Posts Tagged ‘Linda Darnell’

My Classic Movie Pick: Airplane!’s Inspiration, Zero Hour!

A friend posted on Facebook a meme featuring a scene from the 1980 comedic film Airplane!  I informed my friend that a film made in 1957, a serious drama, was the inspiration behind the comedic film.  My friend didn’t know this and I began to wonder, how many other Airplane! fans don’t know about Zero Hour!?  Thus, the inspiration behind my classic movie pick for this week.

Zero Hour! poster 1

Arthur Hailey,  the writer behind the best-selling novels Airport and Hotel, prior to being a writer, was  a Canadian businessman.  In the mid-1950’s, while flying home from a business trip, he began to imagine a story.  What if on a plane in mid-flight, the passengers and the pilots fall violently ill due to food poisoning, and only one passenger who isn’t ill, a former RAF(Royal Air Force) pilot, who is now afraid to pilot planes, is the only hope for a safe landing?  Hailey put his imaginative idea down on paper and successfully sold the story to the CBC-Canadian Broadcasting Company.


The CBC, in it’s beginnings, was simply broadcasting American and British televsion programs and movies to their fellow Canadians, but the fledgling corporation wanted to try and air original programs, set in Canada.  Hailey’s story fit the corporation’s new plan and it aired as a tv movie on April 3rd, 1956 and an estimated 2 million Canadians tuned in to watch Flight Into Danger, starring James Doohan, best known as Scottie from Star Trek.  The BBC took notice of the ratings hit this telefilm produced, aired it and drew in 10 million viewers.  That brought in the Yanks and Flight Into Danger was aired by the Alcoa Hour on NBC with MacDonald Carey as the heroic former pilot who has to land the plane.  After these three broadcasting corporations had aired Hailey’s original telefilm idea, he sold the film rights to an independent producer, Hall Bartlett who renamed the telefilm’s title to Zero Hour! and he, along with Arthur Hailey and John C. Champion wrote a new screenplay.  NBC


With Barlett set to also direct,  it was time to find the cast.  Dana Andrews was hired to play the former pilot, Ted Stryker.  Linda Darnell was selected to play his wife, Ellen and child actor Ray Ferrell played their son, Joey.  Geoffrey Toone played the good doctor, Peggy King played the stewardess, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch(an actual NFL star at the time) played the co-pilot, and Sterling Hayden was hired to play Capt. Treleaven, who has to guide the hapless plane to the ground.

The background of Ted Stryker’s character is a bit different from the character in Airplane!  In Zero Hour!, he’s a Canadian who served in the RAF as a pilot during WW II.  Near the end of the war, he was in charge of a mission, leading his group of flyers on a bombing raid of Wiesbaden, Germany.  The weather is bad, heavy with fog, but Ted doesn’t call off the mission and 6 of his pilots die when their planes crash into the German countryside.  Ever since that awful day, Ted has suffered from ptsd: loads of guilt for not calling off the mission and he’s had trouble holding down jobs.  He has flown back to his home in Eastern Canada to tell his wife Ellen that a war buddy has agreed to give him a job at the Mid-Canadian Aircraft Company, LTD. in Winnipeg.  Ted’s good news turns to bitterness as he finds a “Dear John” letter from Ellen saying she has had it with him and that she is taking their son, Joey and leaving Ted.  Ted rushes to the airport and locates Ellen’s flight to Vancouver and is able to get a ticket for the same flight.

In Zero Hour!, Stryker's son Joey, gets to meet the pilots.

In Zero Hour!, Stryker’s son Joey, gets to meet the pilots.

Psst! Don't order the fish!

Psst! Don’t order the fish!

If you have seen the movie Airplane!, you know the rest of the story.  The creators of Airplane!, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, saw Zero Hour! on tv late one night and they got the idea to make a spoof of this drama.  They were able to buy the film’s rights and the rest is comedic film history.  Some kind soul has posted to Youtube a selection of scenes from Zero Hour! and comparing them to the more famous scenes from Airplane!

Uh oh! Passengers aren't feeling well!

Uh oh! Passengers aren’t feeling well!

The doctor informing the pilots about the sick passengers

The doctor informing the pilots about the sick passengers

Zero Hour!, from time to time does air on Turner Classic Movies, so check their schedule for it.  The film is available at Amazon to buy, in a dvd format, but the price is high! Probably due to it’s elevated “cult” film status among movie fans.  It’s also available through TCM’s Shop, but in a dvd set with two other cult film classics, Hot Rods to Hell(which also stars Dana Andrews, ironically!)  and Skyjacked.  If you love the film Airplane!, seek out Zero Hour! to see where the inspiration for the latter film began!

