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When charismatic Nick Talbot (second billed Robert Beatty) disappears after flying into a storm after his partner Richard Van Ness (gravel-voiced Zachary Scott) has ordered the plane to be grounded, it seems not unlikely that (a) he's up to no good and (b) that we'll see him again before the movie's over. Made on a shoestring at Riverside Studios, Hammersmith but supposedly mainly set in Guernsey, this is quite a clever thriller with lively dialogue, though Richard's liability to black out when flying is too irrelevant. For nostalgic film buffs it's good to see naughty lady Kay Kendall a year before her breakthrough performance in 'Genevieve', Diane Cilento (at one time Mrs Sean Connery) as Nick's fiancée and camp Harold Lang as a blackmailer, but Naomi Chance is a boring heroine. I'd lost track of the malarkey before the end, but the finale has action and excitement.
Taking advantage of arrangements favoured by the UK's Eady levy (a
state film subsidy established after the war) in 1950, American
producer Robert Lippert formed a business alliance with Hammer studios.
Under the agreement, Lippert would provide American acting talent -
frequently shop-worn stars or just supporting actors who fancied a
profitable trip out of the country - while Hammer would supply the rest
of the cast and the production facilities. Together they would split
the profits. Famous for his concern with the bottom line, Lippert
produced over 140 films between 1946 and 1955, characteristically genre
pieces such as I Shot Jesse James or Rocketship XM. For the British
deal, most of the films were noir-ish thrillers - and include WINGS OF
Zachary Scott does a professional enough job as a pilot who faces disaster through suffering unpredictable blackouts. To add to his woes, when his girlfriend's brother appears lost in a cargo plane accident, he falls into a police investigation over blackmail, counterfeiting and smuggling. Robert Beatty and Kay Kendall support in a solid tale never less than watchable, even if not ultimately memorable. Light tramlines from the source print are evident at some points - unusual for a set with generally good picture quality. Kendall seems out of place as a minor femme fatale, too nice to communicate the double-crossing her character demands. Scott's most important noir roles previously were probably Ulmer's Ruthless and Mildred Pierce; here the actor is not helped by fairly anonymous art direction and by a story never really bringing out his internal conflicts.
Zachary Scott stars with Robert Beatty and Kay Kendall in a 1952
British quota film, "Dead on Course." During the '50s, many American
actors went to Britain and made these films: Cesar Romero, Dane Clark,
Dennis O'Keefe, and others. Some are better than others, but mostly,
like this one, are fairly routine.
Scott plays Richard Van Ness, part of an airline service. His girlfriend's brother, Nick (Beatty) insists on flying in bad weather in order to deliver unimportant cargo. Van Ness tries to ground him, but Nick threatens to tell their boss that Van Ness has intermittent blackouts, which will ground him.
Nick's plane crashes near the Channel Islands under odd circumstances. The police ask Van Ness for help, telling him of a smuggling operation that they've connected with the airline. Van Ness pays a visit to his boss' girlfriend (Kay Kendall) and acts interested in order to find out what he can.
One of the plot points seemed obvious from the beginning; it was just a feeling I had but somehow, it was telegraphed in the script.
The acting is so-so, with Robert Beatty quite charming and Kay Kendall a good femme fatale. Kendall was a rising star who married Rex Harrison after they did a play together in 1955; when he realized she was dying of leukemia, Harrison divorced his current wife, Lili Palmer, and married Kendall. Kendall did not realize she was terminally ill. Their story was the basic plot for a Terence Rattigan play, "In Praise of Love," which Harrison did on Broadway with Julie Harris.
Zachary Scott said all of his lines in a very aggressive manner, absolutely no shading. I always liked him -- he was good as a sleaze, a weak man, a Henry Fonda-ish role in The Southerner - here he just seems hostile all the way through.
Zachary Scott comes over from across the pond to star in this British
noir film about a pilot investigating the crash of another pilot whom
he supervised that he let go up in a storm over the English Channel. As
it turned out Scott was between a rock and a hard place, he has to let
Robert Beatty fly because Beatty knows that Scott suffers from
occasional blackouts and the Board of Trade wouldn't like that if they
heard about it.
Why does Beatty go up. The more Scott digs on his own he uncovers, blackmail, counterfeiting, and smuggling. And a few more surprises before this film ends.
Although Hammer Films before it started doing horror films and became known for same, they turned out some decent low budget noir films that the British call quota quickies. This isn't one of them it drags in many spots and such talented folk as those already mentioned are wasted. Even Kay Kendall who plays the gangster's moll in this and well doesn't spark this film at all.
I think most will be bored with this one.
