Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Crowded Sky

Back in March, I mentioned that TCM showed a movie I had never seen before, and found quite unintentionally funny: The Crowded Sky. It's airing again today at 4:00 PM ET on TCM.

The main plot is fairly simple. Dana Andrews is a pilot for a commercial airline, flying a plane west. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is a Navy pilot flying from San Diego to Washington DC whose airplane's radio fails, causing him to come dangerously close to the commercial plane. (They didn't have the advanced electronics then that they do now; the radio failure was necessary so that air traffic control couldn't call him to warn him of the problem.) Of course, that's not much of a plot. So, the producers jazzed up the movie by making it an all-star affair, with each cast member having his or her own subplot.

Unfortunately, the stars they got were all just below the A level at best. Keenan Wynn shows up here as a womanizer who is seated next to one of his old flames, but unlike Phone Call From a Stranger, he's not playing off of anybody with the stature of a Shelley Winters. Andrews has his own problem; namely that he's at odds with co-pilot John Kerr. He, meanwhile, is carrying on a relationship with stewardess Anne Francis. As for Zimblaist, he's been neglecting wife Rhonda Fleming, and was earlier responsible for several deaths in a similar type of crash. Zimbalist is carrying with him Troy Donahue, a young naval officer who needs to get to Washington to see his girlfriend because he's knocked her up. As for the passengers on the plane, besides Wynn, there's the stereotypical doctor, with a wife who is also a patient, in that she's got a heart condition which will kill her, and doesn't know it. And then there's old 1930s star Patsy Kelly. She's stuck playing agent to an actor who wants to outdo Marlon Brando in how method-y he is. As she says about her client, "Even his hostilities have hostilities".

As for all these characters, there's just too much to follow. Worse, we're told their stories through the overworked flashback device, as well as closeups where we hear their thoughts. Sounds deliciously bad, doesn't it? In fact, it's as bad as it sounds, and more. Regarding the inoperative radio, it grounds Zimbalist and Donahue. As they're sitting in an airport diner, we hear... the theme to A Summer Place, which had been a hit movie for Donahue a year earlier! Oh God I nearly fell out of my seat laughing when that came up! The whole movie will have you laughing in a similar way.

Amazingly, The Crowded Sky has made it to the Warner Archive Collection ahead of a bunch of movies that are probably artistically better, even if they're not so funny.

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