Retro Review: ‘Zero Hour!’

Traumatized fighter pilot, Ted Stryker, makes the brash hop on a plane to pursue his romantic partner. While in the air those who ate the fish dinner, including the crew, fall ill forcing a reluctant Stryker to land this airplane under the guidance of his former commanding officer over the radio. All the while a doctor who is surely serious takes care of those impacted by the food poisoning. Despite what you may be thinking, I am not talking about a certain Zucker-Abram-Zucker comedic masterpiece. Instead I am talking about the 1957 movie Zero Hour! starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Sterling Hayden, and Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch.

As mentioned already, if you are familiar with the 1980 satirical classic Airplane! you will already know the plot beats of this film. You may even recognize entire scenes and lines of dialogue altogether as Zero Hour! served as the inspiration for Airplane!. This includes an awkward exchange in the cockpit between the flight crew (including an incognito pro athlete) and a precocious kid named Joey. This could make it difficult for contemporary audiences to take it seriously. This is amplified by the fact that every actor is up all the way to 11 delving into the drama of it all.

While another film may have usurped the legacy of Zero Hour! this is a fun thriller in its own right. Albeit one lacking in substantial production values. Without a doubt the strongest element of the film comes courtesy of its screenwriter Arthur Hailey. A decorated veteran of the Royal Air Force, Hailey had initially penned this tale as a Canadian TV series called Flight Into Danger, before being adapted into this film. Following this he found success as a number of his novels were adapted into blockbuster films in the 1970’s. His experience as a fighter pilot during the war no doubt played a large part in his creation of Stryker and brought an authenticity to the character.

For movie geeks like myself, Zero Hour! is not only a fun movie in its own right but is also worth watching due to the part in played in inspiring a watershed classic.