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Yet another gem in the Forgotten Noir Collection Vol. 4 DVD set. I'm quickly becoming a fan of the late director William Berke. Although he worked mostly in B-movies, he was one of the better directors in that field. He has a knack for pacing and getting the best out of actors, in this case no name thespians. These films are usually short, some just over an hour and others just under an hour, but Berke makes the best of low budgets and fast pacing. This film involves espionage in the air, on the Sky Liner of the title. It's definitely not typical noir, but it is decent little film. Richard Travis plays a sky marshal for the government tailing a spy network and the story goes on from there. The cast of no names is pretty good led by Rochelle Hudson, the always steady Herbert Evans, Steven Geray and others. The script is good so credit should be given Maurice Tombragel and John Wilste. At less than 50 minutes long, this is a surprising little treat.
I am sure that in time the overall rating of this film will change, but
for now it's only 4.8. You'd think this would indicate that the movie
is rather poor, though I thought the film was actually a bit
better--and well worth seeing. However, one thing I need to point out
is that although it's now on a DVD entitled "Forgotten Noir", this is
really not an example of film noir--nor are many films in this series.
It lacks the camera-work, dialog and grittiness you'd expect in noir.
Instead, it's a rather straight-forward example of a crime film.
The film is set aboard an airliner (a Lockheed Constellation, if you really care). According to IMDb, the markings on the plane kept changing--a silly mistake but it didn't exactly ruin the film. A federal agent is on the plane--following a woman who is involved in some sort of espionage. However, when a dead body is found aboard, it's obvious that there is a killer on the plane! Who did it and how must be discovered before the killer is able to escape.
The film is enjoyable...even if the actual murder weapon is a bit far-fetched. Well-paced, interesting and a very good time-passer.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Usually, films of this sort use fictional airlines; this film uses TWA.
The "Air Liner" on the film is a Constellation, which became a shuttle
aircraft between Boston and New York by the late 1940s.
The story has an on-ground prelude, where one person is shot dead as he enters his office after hours without a word being spoken by the killer. But that's the prelude. A number of diverse people are passengers on the airliner, and some of them interact with each other on things established before takeoff.
The flight crew are tipped off that there will be a "federal agent" aboard the flight, and one of the passengers, posing as a member of the diplomatic corps thus learns that a G-man was aboard.
One thing overrating is the Sly Liner's restroom. It apparently was conventional in those days for more than one person to occupy the restroom at a time. (In all the times I was a passenger on a Constellation, I never checked out the restrooms, but the airline was TWA, so maybe...) Anyway, it was because more than one person used a restroom at a time that the dead body was discovered, one that turned out to have been the victim of a murder.
Naturally, if it was a killing (unclear at first), the murderer had to be aboard. The airliner was diverted to a military base (for weather reasons) where a coroner does a quickie autopsy and determines that the cause of death was indeed deliberate) The airliner eventually takes off, while the F-man pits together the pieces.
The murder weapon, though clever, might not be immediately recognizable by younger viewers, but was a clever, though understandable, idea of the time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
That's a little interesting film we deal with. A sort of GRAND HOTEL,
or I should say: AIRPORT scheme, but at a lesser scale. Different
people get aboard a plane from La Guardia airport, a thief, a murderer
an international spy, an US agent and so on. Their destinies meet. It's
pretty rare so soon in the movie industry, except perhaps for GRAND
HOTEL. William Beaudine gave us such an aerial suspenser in DESPERATE
CARGO, some years earlier; sort of AIR FORCE ONE - also at a lesser
scale - before its time.
Well, SKY LINER is worth seeing. No boredom in it. Fast paced. Steven Geray is of course the international spy. Who else could he be?
John McGuire (George Eakins) loves himself and enjoys nothing more than
listening to his own broadcasts, inviting others to do so with him!
Quite justifiably, someone kills him for this. Or is he killed for
another reason? The majority of the story is set upon a flight to LA on
which another murder takes place. Whodunnit?
It's pretty obvious whodunnit but that's immaterial to your enjoyment of the film. The cast are all good in this short film that speeds along nicely which is also informative in terms of explaining airline procedure in the event of a dead body on board. Thankfully, no women scream at the sight of the murder victim. In fact, it's quite the opposite as stewardess Pamela Blake (Carol) reacts as if "Oh well, we've got another stiff in the toilet". As air crew are aware, it's not that uncommon for people to snuff it on board.
The film builds tension nicely and provides two short flashback moments to understand a couple of the characters on the flight. Well done to that chap who got away with nicking the money!
When Sky Liner came out in 1949 this was Lippert Pictures trying to
take advantage of current headlines involving espionage in the State
Department. Joe McCarthy was a year away from his famous accusations in
Wheeling, West Virginia about the Communists in government. But in 1949
Secretary Of State Dean Acheson was defending himself against right
wing attacks about the Red Menace invading our State Department. Also
remember that the Hiss case was coming to a head as well.
So what we have in Sky Liner is spy Rochelle Hudson, secretary to a State Department bigwig apparently ready to defect. A Communist takes her boss's place after killing him and the two are on the way to a conference. You have to believe there's going to be a defection because once they discover the real boss's body, it's all over. And that's supposing no one at the conference will realize there's a phony planted among the delegates.
Never fear because the FBI in the person of Richard Travis has her in his sights for a while and he also might get a twofer because foreign agent Stephen Bekassy is also on this transcontinental flight. It turns out as films in this era always did with the FBI protecting us from Red secretaries.
Sky Liner is one of the dumbest films from the Cold War I've ever seen and one of the dumbest from Lippert studios. And that is going some.
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