Air Date: Feb. 25, 1977 (ABC)
Production Companies: ABC Circle Films
Running Time: 89 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Robert L. Joseph, Meyer Dolinsky
Directed by: Robert L. Joseph, Meyer Dolinsky
Cast: Barbara Anderson, Bert Convy, Peter Graves, Lorne Greene, Season Hubley, Tina Louise, George Maharis, Doug McClure, Burgess Meredith, Martin Milner, Brock Peters, Robert Reed, Susan Strasberg, Misty Rowe, Billy Crystal, John de Lancie, Regis Philbin, Robert Ito
Rating: 6 vintage televisions (out of 10)
We’ve seen a lot of all-star casts in these 70s TV movies (as well as the big screen disaster films of the 70s.) Truly, I think SST: Death Flight (1977) has the most all-star cast of all of them. The difference is, though, that many of the familiar actors have bit parts. They don’t each have a subplot that would cause the movie to crash, pun intended.
Before we get to the characters, let’s review the plot. It’s one with which we all are familiar: high-profile transatlantic flight that faces disaster in the sky. For some, you might say it’s a “death flight.” In this case, it’s the first Super Sonic Transport and it faces not one, but two… count ‘em two… disasters in the sky. Is it double the fun? That’s debatable.
Willy Basset (Burgess Meredith) designed the airplane and is on board. Marshall Cole (Lorne Greene) is his business partner and is on the ground scrambling to test repairs on a prototype that might work to save “Maiden 1.” Captain Jim Walsh (Robert Reed) is flying the plane. Hank Fairbanks (Doug McClure) is a passenger that blames Walsh for ruining his career as a pilot.
Tim Vernon (Bert Convy) is the head of publicity who’s canoodling with Angela Garland (Misty
Rowe), also known as “Miss SST,” the model representing the aircraft. Paul Whitley (Peter Graves) is a wealthy businessman who used to be involved with Anne Redding (Season Hubley), who’s now with Bob Connors (John de Lancie), the real jackass of the movie.
But wait; there’s more… Lyle Kingman (Martin Milner) is a down-on-his-luck former football player and sportscaster who may take a job from the mob because he and his wife, Nancy (Susan Strasberg) are flat broke. I misspoke; Les Phillips (George Maharis) is the real jackass of the movie. He’s bitter that he didn’t get a promotion, so he pours detergent into the hydraulics.
His actions ultimately cause a leakage, which in turn leads to an explosion that blows a hole in the side of the plane. Believe it or not, that’s not a deal-breaker. Dr. Ralph Terman (Brock Peters) has brought a viral culture with him, and the box is damaged during the explosion. No airport will let Maiden 1 land due to fear of contagion.
At 89 minutes, a lot happens fast, and SST: Death Flight is as entertaining as it is ridiculous. Every word out of Basset's/Meredith's mouth is comedy gold. When Phillips is discovered, he says, “They shouldn’t have turned him down [for the job]; they should have shot him.” He later scolds Walsh for not thanking Fairbanks for assisting during the disaster.
Two scenes are borderline offensive. First, Vernon has possibly impregnated Garland. Of course, he couldn’t say the word, “abortion,” so he tells her she can’t have a baby because it would ruin her figure. Second, Connors calls the steward, David (Billy Crystal), a pansy. Crystal, who would later play Jody on Soap, at least replies in a dignified way, “I’ve been called that before.”
Directing this mess is David Lowell Rich, who coincidentally directed The Concorde… Airport ’79 two years later. The entire budget must have been used for the cast because the special effects are awful. Never has a plane in flight looked more like a model on a string. It makes last week’s movie, The Last Dinosaur, look like Jurassic Park.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch SST: Death Flight and other great movies from this series...