by Travis Mackenzie Hoover
**½/**** Image A- Sound A-
starring Charlton Heston, Yvette Mimieux, James Brolin, Jeanne Crain
screenplay by Stanley R. Greenberg, based on the novel Hijacked by David Harper
directed by John Guillermin
Skyjacked is the inevitable result of people pretending to be casual and relaxed while actually being stiff and formal. The actors would desperately like you to believe that they just happened to be on a jumbo jet when it was, by sheer chance, hijacked by a crazed veteran--but who are they fooling? As everybody is cruelly slotted into a stereotypical role (and forced to spout inane pleasantries no thinking person would utter), the artificiality of the proceedings is about as plain as the nose on Chuck Heston's face. Pulse-pounding excitement--which would have required people in whom we could invest--is not on the menu. In fact, the whole thing seems remarkably tranquil as a bunch of slumming character actors cash easy paychecks.
As the title no doubt indicates, this is Disaster Movie Lite, a lower-budget, lower-priority piggybacking on Airport that can't cause too much damage or inflict too much trauma. Heston, as airliner captain Hank O'Hara, acts in his usual capacity as Last Centred Man On Earth, who has to deal with the fallout when a lipstick bomb threat is found written in the head. There's some mystery: was it hippie-chick Elly Brewster (Susan Dey), or perhaps concerned jazz cellist Gary Brown (Rosey Grier)? But then the culprit is revealed as one Jerome Weber (James Brolin), an embittered 'Nam vet hell-bent on sending the plane first to Anchorage, then straight to Moscow to what he hopes will be a hero's welcome. While this all sounds exciting on paper, on film it's an exceptionally thrill-less affair. As the production lacks both the money and the stones to do anything serious, we can only watch as people look panicked and pray for deliverance from the non-threat of Weber.
Under such circumstances, Skyjacked ought to be a snooze--which makes its moderately successful bid for our sensibilities remarkable. Journeyman hack John Guillermin rolls out every plot point and supporting character as if Bob Barker were announcing a new car, hoping to convince you that this is, indeed, a movie mainly by emphasizing the basic parts on offer. The film is gently compartmentalized into its narrative components: Heston gets the head of the production, with the various celebrities given their featured bits alongside second bananas like Mariette Hartley's thankless pregnant-woman role. You're not supposed to feel tension so much as reassurance, made aware as you are that this isn't going to go anywhere you haven't been before. Skyjacked invites you to luxuriate in the familiar and trivial, and surprisingly, it's pretty persuasive on that level.
Of course, the familiar pretending to be otherwise is the stuff of camp fanciers' wet dreams, and the film doesn't disappoint in that respect. Of note is the fact that so many plot strands go absolutely nowhere. Despite the presence of a Senator named Lindner (Walter Pidgeon), he has no bearing whatsoever on Weber's communist delusions and largely exists to offer fishing-trip quips while facilitating equally pointless love intrigue between his son Peter (Nicholas Hammond) and the aforementioned hippie-chick. Meanwhile, intrepid flight attendant Angela Thatcher (Yvette Mimieux) is present to implement adulterous flashbacks with Heston designed to delude the filmmakers into thinking they have more on their minds than hijacking. So ludicrous and pasted-on are most of these tangents that the artifice of the whole enterprise becomes blindingly obvious.
Warner brings Skyjacked to DVD in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that's lustrous enough to capture the deep saturated hues of the Metrocolor process, although some slightly soft definition keeps the image on a leash. The Dolby 2.0 stereo audio is similarly fine, a hair too quiet and decidedly lo-fi but otherwise great at rendering all that ludicrous dialogue. No extras, not even a trailer.
ZERO HOUR! (1957)
**½/**** Image A Sound A
starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Sterling Hayden, Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch
screenplay by Arthur Hailey, Hall Bartlett and John Champion
directed by Hall Bartlett
Pity the poor souls behind Zero Hour!. Not only must they live with the fact that they've made a ludicrous piece of camp, but they also have to deal with the humiliation of a famous film stealing their thunder through mockery of their original. Yes, this is the movie that inspired Airplane!, an almost beat-for-beat satire that depends on the same straight-faced delivery of invariably ridiculous material for the charge of its comedy. What's different is a matter of scope: with its many MAD MAGAZINE digressions and embroideries, Airplane! is a far richer experience that seems like Tolstoy next to the compact Zero Hour!. Plus, the older film is so cheap that it can only allude to the impending doom Airplane! at least caricatures; by the time Zero Hour! has reached its 'climax,' it feels rather like a shrug.
Dana Andrews sets the tone with a gritted-teeth performance more or less copied by the rest of the cast. No matter what melodramatic antics the script gets up to (and no matter how hysterical Ted Dale's all-business score), Andrews's blank, iron-jawed stare never falters. This is supposed to suggest seriousness: as Lt. Ted Stryker, who chickened out in an air skirmish during WWII, Andrews naturally has some issues. But the thing is, you have to have something serious to say in order to pull that kind of thing off. If you've seen Airplane!, you know the type of dialogue we're dealing with, since it reproduces gems like, "Flying a plane is like riding a bicycle" and, "I picked the wrong week to give up smoking." What it doesn't have are people in on the joke. As Stryker boards a plane to Vancouver in pursuit of wife Ellen (Linda Darnell), who's fleeing his cowardice with their son Joey (Raymond Ferrell) in tow, we can be assured that nothing will be credible.
