An eccentric engineer reveals a fatal flaw in the design of a commercial airliner. [ No Highway in the Sky credits: Dir: Henry Koster/ James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns/ 98 min/ Drama/ Britain/ Creator as Hero]
“A very enjoyable film, a drama with a light comedic touch and a positive view of the human character. ”
Unlike today’s shallow and unlikely portrayals of evil businessmen forever in conflict with creative genius, in this film all involved in the manufacturing process are of good will, but with conflicting perspectives derived from their different areas of knowledge.
At the center of this story is a newly designed plane called the “Reindeer.” It’s made of a specially developed alloy. The hero, an engineer at the company that produces the Reindeer, calculates that this alloy is vulnerable to vibration. According to his estimates, the Reindeer planes, some of which are already in service, will soon begin to break up in mid-air! However, no one believes him, so he must prove his theory.
He’s a very detached individual, a personification of the scientific method. In fact, he’s more interested in proving his theory than in saving lives. Nonetheless, when he flies as a passenger in a Reindeer himself, he begins to care about the other passengers. Pretty soon he’s so interested in protecting them that he’s threatening to disable all the Reindeer planes by whatever means necessary if the company won’t ground them until his test is finished. Is he crazy, or is he a savior to the flying public? You don’t get the answer to that question until the very end.
This is a good example of the creator-as-hero theme. It’s also a very enjoyable film, a drama with a light comedic touch and a positive view of the human character. The acting is consistently first-rate with a particularly memorable performance by James Stewart, who practically defines the caricature of scientist as forgetful genius.
In a bizarre coincidence, No Highway in the Sky presaged actual events. A British “de Haviland Comet” jetliner disintegrated in mid-air in 1953, two years after this film’s release. Within months, two more blew up. An engineering test eventually revealed that stress concentrations at rivet holes near the windows were responsible. It’s a strange enough coincidence on its own, even without considering that the word “Comet,” apart from its use to describe a large celestial mass, is probably best known as the appellation of one of Santa Claus’s … reindeer.
“No Highway in the Sky is an aeronautics situational thriller which plays like an early sketch of what would come to be popularized as the disaster film.”