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The Disappearance of Flight 412
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF FLIGHT 412 (1974)

Starring: Glenn Ford, David Soul, Bradford Dillman, Jonathan Lippe, Robert F. Lyons

Written By: George Simpson, Neal R. Burger Directed By: Jud Taylor

The Short Version

Theoretically, I could have given “Stock Footage” top five billing in the credits.

Even UFO conspiracy theorists will have a hard time getting excited about The Disappearance of Flight 412.

Technically, it doesn’t even disappear.

If you ever wondered why “made for commercial television” movies have such a bad reputation...

This is not The Most Interesting Movie In The World.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

COLBY.

Mild, totally inoffensive, and just kinda there.


Pairs Well With...

DOS EQUIS.

I don’t always review movies that star The Most Interesting Man In The World, but when I do, I suggest Dos Equis.  Specifically, I’m suggesting that you just have a Dos Equis and skip the movie.  Stay thirsty, my friends.

“General, what this man does is pointless!”


While there are occasional exceptions to the rule, by and large, it can be assumed that any movie originally made for a television network that runs commercials during its programming is going to be bad.  This is especially true prior to cable’s rise to dominance over VHF/UHF broadcast.

Case in point: The Disappearance of Flight 412.

In its favor, The Disappearance of Flight 412 does play the maverick in a way.  It’s a movie about the American government’s conspiracy to cover up UFOs made when the subject wasn’t really in vogue.  Unfortunately, it also happens to be a singularly uninteresting movie about the American government’s conspiracy to cover up UFOs.  I doubt that even the folks who make sure to set their DVR for “UFO Hunters” on the History Channel every week could get excited about this.  In fact, I’ll even suggest that anyone – UFO enthusiast or not – is likely to find more entertainment in any random fifteen minutes of that show than out of The Disappearance of Flight 412.  (At least the guy with the aviator glasses and the PhD has some life to him.)

Our story begins as do many such films of this era, with the “let’s pretend that this is a documentary” lecture.  A grainy clip of a fuzzy object in the sky fills the screen, and a narrator who only wishes he could be as cool as Rod Serling intones:


“This is a UFO: an Unidentified Flying Object.  It was photographed at Santa Catalina Island in April of 1966. Look at it again.  Closely.  Hundreds, even thousands of witnesses have seen similar things appear in the sky. Persons living miles from others have testified independently that UFOs have appeared in a specific place at a specific time.”


There are then a couple of snippets from contemporary TV news reports showing Average Americans talking about UFOs they’ve seen.

I am sad to inform you that these first two minutes are the most exciting part of the entire movie.

But, moving on!  As we step into what’s supposed to be the start of our actual feature presentation, our narrator informs us that it is 1030 Hours at Whitney Air Force Base, home of the 458th Radar Test Unit.  Apparently, there have been some malfunctions of ground and airborne radar equipment in the area of late, and that’s making the Unit’s Colonel look bad.  Very bad.  This morning, a crew of four men will board Flight 412 out of Whitney for a three hour test run (a three hour tour… a three hour tour… sorry) to either confirm the successful operation of or fix the radar equipment.  General Enright is “on the Colonel’s tail” about the success of this mission, but the men aren’t about to let him, or their country, down.

Now, during these first ten minutes or so of The Disappearance of Flight 412, you’re going to notice a few things.

First, even the most casual of viewers is going to notice that roughly seven or eight of these first ten minutes consists entirely of stock footage, as will pretty much everything that involves an airplane that isn’t Flight 412 itself.  This speaks to two things.  One, it’s cheaper to buy stock footage than film stuff yourself.  (Which is why you’ll note that even a lot of stuff that doesn’t involve airplanes or those opening news reports is stock footage.)  Two, the real Air Force wasn’t going to touch this thing with a cattleprod.  This, of course, is to be expected, since the Air Force is not exactly made to look like a bunch of superheroes here.  Even with all of this in mind, though, that’s a lot of stock footage.

Second, the one airplane that we’re sure is real certainly looks like a commercial commuter jet, doesn’t it?  As you’ll find out if you make it all the way to the end credits, that’s because it is. [I will admit that I was later surprised to learn that the Air Force actually did use that same kind of plane for the sort of mission 412 is supposed to be, so I suppose it gets a pass.]

Third, if you know your 1970s TV, you’ll recognize at least one of the cast.  One of the Air Force pilots is David Soul, aka Hutch from “Starsky and Hutch.” 

Fourth, you’re probably already bored with the movie.

But hey, we’ve still got an hour to go!  Isn’t that exciting, folks?

Maybe it would be if The Disappearance of Flight 412 didn’t take every last opportunity to point out that it’s being made on the cheap.  Interior shots of the airplane are obviously not interior shots of an airplane; there’s a reason you don’t see a window most of the time.  Interior shots of the base control room (not a tower; this place doesn’t rate a tower) aren’t much better, and it appears as though the crew couldn’t even afford to buy themselves a floodlight.  I’m also not sold on the idea that there was really a director, even though Jud Taylor – who was VP of the Directors Guild of America for a few years – officially gets the credit.  If this point, shoot, and yawn style of filmmaking represents his level of skill, I can only guess that he got his august post with the DGA because of a sparkling personality.  I’ll also guess that the two cars used probably belong to people on the crew.

