Friday, December 05, 2014


A plane takes off on a direct flight from Los Angeles to Washington DC. One of the stewardesses is engaged to the co-pilot; the pilot is upset that he's still flying a prop plane, but he's been promised that his next plane will be a jet. On board is Dr. Morris (Dayton Lummis), a nuclear scientist and inventor of a bomb that will be able to destroy an entire country at once. With him is his assistant Marcia Paxton (Paula Raymond), a math genius, and Tom Endicott (Craig Hill), a rocket expert. All three have been summoned to Washington for a secret meeting about the new bomb. At one point, a nervous man named Walter approaches Morris and encourages him to use his bomb to wipe out our enemies (by which he presumably means Russia). Halfway through the flight, the plane suddenly begins ascending as though caught in an updraft, and the pilots can't stop it. They lose radio contact and vanish from ground radar, and soon the oxygen is so thin, everyone passes out—except for Walter who leaps from the plane in panic. Eventually, Morris, Tom and Paula (pictured at right) awaken, realize the plane has stopped, and discover they are in a foggy realm beyond their reality. A figure called the Examiner tells them they are on trial, being judged by future generations whose existence is threatened by this new bomb.

By this time, I flashed on the notoriously bad movie THE STORY OF MANKIND, the entirety of which is such a trial involving mankind and a new bomb, with the whole history of humanity playing out over the course of the film. Here, the trial just takes a few minutes. I won't spoil the ending, which, if you've seen an episode of The Twilight Zone, you'll figure out anyway, but it manages to be both mishandled and satisfying. Actually, like many a B-movie from the 40s and 50s, this is best approached as a TV episode. The film is widescreen but has a bland TV aesthetic and very little in the way of thrills or special effects; still, at 70 minutes, it's watchable. The acting is 50s TV-style, though leading man Craig Hill comes through with a solid performance that is neither as bland as one might expect nor as intense as one might fear. The odd thing about the Examiner's argument is that the blame is placed here not so much on politicians or the military, but on the idea people, the scientists. More imagination could have helped the fantasy segment near the end, but the Examiner and the jury are informally dressed as average earthlings, and the set is just rocks and fog. The Examiner is played by Gregory Morton, whom I recognized as the Russian conductor in BYE BYE BIRDIE. Overall, a predictable novelty. [Netflix streaming]

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