Dead on Course (1952)
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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.
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.
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.
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..."
**** Wings of Danger (4/1/52) Terence Fisher ~ Zachary Scott, Robert Beatty, Naomi Chance, Kay Kendall
An early offering from the legendary Hammer studio and celebrated director Terence Fisher made a few years before they shot to international fame with gothic horrors such as The Curse Of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy. The screenplay is by John Gilling whose own career would peak at that studio in the 60's where he co-wrote The Gorgon and directed notable chillers like The Shadow Of The Cat, The Plague Of The Zombies and The Reptile.
Alas, fans of Hammer should prepare to be disappointed, as although some of their pre-horror stuff is excellent, this is a hackneyed little crime thriller in which its tale of currency and gold smuggling and an implicated pilot faking his death has all be done before. Gilling, who could be a versatile writer and director, simply rehashes tired situations from the b-pic playbook here. Terence Fisher's direction is not surprisingly lifeless here since it gives him very little to do. People wanting better examples of his early work at Hammer should check out Stolen Face and Four Sided Triangle, which both have strong links to his subsequent greatest works for them like the Frankenstein movies. It has to be said that what little action there is here is both slackly and clumsily executed.
Zachary Scott, the obligatory imported American leading man, is competent in his role as the hero and something of a heavy too, but his relationship with his on screen girlfriend, Naomi Chance, herself a very competent performer, isn't sufficiently developed in the script so as to have that much of an emotional impact upon the audience. He is hesitant to marry her since he suffers from blackouts as a result of a war injury, which could wreck his career as a pilot if it came out and he fears that he is not good enough for her as a result of that. In addition, Robert Beatty's character, the disappearing airline pilot, simply wants to escape the country with Diane Cilento in order to both to escape Arthur Lang's gang and to keep his father from ever finding out the truth. He has always believed his son to be a great war hero and if he ever found out about his smuggling activities it would destroy him.
All in all, Wings Of Danger (USA: Dead On Course) will be a disappointment to fans of Fisher and Hammer who are seeking out their frustratingly obscure early works due to the routine plot, its predictable development and indifferent direction. Funnily enough, this film is only very briefly mentioned in Wheeler Winston Dixon's marvellous book The Charm Of Evil: The Life And Films Of Terence Fisher who clearly felt that it did not warrant detailed analysis.
As for the actual first-billed star, Zachary Scott, making a rare appearance in a British film, he's okay, but his role is not what you would call colorful, and even his personal charisma is easily undermined by Robert Beatty.
By Hammer's somewhat mediocre standards, production values are not bad at all. And director Terence Fisher even puts the action scenes across with a fair amount of excitement.
You can find this movie coupled with "Terror Street" on an excellent VCI DVD.
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.