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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » No Highway in the Sky (Blu-ray)
No Highway in the Sky (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // February 7, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted February 23, 2017 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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Previously available only as one of a three-film Fox Cinema Classics MOD DVD of James Stewart titles, No Highway in the Sky (1951) is one of the actor's best films, yet remains stubbornly under-acknowledged, lost among Stewart's ‘50s films for directors Anthony Mann and Alfred Hitchcock.

Made in Britain, it reunited Stewart with his Destry Rides Again co-star, Marlene Dietrich. It's a very unusual, highly suspenseful film full of unexpected plot and character developments.


Usually described as a disaster film, which it sort of is, No Highway in the Sky indeed may have been the first about a commercial passenger airliner in peril. But the movie primarily has other concerns, surprising in their handling and emphasis. Ultimately, it's a movie about coping with grief and a faith in the laws of science and mathematics.

Based on Nevil Shute's 1948 novel, No Highway (also the movie's British title), the film stars Stewart as Theodore Honey, an absent-minded aeronautical engineer, working on a theory that metal fatigue may cause catastrophic structural failure to the tail of the "Reindeer," passenger planes already in use, after 1,440 hours of flying time. The new alloy used in the plane's design, and Honey's authentic-sounding theories about its potential failure, place No Highway in the Sky into the realm of good science fiction as well.

Credible circumstances put Honey aboard a Reindeer to investigate the crash of the prototype in Nova Scotia. Though all of the other Reindeer currently in use are well under the 1,440 threshold, he's shocked to discover that the plane he's on was actually the second prototype, released to the airline because of high demand for the craft, and it's already logged 1,422 hours. Honey nervously informs the crew, who take precautions but also aren't about to accept that the plane might crash at any minute on his word alone.

The movie offers many surprises. Instead of playing a mere eccentric, Stewart's character is in fact far more complex and darker. He's a widower, single father (his daughter is played by 12-year-old Janette Scott), and veritable hoarder, his wife having died in a V-2 bombing. Honey deals with his grief badly, burying himself in his work and disconnecting from the rest of humanity, despite the harm it inflicts on his daughter. In one chilling scene he's asked why he didn't press harder to run his vibration tests on a continuous, 24-hour basis, rather than a mandated eight hours/day cycle. He calmly replies that mathematics have no deadlines, that he's in no rush, completely oblivious to all the lives at stake.

His grief aboard the possibly doomed flight prompts him to inform another passenger, movie star Monica Teasdale (Marlene Dietrich); he tells her of the one place a passenger might survive a crash (on the floor of the men's toilet, because of its location behind a bulkhead). This strange man alarms her until he explains that he feels compelled to try and help her. Earlier on the night his wife was killed, the couple saw one of Teasdale's movies - she being the late wife's favorite actress - so her last evening was a happy one, for which Honey is grateful.

Honey also (like his name) sweetly becomes involved with a stewardess, Marjorie (Glynis Johns) a widow herself, who believably is attracted to this determined man with an absolute faith in science, who's willing to do almost anything, no matter how ridiculous it makes him appear, to save the lives of others.

Despite its dated miniature effects of the plane in flight (an impressive full-size mockup was built of the plane on the ground), No Highway in the Sky is extraordinarily suspenseful, more so than the more popular The High and the Mighty, released soon after. It's such a beguilingly unusual movie that one wonders why it isn't more appreciated. Most of its qualities seem to have originated in Shute's novel. Interestingly though, yet another unusual aspect about the book was perhaps wisely omitted for the movie: Honey's daughter, Elspeth, has supernatural powers that through automatic writing help pinpoint evidence supporting Honey's theories.

The movie has a superb cast, with many great actors curiously uncredited. Fourth-billed Jack Hawkins dominates the first 15 minutes or so as metallurgist Dennis Scott, Honey's new boss. But Niall MacGinnis (as the pilot), Kenneth More (co-pilot), Maurice Denham (as Hawkins's tour guide), Wilfred Hyde-White (as the accident inspector), and Bessie Love (as a passenger) all go unacknowledged.

Video & Audio

Licensed from Fox, Kino's Blu-ray of Highway in the Sky is an excellent encoding of this 1.37:1, black-and-white production. The mono DTS-HD Master audio is pretty good, English subtitles are offered, and the disc is Region A encoded.

Extra Features

Supplements include an informative audio commentary track by Jeremy Arnold and Bob Koster, the son of director Henry Koster and himself an assistant director and unit production manager. Several trailers are also included.

Parting Thoughts

If you've not seen it, rush out and pick up No Highway in the Sky, an excellent film that deserves to be better known. Highly Recommended.






Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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