Director: Charles Frend
VCI Entertainment

After his unforgettable second turn as Van Helsing in Hammer’s BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960), cinema icon Peter Cushing strayed from appearing in horror films for a period of a few years. This was on the suggestion of his wife, who feared that his further typecasting in these kinds of pictures was inevitable (he would of course return soon enough to his most famous role of The Baron in EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN), and ultimately it was. Rarely seen, TROUBLE IN THE SKY (aka CONE OF SILENCE) is one of the first of his non-genre efforts from this period, and its supporting cast plays like a “who’s who” of Hammer Films thespians.

Veteran British pilot Captain George Gort (Bernard Lee, several years before immortalization as “M” in the James Bond series) crashes his passenger jet on takeoff, and the blunder finds him in front of a court inquiry. As Gort’s previous flying record is immaculate, he is allowed to continue to pilot, but his peers make sure to keep a close eye on him. Gort’s daughter Charlotte (Elizabeth Seal, VAMPIRE CIRCUS) believes her father to be innocent and totally competent in his job, seeking the help of examiner Captain Dallas (Michael Craig, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, VAULT OF HORROR), who at first mistakes her as a reporter, starting a soon-to-be blossoming romance off on a wrong foot. As Gort continues to pilot aircrafts, a subsequent flight proves even more tragic, but perhaps there is more than human error getting in the way of this airline’s good name.

Somewhat talky with a lot of technical jargon thrown into the screenplay (based on actual events), TROUBLE IN THE SKY is a fairly straightforward drama aided by a top notch cast of familiar Brit character actors. There’s several court room scenes featuring a career-waning George Sanders (whose billing is fairly low on the totem pole) as a lawyer who uses a model airplane to recreate the initial accident and intimidate poor Gort, well played by Lee. Sanders must have shot all his scenes in a day, as they all take place on one set. There’s a bit of (and I mean a bit) of the disaster genre reflected here (a decade before Hollywood’s AIRPORT) when on one of the flights, a hail storm causes a cracking cockpit window to eventually burst, prompting our heroic pilots to isolate it with a cushion! Most of the picture deals with the plight of the aging Gort, and how his mostly stuffy co-workers deal with the controversy, as Captain Dallas puts the moves on his unmarried daughter.

Second-billed Cushing plays Captain Judd, who gets some dirt on Gort through a blonde airline hostess (Delphi Lawrence, THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH), and does his best to out him, as he obviously thinks he’s past it (as they say in Britain). Cushing looks cool in a captain’s uniform, playing the character as a chain smoker with his usual onscreen suaveness, but also an air of superiority that makes Judd somewhat villainous. Also in the very impressive cast is Andre Morrell (PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES), Noel Willman (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE), Charles Tingwell (DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS), Maine Martland (THE REPTILE), Jack Hedley (THE ANNIVERSARY), Charles Lloyd Pack (HORROR OF DRACULA), Anthony Newlands (SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN) and Hedger Wallace (TORTURE GARDEN). If that wasn’t enough, horror fans with keen eyes will spot Gerald Sim (DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN) and Geoffrey Bayldon (THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD) in very brief bits.

When Universal Pictures released TROUBLE IN THE SKY theatrically in the U.S. in 1961, the picture was short some 16 minutes. Presented on DVD here as part of VCI’s “Best Of British Classics” series, the film is in its uncut 91-minute form. The only downfall is that its 2.35:1 aspect ratio has been reduced to full frame. Although beginning and end titles are widescreen, the rest of the picture has been cropped (with a slight letterboxing) with most of the picture information missing on the sides. Other than that, the black and white image fairs well, with minimal blemishes and surprisingly, not much in the way of grain. The mono English audio track is in fine shape, and there are no extras on the disc, except for a standard chapter menu. (George R. Reis)