The first Hammer noir I saw was the excellent Hell is a City; and it's a good job too because if the first one I saw was one of the ones I saw after Hell is a City, I probably wouldn't have bothered watching any more! Wings of Danger is directed by Hammer veteran Terence Fisher, who also directed the disappointing Hammer noir The Stranger Came Home. This one is actually slightly better, but there's not a lot in it. Wings of Danger focuses on cargo plane pilot Richard Van Ness. He tries to stop another pilot from flying due to the weather, but is blackmailed into allowing it. The plane crashes and this leads the police to begin questioning Richard about his own affairs. The film is very short at only seventy minutes, and I do have to say that's a good thing because any longer and I've have gotten really tired of it. The plot is always at least fairly interesting and the film does manage to present a handful of interesting characters. The dialogue can be a little suspect at times, but that's not such a bad thing as it's often unintentionally comedic. The film holds the audience's interest for the duration and boils down to an interesting and satisfying conclusion. Overall, I really wouldn't recommend this film, though I wouldn't say it's awful either.
In England, American air traffic controller Zachary Scott (as Richard
Van Ness) orders his playboy pilot pal Robert Beatty (as Nick Talbot)
not to fly, due to an approaching storm. The warning is ignored and a
mishap occurs. This results in Mr. Scott, who suffers from blackouts,
to discover illegal smuggling is suspected at the airport. Scott's
blackouts are the reason he won't marry girlfriend Naomi Chance (as
Avril Talbot). She is Mr. Beatty's sister and expects Scott to look
after the reckless man. None of this is very exciting, as even Terence
Fisher's characters seem disinterested. Although it doesn't help much,
things pick up with a fight and car crash near the end. Also, beautiful
Kay Kendall (as Alexia La Roche) appears, on the verge of fame; she
later married actor Rex Harrison and died, way too soon, of leukemia.
**** Wings of Danger (4/1/52) Terence Fisher ~ Zachary Scott, Robert Beatty, Naomi Chance, Kay Kendall
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
You know there's a problem when half way through a movie that only
lasts an hour and thirteen minutes it seems as if two hours have
dragged by. Wings of Danger is another of those Brit noirs where a
fading Hollywood name was cast in the lead in hopes of getting some
play for the film in America. In this case, the problem with the film
is the screenplay; there appears to be no motivation for Richard Van
Ness' actions. It doesn't help that Zachary Scott as Van Ness is not
too believable when he acts as a tough guy.
Van Ness is a pilot working for Boyd Spencer Airlines, a freight-hauling outfit. Nick Talbot (Robert Beatty), a fellow pilot and friend he doesn't seem too friendly with, disappears in a storm over the ocean. Hints of corruption, smuggling, blackmailing and counterfeiting start to show up. But why should we care about any of this? Richard suffers from blackouts and knows at any time he could wind up in the drink or in pieces on the ground. Why does he keep flying? Not only don't we know, the black-out question never turns into a serious plot issue. It just disappears after a big thing is made of it at the start. Why doesn't Richard help the police when they first come to him? There's no reason except to give the screenwriters the chance to show that Richard doesn't take guff from anyone. Why does Richard decide to investigate for himself without telling the police? Who knows?. Since there's no believable motivation, we know we're watching a movie contrived on the assumption that the viewers will be too dull to notice.
A major problem is Zachary Scott. Tough guys to be believable need to seem as comfortable doing violence with their fists as well as with their words. Scott's trademark as an actor, however, wasn't his physical presence. Scott's distinctiveness was his way of delivering lines that came across as either suave and sleazy (in his best roles, such as The Mask of Dimitrios and Mildred Pierce) or off-handedly condescending (in most of his other films). In nearly every role he had, he was a hard man to warm up to.
If you can picture this in Scott's delivery, you'll have an idea of how the picture doesn't work, both in Scott's believability and in the screen writing: "Nick had taken a sock at the gale and it had socked him back and broken his neck. It was as simple as that. And yet there was a lot of loose ends and ideas that jabbed at my brain and fizzled out to the edge of nowhere..."
"Dead on Course" is sort of like an American film noir movie but made
in the UK. And, like many European films from the 1950s, they lured an
American actor (Zachary Scott) to star in the film-- presumably to give
the film greater international marketability. Unfortunately, it's still
a relatively bland film.
Richard (Zachary Scott) is a pilot working for his small air transport company. His friend, Nick, knows Richard's secret--that he occasionally blacks out due to some old injury! So using this as leverage, Nick takes off in a plane during crappy weather---and the plane crashes. What follows is a dark story involving smugglers and Richard trying to sort out who his real friends are.
The best thing about this film is Zachary Scott and his dialog. It's pure noir--and works very well. But the rest of the cast all seem very dreary--with limp dialog and an almost complete lack of menace. Not terrible...just not all that interesting.
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