Continuing with our story, Flight 412 gets to the part of the sky it’s supposed to get to, and starts to run its tests, under the guidance of the control personnel at the nearby Marine base that we’re told runs the ground radar apparatus.  The audience just has to take this on faith. 

The narrator takes this opportunity to inform us that Flight 412 has become “the hunted.”

Suddenly, some blips appear on the radar, and the Marines on the ground call for confirmation.  When the Air Force guys say that they see the blips too, some Marine Stock Footage jets are scrambled to take a look.  We get to see them take off, anyway; beyond that, it’s all blips.  Until the Marine blips disappear.  One second, they’re ascending into a cloud; the next, they’re gone.  At least we’re told that; again, there’s no budget to show us any of this.

I bet you can guess what happens next, can’t you?  Especially since you know that no one was paying for aliens or spaceships, here.

A moment later, Flight 412 is denied permission to conduct any search, and is ordered to change course, switch radio frequency, and not respond to any incoming messages.  The narrator also babbles a bit, and ominous looking tickertape notices roll across the bottom of the screen.  We also get lots of establishing shows of a warehouse building in the middle of the desert with lots of broken windows, followed by ominous snare-oriented music as a helicopter drops off a group of guys who twenty years later would have been wearing black suits, but here are wearing lots of brown that looks like it came off the rack from Penney’s.  They head inside the building, pull dropcloths off some old equipment, and – I kid you not – stock a little beer fridge with the contents of a cooler they brought along with them.  (I admit, that is probably the coolest detail of the entire movie, and indeed just about the only thing here I’m prepared to call “cool”.)

Bet you can guess where Flight 412 is going to be landing now, can’t you?

After being led on something of a merry chase, 412 does indeed land at the freshly occupied warehouse (now called “Digger Control”), and meets with one of the brown shirted guys, who identifies himself as being from the “SID,” the convenient made-up intelligence organization of the hour that even these Air Force guys haven’t heard of.  The flyboys are led into the building, split into two pairs, and left in some small but serviceably furnished rooms.  Moments later, they meet their interrogators, who are easily the two best actors in the entire movie.

The first is played by Ken Kercheval, whom 80s TV fans will instantly recognize as Cliff from “Dallas.”  The second is played by Jonathan Goldsmith, here going under his real name of Jonathan Lippe.  It may take modern audiences a minute to catch it, but then the light bulb comes on: thirty-five years later, with the addition of a beard and a gravelly accent, he would make TV commercial history as The Most Interesting Man In The World, pitchman for Dos Equis beer.  It is sad but I think unsurprising to say that any ten seconds of one of those commercials is better than this movie.

Oh; by the way, the Colonel from Whitney AFB (Glenn Ford) has been looking for his pilots all this time, as defined by making phone calls.

What’s happened to this point has been a boring mess; what follows is even more of a head scratcher.  After 18 hours, the pilots are thoroughly defeated and ready to agree to anything.  If the Air Force wouldn’t have already been disinclined to show any support for The Disappearance of Flight 412 because of its subject matter, it would have surely said "no way" at the absolutely wimpy portrayal of the Air Force fliers here.  Their ‘grueling’ ordeal involves being spoken to calmly, given real furniture to sit on, and fed, even if they’re being disagreed with.  They are not beaten, tortured, or threatened with cement overshoes.  Surely these men have had more difficult dinners with their wives than the experience they have here.  I guarantee you’ve seen more difficult stuff from real world interrogation tapes on cop documentaries.  No real military officer who made it past boot camp is going to be feeling worse than a little tired at this point.  Even if you don’t care about the real world, there’s no way you can look at this say and that they’ve been to Hell and back.  With this group, though, the leader is almost in tears.  “I’m Air Force!  I WANT AN ORDER NOW!”  To which The Most Interesting Man In The World says, “Sit down.”

I just facepalmed.  It hasn’t even been an hour yet.

Fortunately, Glenn Ford just pulled up in his wagon, and the pilots are free to go.  We desperately hope that the credits are about to roll, but no.  We’ve got ten more minutes of conspiracy theory to spew, and Glenn Ford has a soapbox to get on.  At the end of the day, nothing of consequence happens as far as the viewer’s experience with the movie is concerned, and the narrator informs us that the people who cooperated got promoted, the people who didn’t never moved up the chain again, and when more planes disappeared a few months later, the exact same cover up happened again.  Yawn, yawn, is it over yet?

Even if you’re the world’s biggest UFO conspiracy theorist, I dare you to not get bored by The Disappearance of Flight 412.  The acting, even from the real pros, is of the “I’d rather be golfing” variety, and overall it looks like the Director really did go golfing and handed the helm over to the Best Boy.  The most interesting moments in the entire movie come from stock footage, and the story is just so damn dull that it could be used as a sleep aid.

Bottom line, The Disappearance of Flight 412 is too dull to even stand as Bad Movie Night material.  If you have a choice between this and doing the dishes, there’s more drama and excitement to be found with doing the dishes.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, September, 2011

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