Jet Storm is an aviation disaster movie but in several interesting ways it differs from most movies of this type. This British production was released in 1959.
Thirty-two passengers are about to board an airliner in London en route to New York. One of the passengers, Ernest Tilley (Richard Attenborough), seems a bit distracted. He has good reason to be. He has just spotted a man about to board the same aircraft. He has been searching for this man for two years. He knew the man would be taking this flight but now he has confirmation. The man is James Brock (George Rose) and he was responsible for the death of Ernest Tilley’s seven-year-old daughter in a hit-and-run accident.
Not long after take-off two other passengers overhear Tilley talking to his wife. What they hear disturbs them enough to cause them to inform the pilot, Captain Bardow (Stanley Baker). Tilley was telling his wife that James Brock was about to die.
This movie is a skillful exercise in slow-burning suspense. At first no-one takes Tilley seriously. They assume he is merely making empty verbal threats. It gradually dawns on the passengers and crew that Tilley is dead serious and that his threats are anything but empty.
And can the passengers who keep their nerve prevent those who have lost theirs from doing something foolish that will result in everyone’s death?
If the airliner and those aboard are to be saved it’s going to require a more subtle and indirect approach.
Richard Attenborough made a career out of playing vulnerable and/or damaged characters and he’s wise enough to underplay his performance, which has the effect of making Tilley much more menacing. Tilley is just the sort of quiet inoffensive little man who might blow up an aircraft. Stanley Baker is excellent, as always. The support cast is a galaxy of wonderful British character actors. They’re all good and it’s almost unfair to single anyone out although special mention must be made of Dame Sybil Thorndike and also Elizabeth Sellars’ performance as the cool and aristocratic Inez Barrington.
Writer-director Cy Endfield went on to achieve huge success a few years later with Zulu. There are in fact intriguing parallels between the two movies - in both cases you have a potentially disastrous situation in which courage alone is not enough to save the day. Courage is certainly required, but it has to be combined with coolness and discipline.
Jet Storm is not just one of the best aviation disaster movies it’s also a complex and engrossing psychological drama. Very entertaining and highly recommended.