        Of course, that’ll probably set off another battle with the AFTRA union performers, just like when radio programs started going to tape a while back.

  4. Why is it the missile designer who remembers and tears up his work? The primary difference between a missile and a rocket to space is where you tell it to go. I would think the development of a superbomb would be far more of an existential threat, while a super-ICBM could take us to the Moon or Mars.

      1. Ah, okay I was confused. Somehow I had the idea that the rocket engineer was the only one who remembered the whole thing and therefore he was the one who destroyed his notes. Maybe I shouldn’t try reading these reviews so late at night.

  5. Congratulations on your Serling Award! Hooray! (Heard via 770)
    I’m sorry The Flight That Disappeared was a bit of a let-down; our corner of the multiverse watched Hercules in the Haunted World last night, and found much of it to have a creepy, eerie beauty. Err, there wwre also bits with Telemachus as comedy relief, and he was clearly the ancient ancestor of Mr. Bean.  But I’d give it a stong recommendation!

  6. I saw this on Saturday night with friends, how surprising to get your review in the post this morning!

    It was a bit long for being so short, wasn’t it? Particularly in the beginning – “no one will be seated during the thrilling airplane boarding scene” and all that. But, to give it credit where due, I thought it picked up quite a bit during the – aheh, as it were – during the out-of-control-climb sequence. That honestly had my curiosity and interest quite piqued! It’s a shame the payoff “trial” was so… poorly executed.

    And there is no way those passengers or crew were going to be allowed off the airport grounds any time soon, except perhaps in military escort. There will be days of debriefing! You can’t tell me that if a plane carrying a missile expert, a mathematician who works on the physics of nuclear weapons, and the conceiver of the biggest bomb ever imagined going missing for a day, in our current environment, that defense would think it was anything _but_ some sort of Soviet secret action? Within 12 hours the DoD would be convinced that the Communists have the plans to the whole shebang and be demanding parity.

    It’d almost serve the future people right if their intervention caused the bomb to get built. How’s _that_ for a twist ending?

    Also, Stanley – Phyllis’s husband, he’s a Boeing engineer – stewed the entire time. They kept showing DC-7s and calling them Skyliners, and “everyone knows” – at Boeing, anyway – a Skyliner is a Martin 4-0-4, which doesn’t even have the same number of engines as the plane on the screen.

    Stan, if you’re reading this in the next lettercol, you’re a dear, and you are correct, but you know you can go on a bit.

    1. Shows what I know.  I thought it was a DC-6 (to be fair, the stock footage was inconsistent), particularly given how they made a big deal how old the plane was.

      That would be an excellent ending.  You must have gone to a pre-premiere, too.  The general premiere isn’t until tomorrow…

      1. Really? Is _that_ why they were giving out free tickets? I didn’t even know – they were just showing it at the Varsity and trying to get people to come watch it and tell their friends. Phyllis and I both snatched those right up, I assure you – I didn’t even notice it wasn’t yet in general release!

        Honestly, I don’t think it will be in general release for very long, so it’s probably for the best we caught it when we did.

        As for inconsistencies – I thought they were doing fairly well until I saw the shadow of one of the film crew in a scene just after our heroes have awoken out of time. Whoever it was did his best to duck out as quickly as he could, but was just a _little_ too late, and honestly I don’t think I’d’ve noticed if he’d just stayed still.

        HALLO, FRANK! or whoever. I’m afraid I giggled through half the scene, and, well, I may not be the best person to take to a movie. I’ll just embarrass everyone!

  7. Well, no wonder I didn’t see it in the movie listings! 

    Once I found out it was a sneak preview, I rushed down to the local theater and caught the last showing.

    Was it worth the dollar I paid (including a small popcorn)?  Well, maybe.  It was cheaply made, and it was padded, and some of the actors weren’t so great, and it was about as subtle as a brick through your window, but there were some performances I liked (the Prosecutor or whatever you want to call him) and some of the scenes of the plane climbing were suspenseful.  Nothing to write home about, but I didn’t regret the time I spent.

    Of course, the idea that nobody else will ever figure out how to make the Ultimate Weapon once the scientist destroys his notes isn’t too plausible.

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