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TV Terror Guide: Mayday at 40,000 Feet! (1976)

Air Date: Nov. 12, 1976 (CBS)

Production Companies: Andrew J. Fenady Productions, Warner Bros. Television

Running Time: 100 min.

Available on: YouTube

Written by: Austin Ferguson & Dick Nelson & Andrew J. Fenady

From the novel Jet Stream by Austin Ferbuson

Directed by: Robert Butler

Cast: David Janssen, Don Meredith, Christopher George, Ray Milland, Lynda Day George, Margaret Blye, Marjoe Gortner, Broderick Crawford

Rating: 5 vintage televisions (out of 10)


By late 1976, about the time Mayday at 40,000 Feet! first aired, we’d surely seen all the tropes from airplane disaster films, not just in theaters, but also in television movies. You’d think this one would have attempted to add something new. It doesn’t unless you consider slowing the whole thing down and not even facing the disaster until over halfway through the film


I know, I know… they’ve got to set up the relationships so we care what happens to the characters. We have to see that Captain Pete Douglass (David Jannsen) is grumpy and distracted because his wife, Kitty (Jane Powell), is undergoing surgery. We have to see co-pilot Stan Burkhart (Christopher George) reunite with a past love, Susan (Margaret Blye.)


Details like this explain why Cpt. Pete might walk to the rear of the airplane to use the bathroom, outside of which sits a deranged prisoner (Marjoe Gortner) trying to escape… and why co-pilot Burkhart would be so upset when Susan gets shot when the deranged prisoner does escape and grabs his escorting marshal’s (Broderick Crawford) gun.


As exciting as it sounds, it’s depicted in a very unexciting way. The one exception is the climax. I’m no engineer, but stray gunshots inside an airplane cabin can apparently damage the hydraulics. That leaves things like steering, lowering the landing gear, and landing, to sheer human strength. There’s also a pesky crosswind that could blow them off the runway.


It’s a good cast. Ray Milland is fun as Dr. Joseph Mannheim, a physician living in a bottle since he failed to save a human life. Now he’s called upon to sober up fast so he can save Susan. Oh, and did I mention Cpt. Douglass is also shot and bleeding to death? All that’s missing is the stewardess flying the plane, so I guess that’s one trope missing from Mayday at 40,000 Feet!


Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Mayday at 40,000 Feet! as well as all the great movies from this series...

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