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FATE IS THE HUNTER (director: Ralph Nelson; screenwriters: novel by Ernest K. Gann/Harold Medford; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Robert Simpson; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Glenn Ford (Sam McBane), Nancy Kwan (Sally Fraser), Rod Taylor (Captain Jack Savage), Suzanne Pleshette (Martha Webster), Wally Cox (Ralph Bundy), Nehemiah Persoff (Ben Sawyer), Dorothy Malone (Lisa Bond), Jane Russell (Cameo), Mark Stevens (Mickey Doolan), Max Showalter (Dan Crawford, reporter), Constance Towers (Peg Burke), Bert Freed (Dillon, lawyer), Dort Clark (Wilson), Robert Wilkie (Stillman), Howard St. John (Mark Hutchins); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Aaron Rosenberg; 20th Century-Fox; 1964)
“It’s watchable in light of the recent mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian flight.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The plotless airplane disaster movie is based on the novel of flier author Ernest K. Gann, who based many of his tales around the role of fate in flying. The author was so unhappy with the film that he demanded his name be removed from the credits. The weak and annoying screenplay is by Harold Medford. Director Ralph Nelson(“Charly”/”Lilies of the Field”/”Father Goose”) direction is marred by too much useless dialogue and tedium, even though it’s watchable in light of the recent mysterious disappearance of the Malaysian flight.

The grim Sam McBane (Glenn Ford) is the competent operations director of Consolidated Airlines, up for a promotion to vice president, who finds himself investigating the crash of his company’s airplane in which 53 people are killed and his womanizing war-time best friend pilot Captain Jack Savage (Rod Taylor) is accused of pilot error. After leaving LA en-route to Seattle, the plane develops engine trouble and heads back to the LA airport, but it loses radio contact and crashes on the piers of a deserted beach. The stewardess Martha Webster (Suzanne Pleshette) is the sole survivor.

The Civil Aeronautics Board and the FBI investigate and rule out sabotage and any mechanical malfunction, and believe the problem is pilot error when reports come back that Jack was seen drinking just before the flight. The suspense builds as Sam refuses to accept the federal investigators findings about his war-time buddy and believes there was another cause for the accident, and risks his career to conduct an investigation that hinges on the possibility that strange coincidences of fate caused the tragedy.

In a flashback we watch Jane Russell singing to the troops in a war zone and Wally Cox acting as Jack’s frightened wartime radio man, Bundy, who refuses to bail out of a troubled airplane that Jack manages to safely land.

Warning: spoiler to follow in next paragraph.

The suspense builds when the crashed plane is put together again and Sam duplicates the original flight to find the cause of the accident- which turns out to be by a cup of coffee spilling over an instrument panel box and short-circuiting the wiring.

Other worthy supporting cast members include Mark Stevens as the alcoholic war-time pilot friend of Sam’s, Dorothy Malone as the spoiled heiress and one-time girlfriend of Jack’s, and Nancy Kwan as Jack’s latest conquest.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”