|Zero Hour! (1957)
Run time: 81 min
Genres: Thriller | Drama
Director: Hall Bartlett
Writers: Arthur Hailey, Hall Bartlett
Stars: Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Sterling Hayden
A wrong food selection gives food poisoning to the pilot and first officer of Flight 714, imperilling everyone on board. Dana Andrews portrays the passenger commandeered to guide the plan, and Sterling Hayden is the flight control jockey talking him through bumpy skies. Clear the landing field (and don’t eat the fish)!
Release Date: 13 November 1957 (USA)
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Oh. My. Gawd. TCM had a ZAZ-fest recently, with THE NAKED GUN, TOP SECRET, AIRPLANE!, and…a certain movie that I’ve never come across before.
ZERO HOUR! is the first time I’ve watched a movie I’ve never seen before but could quote the dialogue along with. Examples:
"Sluggish, like a wet sponge."
"I just want to say ‘good luck’."
"You’re a member of this crew. Can you face some unpleasant facts?"
"Flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle."
"You ever been in a cockpit before?" "No sir, I’ve never been up in a plane before!"
"The survival of everyone on board depends on just one thing: finding someone on board who can not only fly this plane, but who didn’t have fish for dinner."
Sound familiar? In addition to the verbatim dialogue (and the exclamation point in its title), AIRPLANE! contained many other similarities. The co-pilot played by a former Los Angeles pro-ball player. The female passenger in hysterics. Little Joey visiting the cockpit (where the pilot puts his arm around him with perhaps inappropriate affection before giving him a toy plane). The unmarried stewardess. A wife awakened in the middle of the night by a phone call telling her to come to the airport immediately. Ted Stryker flashing back to the war and recovering in a veterans’ hospital. Newspaper headlines prognosticating disaster. Inclement weather. The plane landing while losing its wheels. I could go on, but, really, the only things missing were a jive-talking black duo and a crucial moment in which the heroine’s bobby pin saves the day.
ZERO HOUR! was of course never intended to provoke laughs, but how can anyone watch this story now with a straight face? Try watching an old Leslie Nielsen drama without cracking up. It was actually a delight learning where the ZAZ boys got a lot of their material (and AMC occasionally runs AIRPORT 1975, which is where, if I remember correctly, the nun, sick little girl and singing stewardess originated).
If TCM ever runs ZERO HOUR! again, I implore every fan of AIRPLANE! to sit down for eighty minutes and watch it. It’s an eye-popping experience, in a whole new way.
I was always told that Airplane! was a take off of the Airport movies of the 70s. It might have been, but the main source for the film was Zero Hour! This film is hilarious if you’re a big Airplane! fan. As I watched ZH, I was reciting the same Airplane! dialogue in my head. I’ve never seen two movies that are so similar. It’s quite a hoot!
And you thought the dialogue and acting went over the top in "Airplane," huh? Thank you TCM for running this the other day. I had never seen it before, but wait a minute, sure I had… dozens of times. That’s what made the ZH viewing such a hoot. ZAZ did such a fine job colorizing "Zero Hour!" I had the whole script memorized. If you have grown slightly weary from repeated "Airplane" yukfests, find a copy of its propellorized progenitor and enjoy the comedy anew. So true is the original to its parody (note the deliberate juxtaposition) I half expected Geoffrey Toone’s (Dr. Baird) nose to grow as he attempted to calm the passengers. All that was missing was June Cleaver’s "Jive Talkin’!"
This is an exciting film which is well acted and directed with all the tension needed to keep you sitting bolt upright throughout the climactic finale. Perhaps the rushed narrated intro is just a little too over-dramatic but it does not detract from the quality of the rest of the film.
I am well aware of the film's relation to "Airplane!" (which is hilarious) and some moments are impossible to watch without one being reminded of their parody versions (the reference to quitting smoking especially). Nevertheless, it still works as an exciting piece of cinema.