TV Terror Guide: Murder on Flight 502 (1975)


Air Date: Nov. 21, 1975 (ABC)

Production Companies: Spelling-Goldberg Productions

Running Time: 97 min.

Available on: YouTube

Written by: David P. Harmon

Directed by: George McCowan

Cast: Ralph Bellamy, Polly Bergen, Theodore Bikel, Sonny Bono, Dane Clark, Laraine Day, Fernando Lamas, George Maharis, Farrah Fawcett, Hugh O'Brian, Molly Picon, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Stack, Brooke Adams, Danny Bonaduce

Rating: 6 vintage televisions (out of 10)

 

At one time I would have been able to list off the top of my head Murder on Flight 502 (1975) as one of my beloved Farrah Fawcett’s (then, Fawcett-Majors) 1970s TV movie appearances. It had sunk into the quicksand of my memory when I started watching and saw her name in the credits. Had I done my research first, I would have seen how the film was marketed for varous home video releases… with her big, beautiful smile gracing the covers, and Robert Stack’s tiny head floating in the background.

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Her small, yet I assure you important, role as a flight attendant (then, stewardess) on a distressed flight from New York City to London, is one of the movie’s highlights. However, this must truly be one of the most star-studded productions made during an era that was all about star-studded productions. When I listed the cast members above, there was no name to omit due to less importance. Familiar faces playing familiar characters, each with their own stories, is both Murder on Flight 502’s strength and weakness.

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As far as this being a weakness, the individual stories overwhelm the primary plot… the threat that weaves them together. More time is spent on conversations among passengers that reveal their pasts and the extraordinary coincidences that brought them together. As far as this being a strength, as I hinted, no character fares worse than any other. All are equal and ample time is devoted to telling their mini-stories from beginning to end. These range from vaguely intriguing to overly sentimental.

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In other words, there’s good and bad in Murder on Flight 502. The aforementioned threat is that after takeoff, the director of security at Kennedy Airport, Robert Davenport (George Maharis), discovers a letter meant to be read the next day. It refers to the murders that happened on the airplane. With advance knowledge of these murders, Davenport can work with Captain Larkin (Stack) during the flight to prevent them from happening. The problem is, not only do they not know who wrote the letter, they don’t know who the victims will be.

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On paper, this sounds like a terrific set-up, and it is. However, the suspense of the execution is interrupted with the side stories, leaving the reveal of the mystery confined to the final moments of the film and then not only rushed, but not making a lot of sense. It’s too long a movie for us to believe one of the red herrings is actually going to be responsible, but the twists and turns feel forced, particularly a final turn of events which is absolutely not necessary. It turns everything that happened into an “oh, well” situation that lacks significance.

 

Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Murder on Flight 502 as well as all the great movies from this series...

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