Skyjacked (1972)

After a bomb threat is found scrawled on a mirror aboard a flight, Skyjacked briefly turns into an unenthusiastic game of Hollywood Squares meets Clue. Which one of the various 1970s personalities (it seems disingenuous to refer to such familiar faces as Nicholas Hammond, Leslie Uggams and Rosey Grier as superstars) could it have been?

Was it musician Greer who also bought his cello a first class ticket? Was it the hot hippie chick played by erstwhile Laurie Partridge Susan Dey, who was also inexplicably in first class? Or could it have been one of the two slumming screen legends, Jeanne Craine (Dangerous Crossing, Cheaper By the Dozen) or Walter Pidgeon (Mrs. Parkington, Mrs. Mininver) also aboard?

But before you can even seriously entertain the notion that it was Mariette Hartley in the lavatory with the lipstick, it becomes painfully obvious that it was the heavily drinking, bennies popping Vietnam vet who becomes increasingly sweaty and wild eyed as the flght progresses.

James Brolin plays Sgt. Jerome K. Weber and if real life vets won’t be too impressed that the film vaguely attempts to use their experience in trying to readjust to life back in the States after a tour in Nam as a lazy shorthand to explain a crazed hijacker’s motive, crazed hijackers themselves will be similarly unimpressed with how they are portrayed, the over-the-top facial contortions that Brolin uses during the last half of the film, prompting more chuckles from the audience then serious dread at his intentions.

Skyjacked‘s biggest laughs though come from the couple of flashbacks that are absurdly shoehorned into the tense situation aboard Global Airways Flight 502. You’ll no doubt wonder while watching if somehow the movie came complete with early 1970s commericials for Old Style Beer and Summer’s Eve, what with the smiling outdoorsy shots of star Charlton Heston and his fling with head stewardess Angie, Angie’s good times with her other boyfriend, co-pilot Sam, and Heston’s reuniting with his wife (who we only ever meet in a single flashback).

Completely out of place with the tone of the rest of the film, it is, much like the unexplained motives of Weber, another of example of the movie’s storytelling deficiencies. The meaningful glances exchanged in the airport prior to take off between Heston and Yvette Mimieux’s Angie effectively told us far more about these characters that the goofy shots of him grinning like a mad bomber and pushing her on a swing.

Even worse, the failed risk taken by using these flashbacks has zero bearing on the rest of the film anyway! Captain O’Hara and Sam just grimly do their jobs like you expect mature adults to. They do them poorly of course, but at least in between bouts of exposing a hundred passengers to possible death through their and the airline’s utter lack of observing even the most primitive security protocols, they aren’t embarrassing themselves by catfighting in the cockpit over the moody Head Stew.

You can criticize Captain O’Hara for mindlessly ordering the ticket agent to just move Sgt. Weber from standby to first class with zero paperwork, but is it really his responsibility to screen Weber’s luggage? With the detonator, pistol, sub-machine gun and vest full of hand grenades, I can’t imagine that there was room for much of anything else in his carry on bags. At the very least, all that hardware should have put him over the weight limit and caused him an overage charge.

Through no fault of its own, much of Skyjacked comes off as painfully dated. The cockpit is Grand Central Station with everyone coming and going as they please, the hijacker actually wants to be flown to Russia instead of crashing the plane, the passengers don’t bum rush the guy en masse, but attack Weber one on one where they are immobilized by his beginner’s kung fu, the government’s plan is to place an agent in the cargo hold while the plane is refueling in Anchorage where he almost freezes to death, and Captain O’Hara relaxes by smoking a pipe during the flight.

Heston is certainly the guy you want in a movie like this as his squinting, sneering and spewing out his lines with believable gusto no matter how silly (“Nobody dies on my airplane. Not me, not him, not them. Not even you, you son of a bitch!”) means there is at least one character you can buy into.

As is standard for these 1970s air disaster films, the vast majority of the cast is merely decorative wallpaper – the pregant woman giving birth, whether Rosey’s cello is okay, and the cancellation of the senator and his son’s fishing trip for an unexplained meeting with the president – just routine background noise for a cinematic flight of the era. One can only assume that Heston enjoyed the ease of a shoot that involved mostly sweaty close ups on a cockpit set since he appeared in Airport 1975 only two years later.

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