NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY Leaves Its Stars Stranded in Mid-Air

Even die-hard classic cinema fans may find it hard to like this justly forgotten drama.

No Highway in the Sky, a rather obscure James Stewart-Marlene Dietrich vehicle, has been classified as an airplane disaster film. Yet, the film ranks so very, very low in airplane disaster films, even by the sub-genre’s elementary standards. It’s not that the film doesn’t have many of the necessary ingredients needed for such a venture. There’s a skeptical flight crew, both sympathetic and first-time stewardesses, and a hero with information very few take seriously. However, what makes the film rank so low among its kind is the fact that there’s never any real disaster which takes place, making the final result understandably lacking. In the end, the sole interesting aspect about No Highway in the Sky is the opportunity to see how much air travel has changed since the 1950s.

In the film, Stewart plays Theodore Honey, a scientist who calculates that the flight he is on that is bound for Montreal is set to crash due to the plane’s age and the amount of miles it has traveled in its lifetime. While most of the crew, including good-natured stewardess Marjorie (Glynis Johns), humor him due to his reputation, only the beautiful film star Monica Teasdale (Dietrich), who is also traveling to Montreal, takes Theodore seriously.

As if the fact that there isn’t a single moment of breathtaking suspense to be had in No Highway in the Sky weren’t bad enough, that disappointment is the last in a number of other elements which make the film not worth bothering about. To begin with, the nature of Theodore as a character is so incredibly maddening, not just in his social awkwardness, but in his inability to read everyday life, including the simplest of aspects, such as trying to pour sherry into a glass from a bottle which has been empty for who knows how long. At the same time, the moments in which the audience discovers Theodore’s home life are both depressing and unnerving. Widowed, and forced to raise his daughter Elspeth (Janette Scott) alone in a home which doesn’t even offer guests a free place to sit, Theodore has carved out a safe, if incredibly sheltered and stifling world, for him and his child, which has begun to turn her into her father. With no thrills to offer its audience, No Highway in the Sky eventually opts for uncomfortable soap opera beginning with the scene in which Theodore returns home after talking with authorities post-flight to find Marjorie in her bathrobe with a lobster dinner ready for him. Not long after that, the film launches into light Douglas Sirk melodrama with a triangle developing between Claudia, Marjorie, and Theodore (of which he is unsurprisingly clueless).

Once Dietrich enters the picture, it becomes more than apparent that No Highway in the Sky was conceived as nothing more than just another excuse to cast two box-office stars in a film that is the very definition of throwaway. It’s an old Hollywood practice which is sadly still being used today (just look at any Nicholas Sparks novel which reaches the screen). While such vehicles are sometimes saved by their popular stars, here both Stewart and Dietrich are so out of their element, it’s just sad. The main problem facing the pair is that the script doesn’t really give either of them anything interesting to do. No Highway in the Sky gives them a number of soliloquies with the intent of providing the film with some depth, but it’s really a small excuse for close-ups. Hollywood movies are full of these kinds of pairings (Sylvester Stallone and Sharon Stone in The Specialist, Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez in Parker), yet No Highway in the Sky is the most painful kind since there are moments when the two charismatic stars fail to sell the feeble film even to themselves.

In spite of the movie’s lifelessness, Stewart at least has an actual character to play, justifying his participation in the film, even if his character is no fun whatsoever. Dietrich meanwhile has so little to do, it’s embarrassing. Why cast such a high-profile actress in a nothing of a part? Surely Stewart’s presence alone would have been enough to get audiences into the theater. Johns is the only one truly worth watching, providing such a warm and lovely presence as she wonderfully projects some great empathy which the film totally doesn’t deserve.

No Highway in the Sky doesn’t really fit anywhere. It’s not romantic enough to be love story and it’s not exciting enough to be a thriller or an action film. With no disaster on hand, this can also hardly be classified as an actual disaster film. Despite many dialogue-heavy scenes, the movie also fails to register as a character study, leading to the question: What IS the point of No Highway in the Sky? This is one of those classic films which come on when a movie lover is looking for something to drift in and out of with no consequence whatsoever. Still, there are plenty of folks who would genuinely lap this kind of film up, even if they won’t remember it after.

No Highway in the Sky is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Get it at Amazon:
No Highway In The Sky – [Blu-ray] | [Instant]

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