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Airline pilot Jack Gordon (Fred MacMurray) on a flight from New York to San Francisco, is immediately attracted to beautiful passenger Felice Rollins (Joan Bennett). Known as a "lady's man", he bets stewardess Vi Johnson (Ruth Donnelly) that he will take Felice out to dinner that evening. A jewel robbery is in the news and a beautiful blonde is implicated, with Jack suspecting that Felice may be the culprit. On a stop over in Chicago, Jack learns instead that his passenger is a wealthy socialite at odds with another passenger, Count Stephani (Fred Keating). Jack worries that he may have a crisis involving the Count when he finds Stephani has a gun aboard. Other passengers include Dr. Evarts (Brian Donlevy) and Curtis Palmer (Alan Baxter, both of whom seem to be harboring a secret. Felice is trying to get to San Francisco in order to prevent her sister from marrying the Count's brother, but the flight runs into bad weather. Jack and Freddie Scott (John Howard), his co-pilot are ...
One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since. See more »
The title 'Thirteen Hours by Air' seems vaguely science-fictionish, because in 1936 it was simply impossible for an airplane to cross the United States in 13 hours. (Sixteen was more like it.) But this movie seems to be presenting itself as cutting-edge rather than futuristic.
Fred MacMurray, slightly less bland than usual, stars as the pilot of the fastest transcontinental 'ship' available. He's heading from New York to California, and he's all set for chocks-away when along comes blonde Joan Bennett as an heiress who's eager to hop aboard. She hasn't a ticket, so she hands him a diamond ring the size of a doorknob.
All the passengers aboard the flight are very obvious 'characters', ranging over a wide gamut of types. This sort of thing works very well if the film is a murder mystery, and we've got to guess which of these suspects is the killer. (In fact, an airplane in flight would be the perfect setting for a 'locked-room' mystery: Agatha Christie used this in one of her novels, but has anyone ever used it in a movie?) There is just a touch of a mystery here, but it isn't a murder. After the 'plane is in flight, MacMurray learns that some jewel thieves are on the lam: a blonde and her two henchmen. Could Bennett be the blonde? It would explain how she got that diamond ring.
Among the passengers aboard the flight are a bratty little boy named Waldemar (whom I was hoping would turn out to be a midget police officer, working undercover) and his nursemaid, played by ZaSu Pitts. I can tolerate Pitts in small doses, but in this movie her character gets airsick in flight ... giving Pitts an excuse for an overdose of her annoying fluttery gestures. I was hoping MacMurray would throw her out of the 'plane over the Rocky Mountains.
Oh, yeah. Among the merry passengers is a gun-toting European nobleman, played by Fred Keating with a bad accent. There are no end of high-flying high jinks along the way, some of them more plausible than others. There's an exciting sequence in which the 'plane makes a forced landing in a blizzard. MacMurray's beleaguered pilot gets some help from an unexpected source ... although, if you read this review carefully, you'll know who I'm talking about. Ruth Donnelly is quite good, as usual ... but there ought to be a law against Brian Donlevy and Dean Jagger ever appearing in the same movie. Both of these actors had about as much screen presence as a block of wood. Put them both in the same movie, and they resemble the Petrified Forest. 'Thirteen Hours by Air' is about as implausible as 'Airport', but -- like that extremely manipulative movie -- it manages to be quite entertaining without ever being realistic. I'll rate this movie 8 out of 10, and I enjoyed the flight.
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