Zero Hour! (1957): Disaster (on Air) Movie, Starring Dana Andrews and Sterling Hayden, Source Material of the Spoof Airplane!

Directed by Hall Bartlett from a terse but contrived script by Arthur Hailey, Hall Bartlett and John Champion, Zero Hour! was an adaptation of Hailey’s original 1956 Canadian teleplay, Flight Into Danger, starring James Doohan in the lead, as Ted Stryker.

Hailey also co-wrote a novel with John Castle based on the same plot, titled Flight Into Danger: Runway Zero-Eight (1958). He later penned the popular 1968 novel, Airport, which revisited the disaster movie genre and led to a franchise that was also spoofed by Airplane! and its own sequel.

At present, the film is best known for its inclusion in the classic 1980 film parody, Airplane!, which uses parts of the original screenplay.

At the end of WWII, six members of the Royal Canadian Air Force fighter squadron are killed due to a command decision made by pilot Ted Stryker (Dana Andrews).

Years later, in civilian life in Ottawa, a guilt-stricken Stryker goes through many jobs, and his marriage is in trouble. His wife Ellen (Linda Darnell) is leaving him with their young son Joey.

He rushes to Ottawa Board to board the same flight, Cross-Canada Air Lines Flight 714, asking his wife for one last chance, but Ellen claims that she cannot love a man she doesn’t respect.

The initially routine flight becomes risky, when stewardess Janet Turner (Peggy King) begins the service. Some passengers get sick, and the doctor (Geoffrey Toone) aboard determines that the fish was no good.

Then, both the pilot and co-pilot have become ill. Although it stays in the air on autopilot, no one can fly the plane.  Stryker is the only one with flying experience, but he has not flown in a decade and is not familiar with this aircraft.  Other obstacles: Due to dense fog on ground, Flight 714 must bypass Calgary to continue on to Vancouver.

Stryker’s superior in the war, the tough-minded Captain Treleaven (Sterling Hayden), is summoned to instruct him about crash landing.  Ellen joins her husband in the cockpit to handle the radio, and Stryker makes a command decision to land the plane as passengers will die if they do not get to the hospital soon.

Nightclub and TV performer Peggy King made her feature debut in Zero Hour!, recording the song “Zero Hour” for Columbia Records prior to the film’s release.

Recycling and Spoofing

In 1971, the film was remade as a TV feature, with Doug McClure in the title role.

As noted, Zero Hour! was also used or the parody film Airplane!  Paramount, the studio behind Zero Hour! also was the one to make the 1980 spoof.