Thursday, August 11, 2011

In short: Wings of Danger (1952)

aka Dead on Course

Permanently scowling American Richard Van Ness (Zachary Scott) is working for a small British freight airline mostly operating between Guernsey and the UK main isle as a pilot, hiding away the fact he's having regular blackouts and will someday soon crash and take who knows how many other people with him. Ladies and gentleman, our hero!

The only other person who knows about Richard's little problem is his buddy - and brother of his girlfriend Avril (Naomi Chance) - the womanizing sleazebag (actually, the film pretends he's boyishly charming, but I just don't see that) Nick Talbot (Robert Beatty). Right in the first scene, oh so charming Nick uses this knowledge to blackmail Richard into letting him make a flight to Guernsey despite reports of really bad weather coming up.

Not surprisingly, Nick's plane doesn't survive the contact with said weather and ends up in the ocean, with Nick presumed dead.

Richard isn't completely sure about that, though. The pilot also has questions concerning the reason for Nick's actions. Did Nick risk and lose his life only to deliver some orchids to Alexia LaRoche (Kay Kendall), Guernsey's local femme fatale? Why is a weasely blackmailer now sneaking around Avril? And what does all this have to do with the smuggling and counterfeiting ring Richard's acquaintance Inspector Maxwell (Colin Tapley) is looking for? Richard won't be able to rest until these questions are answered.

Wings of Danger belongs among the number of noir films the UK's Hammer Studios produced before they came upon their Gothic horror gold mine. The film was - like quite a few movies Hammer made at this time - produced in cooperation with US cheap-skate movie mogul Robert Lippert, who provided Hammer with money and the American lead actor supposedly helpful in selling films in the US. What audience, after all, could resist the star power of Zachary Scott?

Not that Scott is doing a bad job here - he's quite good at playing the rude noir hero with the unpleasant voice (the Internet says "gravelly", I say "sounding as if he were permanently berating the people he's talking to"), and does even work the suicidal melancholia the script by John Gilling only hints at yet never develops deeply enough to be really convincing into his performance a little.

In fact, nobody concerned with Wings of Danger's production did a bad job at anything, everything's solid, professional, and well done. Unfortunately, everything is only solid, professional and well done, from Terence Fisher's - who could do so much more when he wanted - direction to the solidly paced script that always stops short of doing something exciting or surprising, leading to a film that is much blander than the sum of its parts should be, and that is disappointingly lacking in the feelings of desperation and nihilism, the free-floating weirdness as well as the heated emotions which make the difference between a mediocre noir and a good or a great one. Emotionally, Wings isn't dishonest, but too polite about everything to excite me.


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