No Highway in the Sky is one of the classic aviation adventure/disaster movies of the 1950s. This 20th Century-Fox production was made in England and it does have a very British feel to it.
The hero is Dr Theodore Honey (James Stewart), an eccentric American scientist working for the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Eccentric is perhaps not a strong enough word. Dr Honey is completely bonkers. He also happens to be a genius. He works in the metallurgy department and his current hobby horse is metal fatigue. Dr Honey has done some calculations and he has come to the conclusion that after 1440 hours the metal in the tail section of the new Rutland Reindeer passenger aircraft will become totally brittle and the entire tail section will fall off.
His superiors are inclined to be sceptical although his immediate boss Dennis Scott (Jack Hawkins) can’t help feeling somewhat worried. Although he shares the general view that Dr Honey is in most areas of life as mad as a hatter he respects Honey’s scientific abilities. He’s also come to regard the eccentric scientist with a certain amount of affection. He knows that when it comes to science Dr Honey deserves to be taken seriously.
The people at the RAE have no wish to cause a panic or to lessen public confidence in British aviation but at the same time they are keenly aware of their responsibilities to the public. The matter has to be taken seriously. Dr Honey’s tests on a Reindeer tail section, intended to simulate the effects of 1440 hours flying time, are accelerated and Dr Honey is despatched to Labrador to try to find that missing tail section.
With two women fussing over him the flight could have been quite pleasant if only the flight engineer had not revealed a very worrying piece of information - this particular Reindeer is actually the second prototype and it has amassed a considerable number of flying hours in test flights. In fact it has flown approximately 1440 hours already. Which means that if Dr Honey is right that tail section could fall off at any moment. Dr Honey is a man with few social skills but underneath his dithering and helpless exterior there is a surprising degree of steely determination. He is not going to sit back and allow the plane to crash without trying to do something about it. It’s not his own life he’s particularly concerned about. He just can’t bear the thought that if the aircraft crashes Monica Teasdale will be killed. And his admiration for the actress borders on worship. He also can’t bear the idea that the pretty young stewardess who has been so kind to him would be killed. He must do something. What he eventually does so is unconventional to say the least, and not the sort of thing that mild-mannered scientists from the Royal Aircraft Establishment generally do.
Glynis Johns is equally good, wisely eschewing sentimentality. Jack Hawkins is good but under-utilised. Especially impressive is Janette Scott as Honey’s 12-year-old daughter Elspeth. Elspeth is very bit as odd and socially challenged as her father but their mutual devotion is touching without being sentimentalised.
The relationship between Honey and the two women is handled in an interesting manner. It’s not a conventional romantic triangle although there is a romantic angle to it. The interactions between the two women are particularly interesting, The temptation to add an element of cattiness must have been overwhelming but it’s resisted. Monica and Marjorie, despite being very different women, can’t help liking and respecting each other. There’s some tension but they’re both grown-ups and they deal with it.
The movie was based on the bestselling novel by Nevil Shute, an author now largely forgotten but immensely popular in 1951. Henry Koster directed, and very competently.
Fox’s made-on-demand DVD offers a very satisfactory transfer without any extras.