Thursday, March 25, 2010


All I ever knew about "Wrong Way" Corrigan was that he was a pilot who flew the wrong way and somehow got famous for it. This biopic, released less than a year after the actual flight, stars the real Douglas Corrigan as himself, and his story is moderately interesting (though as an actor, Corrigan is a total amateur). When Corrigan was a young boy, his dad promised to buy him his own airplane, but dad left the family one day and never returned--three mildly rowdy kids were too much for his nerves, apparently. Years later, working as an aviation mechanic and a traveling barnstormer, Corrigan dreams of becoming a airline pilot, and though he tries, the qualifications for the job keep changing (number of hours in the air, college degree). His buddy (Paul Kelly), a shell-shocked WWI pilot with a weak ticker, helps him out, though is sometimes more of a hindrance, as when he gets them both fired when they take two girls on a prop plane joyride that ends with a crash landing. Corrigan perseveres in the face of tremendous obstacles and soon has his own ramshackle plane that he hopes to fly across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland. But because he has extra gas tanks installed, blocking his line of vision, the federal aviation folks (embodied by Robert Armstrong) won't clear him for his flight. To show he can do it, he flies from Los Angeles to New York non-stop, but Armstrong insists he return to California. Instead, Corrigan takes off and "mistakenly" goes the wrong way, over the Atlantic; despite stormy weather and a gas leak, he makes it to Ireland, and when he returns to New York, he gets a hero's ticker-tape parade.

This is a B-movie and it shows, not just in Corrigan's wooden performance (though Corrigan is boyish enough to carry off playing himself as a younger man) but in the lack of any exciting aerial footage--the take-offs and landings look like they're most done with miniature models. Kelly and Armstrong share the screen with a steady stream of character actors in small roles, including J.M. Kerrigan as his dad, Dorothy Peterson as his mom (who dies just before Corrigan can fulfill her request to see him dressed up in a nice suit), Eddie Quillian as his brother, Gene Reynolds (later a director of TV shows like My Three Sons and MASH) as the teenaged Douglas, and Donald McBride as one of Corrigan's bosses. You may also recognize Grady Sutton, George Chandler, Frank Faylen and Louis Jean Heydt in single-line parts. Interesting as a novelty. [TCM]

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