Movies From the Black Lagoon: Murder on Flight 502

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Murder on Flight 502 - 1975, Unrated
By Tom Doty

A transatlantic trip to London is jeopardized when a killer stalks first class in this made for television murder mystery that was quick to cash in on the disaster film formula that was all the rage in the mid seventies.
This one follows all of the rules of a disaster film. First you get introductions to the cast members who will soon be in peril. They are each shown arriving at the first class lounge area and include: Jack Marshall, a former rock star who is desperate for a comeback; Dr. Walker, a famous surgeon be called out to Europe to operate on a political refugee; Millard, a rich kid whose parents are packing him off without even bothering to see him off; and Mona; an alcohol soaked mystery writer who can't get off the ground till she's slugged down enough liquor to flatten a frat boy. Next we meet some shadier characters who include: Ray, an intense parent with a vendetta against Marshall; Otto, a hulking foreigner with an evil eye always set on Dr. Walker; and Baron, a dashing rogue who gets seated next to Mona and begins to stalk her like a lame doe.
The third element of a disaster film-a disaster of some kind- soon follows. However said problems are almost diverted when a smoke bomb at the departure lounge leads to the recovery of a note that was meant to be found later and tells of murders aboard the flight. This brings in the head of security, Davenport. He contacts the captain of the plane but the flight is too far out over the Atlantic to turn back.
Luckily they have a detective on board (how he could afford first class is beyond me) and they begin to search for the killer before he, or she, has even killed anyone. Despite the total leg up they got from the note they still fail to stop anything and people begin dying. It all leads to investigations into every one in first class by Davenport while the Captain tries to keep the peace by putting the detective in charge of the cabin. We soon learn that they overbooked first class with red herrings as everyone with a shady past turns out to be innocent. The killer turns out to be the last one you'd expect and a modicum of suspense is generated before the killer is finally caught.
Then there is a final reveal that totally got by me and gives you new found respect for the captain who figures out a diabolical detail about one of his stewardesses.
What makes this cheese fly is a solid cast of dependable stars who can sell their story lines in short scenes. The biggest expense here was definitely the cast and it pays off with a combination of aging stars (Ralph Bellamy, Dane Clark, Walter Pidgeon, and Theodore Bikel) alongside stars a few years past their prime (Hugh O'Brien, Robert Stack, Sonny Bono, and Danny Bonaduce) and stars to be (Farrah Fawcett-Majors). They don't get much help form the technical end of things however, so you get California standing in for New York and one of the worst model airplanes ever used for occasional reminders that they are flying through a storm. That said this one deliver son the high melodrama of a disaster film even though it is technically a who-done it? Actually this fits into a new category. Since they know someone is going to die this one makes history as the first "Who's gonna do it?" Either way you slice this cheese it still stinks less than the disaster films it is ripping off. All that and the disc (sold as a tribute to the late Ms. Fawcett) includes a quiz. That 's right folks you' d bets pay attention as there is a test on this material. If you fail you have to watch it all over again.
Best Line: "I'd like to help you ladies but somebody has to drive this airplane."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@pennswoods.net.