Monday, December 28, 2009

Speaking of Marlene Dietrich

The Fox Movie Channel is showing one of Dietrich's smaller performances: that in No Highway in the Sky, tomorrow at noon ET.

The star of the movie is actually James Stewart, playing Theodore Honey, a widowed American aeronautics engineer living and working in the UK with his daughter. He's been working on the design of the Reindeer, a new type of commercial airplane that's gone into service recently, and has come to a frightening conclusion: there's a design flaw that will lead to metal fatigue, and a component failure after a relatively small number of hours of service. His colleagues don't believe him, largely because he's terribly absent-minded and somewhat aloof, too. His suspicion grows, however, when one of the planes breaks up over Newfoundland, and the company sends him across the Atlantic to investigate. Unfortunately for him, though, he's on another Reindeer plane, and one that's perilously close to the amount of service at which it will suffer equipment failure? What's an absent-minded mad scientist to do? Well, one thing Dr. Honey has done is to set up an experiment in the lab, subjecting the plane components to similar stresses as it would suffer in real-world service, although the experiment hasn't had enough time to run its course before Honey has to board the flight to Canada, and it might just fail anyway.

This is James Stewart's film all the way, and he does a fine job. His Dr. Honey is the sort of character that Stewart excelled at playing after his service in World War II: it's a darker character, with an uncomfortable side to him, and not entirely likable despite the fact we know he's the hero and presumably going to be right in the end. It's a much more real person than appeared in a lot of Hollywood movies, but one right up Stewart's alley. As for Marlene Dietrich, she plays one of the passengers on the flight who's seated next to Stewart. The good engineer spends as much time as he can on the flight trying to explain to her that everybody's in mortal danger, and for fairly obvious reasons, she doesn't particularly believe it, although as the flight wears on, she does grow more sympathetic to Dr. Honey's plight. Also appearing is Glynis Johns, playing a stewaress on the flight. Both actresses do a fine job, although it's only in support of Stewart's character.

No Highway in the Sky is an interesting if not perfect movie, and one that somewhat surprisingly hasn't made its way to DVD, so you'll have to catch the Fox Movie Channel's showing.

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