Ellen has to help Ted communicate with the Control Tower...will this event save their marriage?

Ellen has to help Ted communicate with the Control Tower…will this event save their marriage?

Sterling Hayden, as Capt. Treleaven, losing his cool with Stryker!

Sterling Hayden, as Capt. Treleaven, losing his cool with Stryker!

ZH! poster 2




My Classic Movie Pick: A Letter to Three Wives

Cover of "A Letter to Three Wives"

Cover of A Letter to Three Wives

Want to view a  great romance-drama  that keeps one guessing at what the outcome will be  until the end?    20th Century Fox’s 1949  film A Letter to Three Wives is that movie!  It was based upon a novel, A Letter to Five Wives, that appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1946, written by John Klempner.    Fox bought the rights to that novel  and Joseph Mankiewicz  wrote the screenplay and cut down the number of wives facing a dilemma in the movie from 5 to 3.   Mankiewicz also directed the film, for which he won Best Director at the Academy Awards.  The movie also won  Best Writing, Screenplay, and it was a nominee for Best Picture.

The three wives are Deborah Bishop(Jeanne Crain-the reddish-haired actress on the film poster), Rita Phipps(Ann Sothern-the blonde), and Lora Mae Hollingsway(Linda Darnell-the brunette.)  The movie opens as the three friends have arrived at a local boating launch by the river as the charity group these three ladies volunteer  for is taking a group of poor children on a river boat ride and picnic.  The three ladies are friends and are awaiting their fourth friend, Addie Ross, to appear as she  also volunteered  for the outing.  Addie doesn’t appear( and in the film she never does, but her voice is in the film and it is supplied by Celeste Holm, doing an excellent job of taunting her three friends with her words.)   A letter is delivered to the three friends at the river’s edge and the letter is from Addie.  She has written  to inform her friends  that she has run off with one of their husbands!  Her letter doesn’t reveal who’s husband she has managed to snag and it is at this point that the movie goes into a flashback, explaining how the three marriages became troubled.

First we see  Deborah’s marriage.  Deborah grew up on a farm.  Her first real contact with the outside world was through her experience as a WAVE in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  There she met her husband Brad,(played by Jeffrey Lynn.)  Brad is from an upper-middle class family and after their wedding, Deborah is uneasy trying to adapt to her husband’s upper crust social circle of friends.  Adding to Deborah’s unease is the fact that all of Brad’s friends expected him to marry Addie Ross!Jeanne and Jeffrey Lynn

Second in line of troubled marriages is Rita’s.  She is not only a wife and mother, but  she has a career,  writing stories for radio soap operas.  Her husband, George,(a young Kirk Douglas in an early movie role), is a school teacher and it doesn’t sit well with him that his wife earns more money than he does.  He is also frustrated with Rita as she has a very demanding boss who Rita can’t seem to ever say no to.   Rita also remembers that she forgot her husband’s birthday due to a dinner party she had to throw for her boss, and the only reminder for Rita came in the form of a lovely present for George from, guess who?  Addie Ross!Ann and Kirk Douglas

The third marriage in peril belongs to Lora Mae.  She grew  up poor, right next to the proverbial railroad tracks.  She manages to get a job as a secretary working for  one of the wealthiest men in town who owns a statewide  chain of department stores.  He is older than Lora Mae, and is divorced.   Mr. Porter,(played by Paul Douglas), falls for Lora Mae and she does become wife #2 for him.   Lora Mae remembers that after one of her and Porter’s dates, she saw a picture of Addie Ross on his piano and she demanded it be removed, that she wanted her picture on Porter’s piano.Linda and Paul Douglas

There is a dance at the Country Club  later in the evening where all three couples are scheduled to meet for  dinner,  and it is there that the reveal is made.  I won’t make that reveal, of course, as I want my readers to seek out this film.   A Letter to Three Wives is shown on Turner Classic Movies from time to time and it is also available to rent through Netflix and Amazon’s  instant rent feature.  There is also a trailer for the movie on Youtube and a couple of scenes from the movie, too.  If you do watch the trailer, it is depicted as a comedy but as I have seen the movie, it is much more of a drama, leading the audience to wonder just who’s husband has Addie run away with?

A Letter to Three Wives is a great classic film, with gorgeous cinematography, an intelligent plot, excellent acting all throughout not only by the leads but also by the supporting actors and actresses, too.  Seek this movie out!

                                                                                                                     alettertothreewives_1949_lc_01_1200_072620110505 Lobby Card