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TV Terror Guide: The President's Plane is Missing (1973)

Air Date: Oct. 23, 1973 (ABC Movie of the WeekV)

Production Companies: ABC Circle Films

Running Time: 100 min.

Available on: YouTube

Written by: Mark Carliner and Ernest Kinoy

Based on: the novel by Robert J. Serling

Directed by: Daryl Duke

Cast: Buddy Ebsen, Peter Graves, Arthur Kennedy, Raymond Massey, Mercedes McCambridge, Rip Torn, Dabney Coleman, Joseph Campanella


The President’s Plane is Missing (1973) is like a version of 24 mixed with a little bit of The West Wing viewed through a filter of the early to mid-1970s. That is to say, it shares the mystery and intrigue of those shows, just at a more leisurely pace. I mean, a very leisurely pace… It’s 15 minutes before Air Force One even takes off so that it can become missing.


However, it’s then found fairly soon after the first commercial break when hikers in Arizona stumble upon the crashed airplane. The badly burned human remains are examined and none seem to belong to POTUS, so the movie in essence becomes, “The President is Missing;” and, if not for the persistence of reporter Mark Jones (Peter Graves), he would have been determined dead.


It’s a great set-up, but there are a few elements of the production that make it less thrilling than I expected. First, the identity of the “bad guy” in the story is obvious due to the non-subtle performance of the actor that plays him (no spoilers.) Second, Buddy Ebsen’s portrayal of Vice-President Kermit Madigan is over the top; he’s both befuddled and outraged most of the time.


Madigan is a pawn, rushed to be sworn in before the country reaches the deadline for a confrontation with China. There seems to be a reason President Jeremy Haines (Tod Andrews) kept his VP in the dark about foreign policy; however, that leaves him floundering among the power struggle of White House advisors.


The President’s Plane is Missing is based on the New York Times bestselling novel of the same name by Robert J. Serling. I haven’t read it, but it seems like a case of the book being better than the movie. I wish someone produced a film of its sequel, The President’s Plane is Haunted, in which the ghost of Franklin Delano Roosevelt haunts the incumbent president.


Veteran television director Daryl Duke maintains the aforementioned leisurely pace, possibly because this was a rare two-hour broadcast with 100 minutes of movie compared to the average 70-75 minutes. It was actually completed in 1971, but didn’t air until two years later because of real life troubles with China. It’s got all the elements of a political thriller, just little of the suspense.


Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The President’s Plane is Missing as well as all the great movies from this series...

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