Shatner Faces Terror at 37,000 Feet…
An unlikely group of characters face fear on a doomed flight, with William Shatner acting his socks off.
Shatner Acting Masterclass, hydrofilms and photos © CBS
As Halloween is upon us, so what better way to celebrate it with one of the more
infamous 1970s Made for TV horror movies, The Horror At 37,000 Feet (1973). As you know I love movies with ensemble casts and headed by at least one major star (unless you are lucky enough to recognise their supporting cast).
It was made all the more delightful here with the acting talents of William Shatner, the only actor I recognised from the cast. Darlin’ Husband, however, recognised Roy Thinnes as O’Neill star of The Invaders (1967-68). However, like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) on a closer look through the supporting cast’s filmographies – and the input from my Darlin’ Husband – it appears this movie starred a cast from more familiar films and television from this time.
These including movies such as Soylent Green (1973) and The Beguiled (1973). The cast also appeared in sci-fi TV – Trekkies will recognise some others in this cast – and as guest stars from well-known classic 1970s TV series such as The Love Boat (1977-87) and Magnum P.I. (1980-88).
As the film starts, we meet the different characters of the film checking into a flight leaving from London to New York, learning a little about their background stories. We all too briefly see Shatner’s character, who we meet properly later when he is introduced as Paul Kovalik.
The characters include an architect Alan O’Neill (Thinnes) – who is moving part of an altar from an abbey from his wife’s English ancestral home – his bickering wife Sheila (Jane Merrow) and Mrs Pinder (Tammy Grimes) and her dog (why?). Pinder who recently challenged the O’Neill’s in court about this in an English court and lost. This information does give you more than a wee sense of foreboding, especially if you have watched too many horror TV movies.
Or it may make you sit back with a stiff drink and observe everything with an air of ambivalence and cynicism, which is what Kovalik does with the other passengers in the first half of the movie. Other characters are a millionaire, Kovalik’s often wide-eyed female companion Manya, complete with a guitar – who I first thought was Mia Farrow but wasn’t – a child and her doll, a model, a doctor, a defrocked priest and a cowboy singer.
I’ll let you watch it to find out which applies to Mr Shatner. These appearing to be the only people on the plane, a 747 on two floors. Some of the characters and items listed will be important in this film. And some thankfully not. You almost expect to see Peter Ustinov turn up as Hercule Poirot or an early appearance by Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher.
Just before the plane takes off, a cold chill is felt in the air with some rather daft special effects – such as frosted glass, a skirt blows up and a cast member sneezing – and script to reinforce this. The two air hostesses are clad in a cross between 1970s air hostess trolley dolly and colonial hats provided by the set of Zulu (1964),
They helpfully give instructions on what do should something go wrong on the flight. Which you know it will if you read the film’s title, you’d know it’s doomed. In the hold, a banging is heard with strange movements from the architect’s packages. You may pour yourself another drink at this time, as Kovalik apparently character is, as his character slowly gets drunk.
Meanwhile, O’Neill is reprimanded for his actions by Mrs Pinder, with her threatening to take him into court again when they land in the States. Mrs O’Neill starts hearing moaning voices in her head as her husband flirts with a model on the upper deck. She walks in a trance, collapses and starts muttering in Latin, with this language identified by Kovalik who is now by her side. More movement is seen in the hold and eerie music. It grows cold again and the crew investigate…
This film is a guilty pleasure to watch, but quite fun too despite many sites stating it is probably one of Shatner’s worse movies. Shatner brilliantly overexaggerates his character and his talents do not go unwasted. He acts with his facial expressions alone for much of the first half of this movie.
In the second half, he gets even more expressive facial expressions and more lines, which is a relief as many will tune in for Shatner’s performance alone. His supporting cast all act in various ways from being too calm and collected, to unhinged to frightened. Manya gives regular updates on the action when the plot continues – which was useful as the plot became more than a bit silly.
The reasons for the Horror are explained by one particular character are clichéd and tropes and you wonder why this character took this flight if they knew, or at least told the crew before take-off about her concerns. Shatner, however, continues to be excellent as he hams up the lines, acting and facial expressions as his character leads us into the final more
humorous terrifying, unknown scenes.
However, you don’t know whether to be frightened for him or reassured after all this is the man who as Kirk in many a Star Trek appearance faced many dangerous characters. These ending scenes are more than a bit bizarre with the last scene a bit of an annoyance as the terror is confronted. But in the end – like cast member Russell Johnson as the millionaire must have been relieved on reading his script – you are that it was not a fellow character’s nightmare, as it would be for Johnson when he was cast as a sheriff in Pam Ewing’s Dallas dream season.
Weeper Rating: 0 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
This review was entered in the Terror TV Blogathon run by Classic TV Blog Association. Other posts with this cast include William Shatner in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, The Kidnapping of the President, Star Trek and more. Roy Thinnes also starred in Murder She Wrote, Hotel and The Love Boat. Chuck Connors stars in Night of Terror.