Before there was The Asylum Studios. Before there were mockbusters. Before there were an endless stream of direct-to-DVD and direct-to-streaming variants of popular movies, there were the “Big Three” networks’ (ABC, CBS, and NBC) endless stream of TV movies that knocked-off popular theatrical films. In the case of this Jud Taylor-directed (TV’s Star Trek and Man from U.N.C.L.E.) airline thriller, it was made by NBC in the midst of the Airport disaster flick series of films made between 1970 and 1979 (read out “Airport: Watch the Series” featurette), which also included ABC’s SST Death Flight and CBS’s The Horror at 37.000 Feet. While ABC’s offering was an adventure-drama and CBS’s a horror-fantasy, NBC’s offering took a sci-fi turn.
Glenn Ford (Jonathan Kent in Superman ’78, but since this is B&S About Movies, we remember him best for The Visitor and Happy Birthday to Me) is an Air Force Colonel in investigating an Air Force base’s rash of electrical disturbances aboard its aircraft. To pinpoint the in-flight problem, he dispatches the four-man crew of Flight 412 piloted by Captain Bishop (David Soul of Salem’s Lot). Shortly into the flight, the flight makes radar contact with three unidentified craft and reports them as U.F.Os; two fighter jets are dispatched and force Flight 412 to land at a remote, abandoned military airfield in the American Southwest desert. Sequestered in a barracks and their craft hidden away in a dilapidated hangar, government officials begin to interrogate and convince the crew they did not see flying saucers. Meanwhile, Ford’s Colonel — and Bradford Dillman — refuse to accept Flight 412 simply vanished — and that it has anything to do with alien contact.
At the time of this NBC-TV production, Peter Hyams had not yet scripted the conspiracy-similar Capricorn One; he came up with the idea back in 1969 while working on the Apollo broadcasts for CBS-TV. Completing the script in 1972, no production company wanted to make it; that is until ITC Entertainment (Space: 1999, Saturn 3) put Capricorn One into pre-production in late 1975 and commenced filming in late 1976. In a coincidence: Capricorn One was — based on its casting of the then popular James Brolin and O.J Simpson — pre-sold to NBC to secure its TV rights, which assisted in augmenting the production’s budget.
While a ratings success during its initial October 1974 broadcast on NBC, contemporary critics decry Flight 412 for its overuse of stock footage (which leads to the boondoggling jets switching from U.S. Marine McDonnell Douglas F-4B Phantom II fighters to Grumman F9F Panthers; the latter didn’t fly in the ’70s as they were retired after the ’50s, this according to aeronautical critics), recycling newsreels of individuals speaking of their “close encounters,” and voice-over narration to advance the plot. But those critics seem to miss the point: that the “plot” was based on “fact” and made to resemble a documentary about a “real event” involving a military U.F.O encounter. Flight 412 became a frequently-ran film on NBC’s late night programming blocks and UHF-TV syndication until the mid-’80s, at which time it was given a VHS release.
Courtesy of its casting of Glenn Ford, David Soul, and Bradford Dillman, the film is easily available as a still-in-print DVD and streams on Amazon Prime. But we found You Tube freebies HERE and HERE and on Daily Motion. You can also enjoy it as part of Mill Creek’s Nightmare Worlds 50-film pack, which afford us to do another take on this film.
Other network TV movies parked at the Hollywood hangers are Paramount Studios-ABC’s The Crash of Flight 401 and Universal Studios-NBC’s The Ghost of Flight 401; both are concerned with a real-life, 1972 Eastern Airlines crash and its supernatural aftermath. Don’t forget that we wrapped up our week of airline flicks with our “Airline Disasters Round Up” feature.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.