James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich in No Highway in the Sky (1951)

Paranoia’s on the Wing in ‘No Highway in the Sky’

James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich star in an early airplane disaster picture.

Freshly Blu-rayed is an excellent drama that balances several elements into a suspenseful brew that’s generally considered an early airplane disaster picture.

Shot in England by 20th Century Fox, No Highway in the Sky (1951) showcases excellent performances by James Stewart as an absent-minded boffin convinced the plane he’s riding in is going to crash, Marlene Dietrich as the glamorous movie star who believes him, Glynis Johns as the stewardess who doesn’t know what to think, child actress Janette Scott as a lonely genius of a little girl, and a bevy of British character players as the chorus of officials exasperated by it all.

This movie has previously been issued as an on-demand DVD-R by 20th Century Fox. Reviewing that release, we praised the script and noted that director Henry Koster “handles all with the smooth, understated efficiency that also marks the great Georges Périnal’s photography (not forgetting the glamour lights on Dietrich). Koster had just directed Stewart in the hit Harvey ; although the two films are quite different, Stewart is still a man in his own befuddled world who happens to be right.”

Aside from the Blu-ray upgrade itself, this disc adds value with a friendly commentary by historian Jeremy Arnold in collusion with Koster’s son, Bob Koster. The latter shares a few anecdotes on making the film and discusses certain highlights of his father’s career, including how he fled Nazi Germany on his lunch hour while directing a film (and allegedly knocking out a Nazi bureaucrat at the bank with a telephone) and how he fared in France and Budapest.

After he and producer Joe Pasternak came to Universal, they made several hits with Deanna Durbin. Koster went to MGM and left in disappointment, eventually finding Fox more amenable. He also found Stewart amenable, for they made five films, which Arnold points out is more than Stewart made with any other director except Anthony Mann.

Bob points out a bust of a woman’s head in the background of one shot and explains that his father put that bust of his wife’s head, or one like it, in every one of his films. There’s a new game for film buffs.

He and Arnold observe that Henry Koster was a thorough professional who made many types of movie that generally made money and were honored with Oscar nominations, even though he was as even-tempered and likable as this commentary. Perhaps that’s why he tends to be undervalued.

RATING 8 / 10