This is a man's picture, despite Linda Darnell's second billing. She plays her part perfectly, but she's not a main force in the story --- and she won't be the one that you remember. Dana Andrews plays Capt. Ted Stryker, an ex-flier from the war. He can't get over his wartime experiences, and he is having trouble just holding a job. It's been ten years since the end of the war, and Stryker hasn't been in a plane since. When his wife and son board a plane (intending to leave him), Stryker manages to get the last seat on the plane just before take off.
Disaster strikes on board (I won't spoil the whole story here!), and both pilots are rendered unconscious. The only man on board with any flying experience is Stryker --- and he's scared stiff. All of his flying has been done in a single-engine fighter, whereas this is a four-engine passenger plane. He takes the pilot's seat, and the tensest fifty minutes of film begins.
Sterling Hayden plays Capt. Martin Treleaven, the senior pilot at Vancouver Airport. His job is to talk Dana Andrews down to the ground. I've never had a high opinion of Hayden as an actor (just watch him in Prince Valiant to see what I mean!), but this is an amazing performance. Hayden and Andrews are a perfect team as they battle problems out over the radio.
We've watched the movie twice now, and it is no less captivating the second time. Wow! Really a fabulous film, and it's a shame that it's forgotten. It does key you up, and the last ten minutes is kind of hard to breathe through!
The second film that we watched was an Alan Ladd Western called Branded. No, it's nothing like the TV show of the same name. Co-stars are Mona Freeman and Charles Bickford (one of my all-time favorite character actors --- thanks to his role as "Mr. Clancy" in The Farmer's Daughter).
This is now one of my top three favorite Western films, but it's quite different from the average plot. You won't be able to guess this one as it goes along, and besides the tried-and-true hint of the white hat and black hat --- well, you won't get anymore help on figuring the plot.
Alan Ladd begins the story as a small-time crook and gunman (despite his white hat --- which does hint at a happy ending). His background is a complete mystery, since he had no parents and has no name. Such a sad upbringing for our hero is a Western form of vindication for his less than legal actions at the start of the film.
He lands a job on the biggest ranch in Texas (which is owned by Charles Bickford) --- intending to commit his crime against the family there. Of course, he didn't realize that the daughter was so beautiful and wonderful. He is smitten, and that changes things. I won't spoil the plot, as this is a fabulous story and worth viewing. To tell any more would be to spoil the ending.
This is not the typical Western. No saloon girl. Only one short fist fight (which is necessary for the plot --- not just put in for violence), and no gory shooting. It's got horse chases, a stampede, a showdown and plenty of excitement. We were positive that everyone was just going to die at the end, but it actually has the happiest ending we've ever seen in a Western! I can't recommend it enough! If you weren't a fan of Alan Ladd before, then you certainly will be after this one.