Starring: Dana Andrews, Linda Darnell, Sterling Hayden
Director: Sterling Hayden
Running Time: 81 mins
Zero Hour! is an American film about a former World War II fighter pilot who boards a passenger plane to Vancouver, which soon lingers on the brink of chaos when both pilots fall ill.
The film that inspired the comedy classic Airplane!, Zero Hour! is a thoroughly entertaining disaster movie, and all the more fun if you know Airplane! off by heart.
On the surface, Zero Hour! seems full of all the disaster movie tropes you’d expect from Hollywood. It’s generic, a little bit far-fetched and ultimately fairly predictable, but there’s something delightfully enjoyable about a movie so grounded in the tropes of its genre.
What’s more, this film was released long before those clichés became cemented in Hollywood lore. As a result, it does feel a little more fresh and dynamic than you may expect, and delivers great thrills from start to finish.
With a charismatic, Cary Grant-esque performance from Dana Andrews as retired fighter pilot Ted Striker, along with a collection of entertaining fellow passengers on board the flight doomed to crash, there’s a lot of fun to be had here, almost like a simplified version of a great Hitchcock thriller.
However, for me, the biggest joy of watching Zero Hour! is seeing all the parallels with one of my favourite comedies of all: Airplane!. The 1980 parody hit was based almost entirely off the plot of Zero Hour!, using the same character names, dialogue and twists, but all in a brilliantly jokey way. Both films were made by Paramount, so there were no copyright problems, which means that the two are almost identical throughout.
Now, I’ve seen Airplane! more times than I can count, so watching Zero Hour! is like a strange parallel universe, where the set-up to all those classic jokes are right there for the taking, but this movie decides to do it all a little bit more seriously.
Perhaps it wasn’t the intention of the original filmmakers to have Zero Hour! overshadowed by its later parody, but it really helps to make this film a uniquely entertaining watch if you’ve seen (and love) Airplane!.
Overall, Zero Hour! is a lot of fun throughout. On the one hand, it’s a well-made, enjoyably simple disaster movie with charismatic performances and high-octane blockbuster clichés. On the other hand, if you’ve seen Airplane!, then this film will be an undiscovered joy for you, as you watch the same story unfold, but without any of the classic jokes you’re expecting. So, that’s why I’m giving Zero Hour! a 7.3.