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Film / Zero Hour! (1957)

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Dr. Baird: Can you fly this airplane, and land it?
Ted Stryker: No. Not a chance!

Zero Hour! is a 1957 suspense/disaster movie directed by Hall Bartlett, starring Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell and Sterling Hayden. One of the earliest examples of the "airline disaster" subgenre, the film was adapted from the Canadian teleplay Flight Into Danger, written by former pilot Arthur Hailey, and from his novelization of same.

Royal Canadian Air Force Pilot Ted Stryker (Andrews) leads an ill-fated air raid through heavy fog during the waning years of World War II, a mission which results in the near total loss of his entire squadron. Wracked with guilt, he spends the next eleven years drifting from job to job, unable to accept any position of responsibility, which eventually drives his wife Ellen (Darnell) to take their son Joey and leave him; but Stryker manages to board their cross-Canada flight just before takeoff. Meanwhile, a last-minute catering reschedule results in half the passengers getting violently ill with food poisoning — and both pilots as well. Turns out Stryker is the only person on board who can possibly pilot the embattled flight and save everyone, but only if he can conquer his own demons and work with his gruff former superior officer, Captain Martin Treleaven (Hayden), who communicates with Stryker from the airport via radio and tries to talk him through the process of flying the plane and safely landing it.

If any of this sounds familiar to modern audiences, it's likely because the plot of Zero Hour! was adapted, officially and nearly wholesale (including character names, back stories and even entire hunks of dialog), into the 1980 parody film Airplane!. In this film the Love Interest played by Darnell is Stryker's wife, and a passenger rather than a stewardess, and little Joey is their son. Other than that, Zero Hour! is basically Airplane! with all the jokes taken out.

Arthur Hailey, writer of the original story, later wrote another plane-in-distress story, Airport, which was made into a 1970 film that started the decade's Disaster Movie craze... which Airplane! spoofed so effectively that it ended the genre, making Hailey technically both the creator and destroyer of it.

No relation to the 1994 DC Comics Crisis Crossover of the same name.

Zero Hour! provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The original teleplay didn't give Stryker his Dark and Troubled Past, his marriage woes nor his strained relationship with Martin Treleaven.
  • Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving: Treleaven grumbles about Stryker's "lousiest landing in the history of this airport!" and then immediately offers sincere congratulations.
  • Badass Boast: As part of Stryker's Grew a Spine moment: "I may bend your precious airplane but I'll bring it down!"
  • Beta Couple: Janet, the flight attendant, and her ventriloquist boyfriend.
  • Billions of Buttons: A panning shot of the instruments on the plane, yet another bit that was copied directly for Airplane!.
  • Busman's Holiday: Martin Treleaven is introduced wooing his wife on a dinner date... in full pilot's uniform.
  • Canada, Eh?: Averted; although the setting and characters are Canadian, the film features none of the usual stereotypes.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Treleaven bums a smoke off the airport staff, leading to a line that was used (and endlessly riffed on) in Airplane!. ("Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.")
  • Contamination Situation: Food poisoning, presumed to be due to hiring a new caterer.
  • The Coats Are Off: Janet shed her uniform jacket when she is sent to assist the doctor.
  • Crash Course Landing: Stryker would like to point out that he flew single-engine planes during WWII; meanwhile, a commercial airplane has four engines. "It's an entirely different kind of flying altogether!"
  • Dark and Troubled Past / My Greatest Failure: The botched air raid in WWII has left Stryker very nearly unable to function.
  • Disaster Movie: A plane will crash unless a washed out pilot can save everyone.
  • Falling into the Cockpit: Stryker has to take the controls after both pilots are stricken with food poisoning.
  • Got Volunteered: Basically, Stryker pushed into taking over as there's no one else on the plane who can fly.
    Ellen: Ted, what are you doing? You can't fly this plane!
    Stryker: That's what I've been telling these people, Ellen. But they seem to have other ideas.
  • Grew a Spine: Stryker really comes into his own as he prepares to land the plane.
    Treleaven: [trying to get Stryker to wait for a break in the fog] Don't be a fool, Stryker! You know what a landing like this means, you more than anybody.
    Stryker: That's right, but we've got to come in... I'm coming in, I'm coming in right now!
  • ISO-Standard Urban Groceries: Ted comes home with the standard paper bag with a loaf of French bread sticking out.
  • Large Ham:
    • Sterling Hayden as Martin Treleaven. As one reviewer opined, Robert Stack's parody character in Airplane! is "barely even an exaggeration."
    • Similarly, Steve McCroskey in Airplane! very much copies the amped-up anxiousness of his counterpart here, Harry Burdick (played by Charles Quinlivan), though here it's Treleaven who "picked the wrong week to quit smoking."
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Joey Stryker is a Littlest Food Poisoning Patient.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything:
    • Stryker is the only passenger on the plane who is both not ill and has any flying experience at all.
    • Taken a step further when Ellen is brought up to handle the radio for him. This is even sillier than Airplane!, as in this film, Ellen is a passenger rather than a stewardess.
  • Narrator: William Conrad, in full "deadly serious" mode, recounts Ted's ill-fated World War II mission in the opening scene.
  • No Antagonist: Unless you count food poisoning and a Dark and Troubled Past as antagonists.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Los Angeles Rams star receiver Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch is fourth-billed as Captain Wilson. The strikingly handsome Hirsch had previously starred As Himself in 1953's Crazylegs and played the lead role in the 1955 prison drama Unchained (now best-known as the origin of the song "Unchained Melody").
  • Oh, Crap!: Stryker is prodded into the cockpit under the assumption that the co-pilot is ill, just to help with the radio. Then he gets up there and sees two empty chairs. "Both pilots?"
  • Overly-Nervous Flop Sweat: Stryker sure does get sweaty.
  • Plane Awful Flight: Half the passengers on a plane flight succumb to food poisoning, including the flight crew, forcing a former fighter pilot to take the controls and land the plane.
  • Refusal of the Call: Ted is convinced he can't do it, both because of his trauma, and that he's not trained for this kind of plane.
  • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: It is Ted's ability, and more pertinently his willingness, to step up and take charge of the situation which convinces Ellen to stay with him.
  • Screaming Woman: Which, yes, eventually leads to Get A Hold Of Yourself Man
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Ted lost most of his men on a mission, and is still bearing that guilt.
  • Taking the Kids: Ellen believes (understandably) that Ted's dithering and wishy-washiness makes him a bad role model for their son.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Stryker and Treleaven hold... less than fond memories of each other.
  • This Is No Time to Panic: Besides the inevitable Screaming Woman, one panicky idiot goes and flings open the cockpit door to reveal Stryker: "He's not a pilot!" Luckily, Dr. Baird is able to talk everyone down.
  • Time Skip: 11 years between Ted's mission in World War II and the present day.

Alternative Title(s): Zero Hour