AKA DEAD ON COURSE
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 73 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Richard Van Ness is a pilot working for Boyd Spencer Airlines, a freight-hauling outfit. When he tries to ground co-worker Nick Talbot from flying an unimportant cargo run in foul weather, he is blackmailed into allowing it because Nick threatens to tell their boss about Richard’s intermittent blackouts. When Nick’s plane apparently crashes near the Channel Islands, there are many nagging questions about the circumstances. Although he is innocent himself of wrongdoing, Richard decides to investigate and soon uncovers a web of blackmail, gold smuggling, and counterfeiting….
Based on a novel by Elleston Trevor the writer of the twice-filmed The Flight Of The Phoenix, and released by VCI under its British title rather than its American one Dead On Course, this mostly Guernsey-set [though not actually filmed there] ‘thriller’ is a middling affair that just about keeps the attention but doesn’t really have much to it. The storyline is fairly interesting but there’s so little suspense that I barely reacted when a plot twist came up two thirds of the way through. It’s not helped by often hilariously poor dialogue [though it means that it’s at least fun to listen to] and mostly indifferent acting, with Zachary Scott, despite being given some wisecracks, looking as if he’d rather be somewhere else as the hero, and certainly not sounding at ease doing a bit of film noir-style narration. His character is extremely unconvincing, seeming like a responsible type but still flying when he suffers from black-outs, something which seems like it’s going to become an important plot device but is only used once during a reasonable car/bike chase. Hammer horror fans will notice the name of John Gilling as the screenwriter, but the script is ludicrously clunky throughout and, by the time the bad guys died in on off-screen plane crash and a seemingly tacked on happy coda came along just when the film seemed to have finished, I really didn’t care too much.
There are some nonetheless a few interesting elements in a film which seems influenced by The Third Man, like a vein of post-war disillusionment and even trauma, with a hero who seems to have a death wish and won’t commit to his girlfriend because he fears his next black-out could kill him. She’s poorly played by Naomi Chance, and it’s actually Kay Kendall as an under-used femme fatale who steals the show female-wise. There’s a reasonable score by Malcolm Arnold, and there are plenty of ingredients here for a decent thriller, but they just fail to come together in a productive way, and, considering his handling of this and the previous Hammer movie, you wouldn’t imagine that director Terence Fisher would go on to become one of the all-time great creators of screen Gothic horror for the studio.