No Highway in the Sky (1951)

No Highway in the Sky (1951)

“People must be someone else’s concern; I can’t let it be mine, Mr. Scott!”

After explaining to his new boss (Jack Hawkins) that a type of airplane known as the “Reindeer” will fail after a certain number of flight hours (due to metal fatigue), a widowed aeronautical engineer (Jimmy Stewart) leaves his self-sufficient daughter (Janette Scott) at home while traveling to investigate a crash. When onboard his flight, he discovers he’s on a Reindeer that is near its presumably fatal number of flying hours, and tries to convince a kind stewardess (Glynis Johns), a famous actress (Marlene Dietrich), and the captain (Niall McGinnis) that they need to ground the plane — but he struggles to get anyone to believe him.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Airplanes and Pilots
  • Glynis Johns Films
  • Jack Hawkins Films
  • Jimmy Stewart Films
  • Marlene Dietrich Films
  • Niall MacGinnis Films
  • “No One Will Believe Me!”
  • Scientists

Jimmy Stewart is perfectly cast as a socially awkward ‘boffin’ in Nevil Shute’s 1948 novel No Highway, which was scarily prescient in its diagnosis of metal fatigue as a potentially fatal characteristic of new aircraft. We’re kept on the edge of our seats from moment to moment as we wait to learn what will happen. Given that we’re clearly meant to sympathize with this eccentric scientist:

… we feel weirdly terrible for him when he’s treated with bemusement or scorn rather than respect. Will his predictions come true? If so, how awful… and yet, if not, then what? Dietrich nicely plays a variation on herself, and is compelling in all of her brief scenes:

It’s especially interesting seeing how her character evolves (quite substantially) over the course of the story. Equally enjoyable is Johns as a stewardess who simply emanates good will (don’t we wish all flight attendants were like her?):

There’s something inherently compelling about “no one will believe me!” tales, and this one is no exception; it’s well worth a watch.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Jimmy Stewart as Theodore Honey
  • Glynis Johns as Marjorie Corder
  • Marlene Dietrich as Monica Teasdale
  • Niall MacGinnis as Captain Samuelson
  • Georges Perinal’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a fine show.


  • Good Show


2 thoughts on “No Highway in the Sky (1951)

  1. Agreed; must-see – as an ‘all-round good show’. As per my post today in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “I don’t know much about mathematics but I know when a man knows what he’s talking about.”

    ‘No Highway in the Sky’ (1951): Many film junkies know the famous partnership between James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich on display in 1939’s ‘Destry Rides Again’. Fewer (a lot fewer, it seems) are aware of their re-teaming for this film by Henry Koster, based on a novel by Nevil Shute (‘On The Beach’).

    One reason I didn’t check out this film until now was because of Koster as director. I didn’t know the plot but Koster’s other films (things like ‘The Bishop’s Wife’, ‘Come to the Stable’, ‘Harvey’, etc.) never did much for me – although he did also occasionally manage something of higher interest (i.e., ‘My Cousin Rachel’).

    Koster believed this was one of his best films – and I’d have to agree. ‘No Highway…’ is esp. relevant at this time; a time in which so many [R] wackos are skeptical of scientists (vis-à-vis the vaccine).

    Stewart plays an aeronautical engineer who has been studying a new plane model (the ‘Reindeer’) for its safety – even though the model is already in use for commercial traveling. His conclusions are that, due to a stress issue of metal fatigue, the plane is not safe. As fate would have it, Stewart soon finds himself on one of the planes in question, as a passenger.

    What will he do?

    As it turns out, novelist Shute was prescient. Acc. to Wikipedia, three years after the film’s release, “there were two fatal crashes of the world’s first jet passenger airliner, the de Havilland Comet. Investigation found that metal fatigue was the cause of both accidents.”

    In the supporting cast are Glynis Johns and Niall MacGinnis (who had appeared together 10 years earlier in Michael Powell’s terrific ’49th Parallel’). MacGinnis is something of an underrated actor – but some will recognize him for having starred as the cult leader and conjurer in ‘Curse of the Demon’.

    Stewart and Dietrich (who had some of her lines rewritten by Noel Coward) are singularly good in this film – which makes it odd (and unfortunate) that it’s a film that’s not so well-known.

  2. I agree with you on this one; it’s a bit of a hidden gem, and I’ll bet the lack of a big name director is a bit part of that.

    I like how DVD Savant puts it in his review: “…un-heralded Fox workhorse director Henry Koster proves the ‘anti-auteur’ theory: the show may not express the director’s personal themes, yet is an expertly filmed entertainment, with a witty script, taut suspense and moving sentiments.”

    I went through a “Nevil Shute phase” as a teenager and recall reading as many of his novels (checked out from the library) as I could. I found them riveting.

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