Air Hordern

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-11h44m11s131

Michael Hordern gave the wing commander a very hard stare indeed.

After enjoying Leslie Norman’s work on X: THE UNKNOWN, we popped THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP into the Panasonic and let her fly. I guess Norman is one of the missing links between Ealing and Hammer, but he never caught on at Hammer (he was fired from the staggering LOST CONTINENT), unlike Seth Holt whose taste for sensation made him arguably a better fit there than he had been as a producer at Ealing (where he had produced THE LADYKILLERS, an atypically subversive work).

But, excitingly, TNMNCU *does* have supernatural elements, though they are not of a suitably sensational quality to satisfy the House of Gore. The place: Hong Kong. Michael Hordern has a strange dream, which he tells to Denholm Elliott, who blabs it to a group of associates at a party. The dream involves a flight crashing on the Japanese coast. And the next day, all the circumstances of that dream begin to come true. Elliot, a heroic airman who cracked up after the Battle of Britain, is on the flight, as is his boss Alexander Knox, who has never flown before, and Michael Redgrave and Sheila Sim and various others. The exact makeup of the party changes at the last minute and comes to exactly resemble the dream. Then the radio breaks down, just like in the dream. The plane is lost in thick cloud… fuel is running low…

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-11h44m48s11

The elaborate model shots are recognisable as just that, but they’re very impressive all the same.

The screenplay is by R.C. Sherriff, a James Whale associate who wrote JOURNEY’S END and worked on all the famous Whale horror films after FRANKENSTEIN. This manifests not so much in the uncanny element, as in the extreme Britishness and the unexpected dashes of humour — the ending, in particular, is a delight, a left-field gag like the abrupt laugh that finishes Hitchcock’s second MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH. Hordern delivers it with supreme aplomb.

Until then, it’s a slow simmer of suspense. It’s not as if that much is going wrong with the flight for most of the movie — it’s just the creeping dread as reality takes on more and more of the qualities of that damned (prophetic?) dream. An abstract kind of fear with a very concrete smash-up waiting at the end of it.

The film also deserves credit for its unusual structure: we begin after the crash, with search parties scouring Japan in search of wreckage, but then Hordern turns up and says they’re looking in the wrong place altogether. Refusing to say how he knows, he simply says that he knows. Being Michael Hordern, he’s very convincing, and the search may be diverted…

Then we go into flashback to the dinner party before the flight, and Hordern is prompted to tell his dream. Then we get a flashback within a flashback showing a dream sequence. Possibly a first for British cinema.

vlcsnap-2015-04-18-11h45m37s246

And then we get to enjoy Knox’ tight, nervous grin, Redgrave’s slowly accentuated voice-quaver, Elliott’s glassy-eyed sense of subdued panic… The whole movie is a single sizzling slow fuse, ably illustrating Polanski’s dictum that “anxiety has no upper limit,” while the passengers delight their author by passing the time in feverish meditations upon free will and predestination. A philosophical disaster movie.

Advertisements

6 Responses to “Air Hordern”

  1. The Original Philosophical Disaster movie

  2. A very good Prospero, Hordern. I was less taken with his Lear, some of director Jonathan Miller’s ideas, though interesting, seemed to get in the way of the emotion.

  3. A very fine, even iconic, Prospero. I remember when it was broadcast, I was enthralled throughout, although quite a bit of the proddy seems rather naff now. (Not a patch on a brilliant RSC production at the Barbican, sometime in the mid-1980s, with Jacobi at his barnstorming best as Prospero, and Mark Rylance as Ariel, plus the gorgeous Bob Peck (RIP) as Caliban, abs rippling in a skimpy loincloth, his hair plaited in long dreads. Nonetheless at one point my companion whispered in my ear ‘Lurex has proved the death of the RSC’s wardrobe department.’)
    The two best filmic versions of The Tempest are without doubt Jarman’s and Forbidden Planet.

  4. Also William Wellman’s Yellow Sky.

    I would have loved to see Powell’s, which was to star James Mason, with Frankie Howerd as comedy relief.

    I’d never thought of Bob Peck as a dreamboat, but he was a superb minimalist actor.

  5. It’s a gay thing, dear. :-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: