Zero Hour! (1957)

Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Sterling Hayden, Elroy 'Crazylegs' Hirsch,
In 1950s Canada, during a commercial flight, the pilots and some passengers suffer food poisoning, thus forcing an ex-WWII fighter pilot (Dana Andrews) to try to land the airliner in heavy fog.
  • 6.5 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Arthur Hailey, John C. Champion, Writer:
  • Hall Bartlett, Director:
  • Producer:

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8 / 10

On The Job Pilot Training

Dana Andrews's Zero Hour comes when former the pilot with the Canadian Air Force who lost several crews because of a decision about a mission toward the end of World War II is called upon to fly again because he's the only one on board a commercial aircraft who can.

Zero Hour is a tense thriller of a film without a second of wasted film frame in it. Andrews since World War II had come to an end has been at loose ends himself, drifting from job to job and now loosing his wife Linda Darnell and son Raymond Ferrell. On impulse after getting his wife's 'I'm leaving you' note Andrews boards a Canadian airliner in Winnipeg that is bound for Vancouver that's carrying Darnell and Ferrell. Then the passengers and both the pilot and co-pilot come down with food poisoning, courtesy of some badly prepared fish. Young Mr. Ferrell also becomes ill.

If the plot situations sound familiar that's because the film was written by Arthur Hailey who later cornered the market on these kinds of films with the successful Airport series. Story and screenplay were done by Hailey and while the film doesn't have the Ross Hunter type gloss that the Airport series had, it actually benefits because you're not stargazing among the glittering cast that all the Airport films had.

Although he's only in the last third of the film, Sterling Hayden plays one of Andrews's former Canadian Air Force pilots who knows what happened to him back in the war and who now flies for the airliner. It's Hayden's job to talk him down and give Dana on the job pilot training.

Usually the female role in these kinds of films is to patiently sit and wait while the man does his thing. That's not so in Zero Hour, Linda Darnell pitches right in and operates the plane radio right along side her estranged husband.

Andrews, Darnell, and Hayden all register well in their roles. Unusual in that time that the film has a Canadian setting though the players are mostly American. Probably helped that Arthur Hailey was British and in fact served in the RAF during World War II. I'm betting his source material for the story grew out of his experiences there.

Zero Hour is a suspenseful drama and ought not to be missed, especially if you're a fan of Hailey's Airport films.

8 / 10

Far better than you might have thought...

It's funny, but despite "Zero Hour!" being an excellent and tautly written movie, I found myself laughing periodically throughout the film--and there's a good chance you will too if you watch this movie. It isn't because it's a comedy (far from it), but because the 1980s comedy "Airplane!" is basically a re-make of this 1957--but with all the insane Zucker-Abrams humor. So many times, you'll notice that "Zero Hour!" says the exact same lines and has the exact same plot you'll find in the later comedy film. It's a shame, really, as some might think the folks remade "Zero Hour!" or poked fun of it because it was a bad film--and it's among the best of the air disaster films ever made. Plus, coming back in the 1950s, it was NOT a cliché--but fresh and exciting...unlike later dreck like "Airport '75" and "Airport '79"--films that truly deserved to be parodied and mocked.

The film begins with a guy named Ted Stryker (yes, the same name as the guy Robert Hayes played in "Airplane!") but this time it's played by the ever-dependable Dana Andrews. Like in "Airplane!", he's a combat vet with PTSD and blames himself for the deaths of six pilots--but it happened in Europe, not Macho Grande! And, like in the latter film, tainted fish cause the crew and many of the passengers to become violently ill. And, like the later film, it's up to Andrews and an old WWII pilot who knows him (Sterling Hayden) to talk him through the landing process.

Despite all these similarities, the film is first-rate. Hayden and Andrews are both two of my favorite actors of the era because neither one was a "pretty boy" and they excelled at playing realistic characters--real guys who rise to the occasion when the need arises. Not macho...just real men with real problems and real grit. The script sure helped as well--it didn't seem ridiculous but managed to create wonderful tension and kept me riveted.

Overall, an excellent and often ignored film. See it yourself and see why it as well as "The High and the Mighty" are two airplane disaster movies that manage to pack a lot of entertainment more than 50 years later.

7 / 10

"Our survival hinges on one thing - finding someone who not only can fly this plane, but didn't have fish for dinner."

