The Flight That Disappeared (1961)

I watched this movie for two reasons: 1) I was practically raised on low-budget sci-fi & horror, having spent many a Saturday mid-morning watching this stuff on a local independent station’s “creature feature” matinee, and 2) nowadays to see whether it would be enjoyable on “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

Yes, “Flight …” would’ve done very well on MST3k (it is indeed yet another bittersweet addition to my ever-growing list of Episodes That Might Have Been(tm)). Its low budget, bland directing and forced, stilted dialogue, all combining to take the edge off its high-minded intent, serve to guarantee that. There are riff opportunities aplenty, including a comment by one of the primary characters regarding the pilots’ capabilities which has to be one of the most unintentionally ready-made straight lines in film history. And although his initial appearance lasted literally only three seconds, with no dialogue, I took a small measure of pride in calling out the character who would undeniably prove to be the film’s Annoying Guy.

The goal of this film, of course, is to comment on the Cold War (and thus get the audience to think more about it), and so now the Minor Spoiler Alert is in effect: The three primaries are revealed to be closely involved in the development of a new super-weapon. Although their judgement is done in a very “Twilight Zone”-esque manner, the film nonetheless poses a question with significant moral and ethical aspects: To what degree are the makers of a device guilty should someone use their device destructively? Their super-weapon is intended more to be defensive, precisely in that it is so destructive it should frighten aggressors through fear of retaliation — but what if it is used as a first strike, to eliminate an enemy nation before it can strike?

While the film presents a legitimate concern regarding escalation, even during a so-called “cold” war, it makes the mistake almost always made regarding such a concern, slipping too easily to the socio-political left in presuming that those who commissioned such a weapon are unrepentant war-mongers who absolutely WILL use it aggressively (neglecting the simple fact that in most wars, only one side was the aggressor, while the other was merely reacting in self-defense or in defense of an ally). One of the minor characters is even clearly meant to reflect this presumption, brandishing an over-the-top “Hit them before they can hit us!” attitude.

However, the film’s poor production quality overall is of course the bigger weakness. It’s almost painful to watch the film’s younger male lead, who actually turns out to be a Decent Joe Caught In The Machinations Of The Cold War(!), ham-fist his way through horrid introductory dialogue with the female lead regarding “young women who don’t wear wedding rings”, which has him coming off as some zealous masher. As the film winds down, it devolves almost instantly from an essentially respectable parable about Cold War escalation to what looks like an ad-hoc panel discussion about ESP. Nearly at the end, the film steps down even further, turning itself into an opportunity for hushed snickering by the primaries as certain minor characters learn of the incident almost as an aside, in an unintentionally(?) funny “Hey! Didja hear what happened?!”manner.

If you’re looking for a well-made (or even a moderately well-made) treatment of the Cold War, this movie is NOT it; it clearly, almost desparately, wants to be, but it simply fumbles too much. If, however, you want low-calorie fare that still satisfies, I recommend this film with a 6.5 out of 10; it’s done in the best tradition of “B” sci-fi & horror, tackling a serious subject in the midst of laughably weak production, but it’s slow-paced and repetitive. And if you’re a MSTie, I think you’ll agree this film deserves a 9 out of 10 for its sheer riffability.