So the fish is bad, the crew gets sick, Stryker's gotta land the plane, and Capt. Treleaven (Sterling Hayden) hates his old comrade even as he guides him to safety. We know. It's sticky to write a review of this movie post-Airplane!, because for most people there's really no seeing it again for the first time. Every single plot device--including the intrepid stewardess (Peggy King), the too-kindly-to-kids pilot (Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch), the hysterical woman passenger, and the ultra-cheap war flashbacks--is sent up by the later film. It's hard to say whether Zero Hour! is more or less funny as a result: while many will crow with delight at the greatest-hits collection of Airplane!'s famous bits, others will be disappointed at the lack of anything new. It's pretty much a phenomenon without parallel: a picture that retroactively refers to another one made after its release.
Still, though I can't say I laughed much watching it, there's a perverse fascination in seeing this cast soldier on calmly while the rest of the movie falls apart at the seams. The ending is so abrupt and no-big-deal that you wonder why they bothered to make the movie at all, and the functional, management-training-film aesthetic constantly belies the "drama" that's supposed to be going on. And whatever else has been stolen from Zero Hour!, it will always have Sterling Hayden. Sublimely oblivious to the nuttiness of his lines (unlike Lloyd Bridges), Hayden throws himself into a role that doesn't deserve his investment. Watching the actor labour for a lost cause is entertainment enough, and worth the price of a rental.
Warner shepherds this designated cult classic to disc in a crisp and lustrous 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer that would be the envy of Airplane!. Zero Hour!'s high-key, hard-focus b&w imagery receives all the dimension and detail you could hope for without the hindrance of any real defects. Accompanying Dolby 1.0 mono audio is similarly fine, reproducing every ludicrous line with clarity and fullness. The only extra: the movie's trailer.
HOT RODS TO HELL (1967)
**½/**** Image A- Sound A
starring Dana Andrews, Jeanne Crain, Mimsy Farmer, Mickey Rooney, Jr. and His Combo
screenplay by Robert E. Kent
directed by John Brahm
Hot Rods to Hell is what happens when a major studio in the twilight of Old Hollywood tries to crash the youth exploitation racket. Though MGM would really like you to believe the tagline of "Fast cars...fast girls...the faster the better!", the film can't help but seem a pathetic cry for the rear-guard values lost in the shuffle of the love generation. Handed over to veteran helmer John Brahm (he of The Lodger, The Brasher Doubloon, and about 150 TV movies), it's a combination of out-of-touch moralizing and dialled-down dissipation that looks a tad ridiculous in the face of its competition. The Wild Angels this is not--they can't even find a more depraved look for evil teenagers than that of Brian Wilson. It's difficult to determine who this was aimed at: kids looking for illicit thrills would've been terribly disappointed, while the Lawrence Welk set probably wouldn't have crossed the street for it. Camp fanciers, on the other hand, are well in the clear.
Heroes don't come much squarer than Tom Phillips (Dana Andrews). He's the father and family man who has his life turned upside-down when a drunk driver--in clear violation of the law--crashes into his car and throws out our man's back. Unable to work at his old job, Tom is forced to take his brother's advice and buy a California motel, the logic being he'll be sitting down most of the time. (Are they kidding?) But, of course, California proves unforgiving, mostly thanks to the monsters polluting its highways in hot rods and roadsters. A few short words with one at a service station and not only are Duke (Paul Bertoya) and his speed-demon friends ganging up on Tom's family, but Tom also finds Duke himself taking a dangerous shine to his comely daughter Tina (Laurie Mock). Who are these kids? Who do they think they are? What's this world coming to, anyway?
For a film that trades on the horror of juvenile delinquency, there's way too much emphasis on family values. Tom and Tina--flanked by concerned mother Peg (Jeanne Crain) and spunky younger brother Jamie (Tim Stafford)--are an oasis in a sick desert populated by young punks, morally-crippled businessmen like Lank Dailey (George Ives--the dude handing over the motel), cretinous tourists...largely everyone but the cops (who show up periodically to deliver stern lectures). There's also some hysterical stuff about the vulnerability of tender Tina, who despite it all and for reasons known only to the participants has the hots for evil Duke. One must protect the family AND the virtue of the adolescent daughter--even if it means shaming her. (Which happens. Frequently.) Peg's function is to stand around looking distraught, while Jamie is a gung ho supporter of the patriarch and his values. Camp thrives on such whitebread huffing and puffing, and this film gives you a bellyful.
Brahm is so consumed by the pickle up his ass that he fails to sketch the nasty behaviour that is Hot Rods to Hell's bread and butter; his attempts to suggest wild lawless youth are predictably hysterical. With their neatly-pressed collar shirts, these clean-cut punks suggest a high school glee club rather than the depraved vermin we're constantly told they are. The most vicious thing the thugs do is play chicken and frighten motorists: though Mimsy Farmer is suitably louche as Duke's moll (and wears a psychedelic outfit that will have retro-fashion fans creaming their jeans), that's where the debauchery ends. And although Duke makes leering eyes at Nina (to her bizarre sexual confusion), he's so absurdly nice-looking that it registers like getting a wet Willie from Jughead. You'd have to be fairly hard-up for thrills to take this in the exploitation spirit, but that's fortunately nobody at this late date: possessed of values more obsolete than ever, this is a film retroactively tailored for mockery and drinking games.
Warner's DVD release of Hot Rods to Hell looks pretty good, the 1.78:1, 16x9-enhanced image suitably bright and clear in its rendering of those flaming '60s colours, if ultimately on the soft side. The attendant Dolby 1.0 mono audio is terrifyingly crisp, sharper and with more dimensions than you'd expect from a single-speaker mix. This is a bare-bones disc whose only extra is the film's theatrical trailer.
102 minutes; PG; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 2.0 (Stereo); CC; English, French subtitles; DVD-5; Region One; Warner
- Zero Hour!
81 minutes; PG; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 1.0; CC; English, French subtitles; DVD-5; Region One; Warner
- Hot Rods to Hell
100 minutes; PG; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 1.0; CC; English, French subtitles; DVD-5; Region One; Warner