It's like déjà vu all over again. Until last night, I had never seen Zero Hour!, but I feel as if I've seen it a dozen times. I knew that some of Airplane! (the sick girl and singing nun for example) came from Airport, but I had no idea just how much was taken from Zero Hour! Airplane! is like some weird comedic remake or re-imaging of Zero Hour! - and they nailed it right down to the exclamation mark. And it's not just ideas or concepts that were taken from Zero Hour!, entire sections of dialogue were lifted and used in Airplane! I'm shocked to discover that lines like "I guess I picked the wrong week to give up smoking" weren't written especially for Airplane! The dialogue is so similar that when little Joey visits the cockpit and the captain asks if he's ever been in cockpit before, I kept waiting for him to ask "Have you ever seen a grown man naked?" as he does in Airplane! Even some of the performances in Airplane! are eerily reminiscent of Zero Hour! Take Robert Stack in the role originally done by Sterling Hayden. Amazing stuff! The funny thing to me about this example, however, is that Hayden is actually more intense in the role than Stack could have dreamed.

Giving a rating to Zero Hour! is difficult. Even if you've only seen Airplane! once (and I've probably seen it a couple of dozen times over the years), it's all but impossible to keep a straight face (Who am I kidding? It's impossible not to downright laugh out loud.) when Johnny goes to make coffee or when Stryker straights sweating buckets behind the controls of the plane. It's impossible to take the melodrama of Zero Hour! seriously. So I don't know how I would rate the movie had I never seen Airplane! I would like to think I would have still enjoyed the experience and would have formed a similar opinion. But I have seen Airplane!, so I have that built in bias. In the end, because the movie kept me entertained (for whatever reason) throughout it's brief 81 minute runtime, I'm rating Zero Hour! a 7/10.

9 / 10

Zero Hour is High & the Mighty With Food Poisoning ***1/2

Tense drama with Dana Andrews who never forgot his unfortunate incident with a plane at the end of World War 11 is Wiesbaden, Germany.

Fast forward to 10 years later as Ted Stryker, Andrews, is unable to keep a job and his wife, the love Linda Darnell leaves him with her young son. He catches them on the plane only to find an in air situation where he must take over the plane when the 2 pilots fall ill due to eating fish. Other passengers fall ill as well.

Enter Sterling Hayden, who was with Andrews during the war, who will now help guide him down. Hayden is terrific as the chain smoking pilot, who could make anyone nervous by how he delivers his instructions to Andrews and Darnell, who handles the radio.

This is gripping drama at its best.

7 / 10

Stands on Its Own

I haven't seen Zero Hour's irreverent offspring Airplane (1980), so I have to judge this movie on its own merits. In short, it's a white-knuckler all the way. The passenger plane's on a cross-Canada flight when the pilots and some passengers are incapacitated by bad food. Looks like doomsday unless someone among them has flight experience and can step forward. A former WWII pilot, Lieutenant Stryker (Andrews), is conscripted. Trouble is he's still traumatized by combat experience and doubts his piloting abilities, especially with a big jet. Still, there's no one else. Now all the passengers and crew depend upon him to bring the plane down safely in Vancouver amid blinding fog and rain. So, he'll need all the help he can get, especially from the Vancouver flight tower and the commanding Capt. Treleaven (Hayden). But will that be enough.

As some sage once pointed out, there's a close relation between comedy and tragedy. I can see why the producers of Airplane parodied the relentless heavy breathing of this movie in their comedy classic. What with all the interactions between passengers, crew, and tower, there's lots of material to comically exaggerate. Nonetheless, the performances here are effective if mostly unvarying. Andrews gets not a single smile, while Darnell, as Stryker's wife, scowls throughout. In fact, the movie's downside may be that same unrelenting grimness, which is apt for the material but a one-note for audiences.

On the upside is the way some hardier passengers respond to the emergency, showing the skill and heart of a random American public. Then too, if Stryker succeeds, he may overcome his crippling self-doubt stemming from a WWII deadly misjudgment that cost the lives of fellow pilots. Thus Stryker's very much a flawed hero, a good dramatic note. All in all, the movie's a genuine, if unrelieved, thriller that deserves more reshowing than it's gotten. But then Airplane has likely taken whatever thunder Zero had. Nonetheless, this 82-minute suspense can still stand on its own.