Liam Neeson On A Plane, er, Non-Stop opens wide this weekend, and much of the buzz (and a humorous Key & Peele clip) seems to be focused on how the film’s star has finally achieved a kind-of ‘entertainment Teflon’ (or ‘enterteflon’, if you will) as his action films (about all he does these days) seem to generate solid entertainment value, no matter how bad the acting or preposterousness of the plot. Neeson’s ‘conviction’ sells the productions, and especially Non-Stop, as its over-the-top action/special effects (one of the only things missing was a rainbow into a pot of gold used as the Irish landing strip), devolving plot and implausible romance with Julianne Moore are turned by his alcoholic Air Marshal Bill Marks character into a camp asset, a la Rambo.
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There is also a lot of conviction, camp and airy action in Q Planes (1939, aka Clouds Over Europe), available on FilmOn’s VOD service.
Ralph Richardson, as English intelligence operative Major Hammond, is investigating mysterious airplane disappearances perhaps linked to a nebulous foreign power (this film was completed just prior to WWII, and the Germans were not yet the ‘default’ film villains they would be within a year, so instead there is this unnamed proto-SMERSH), threatens to steal the show with a daft performance somewhere between John Steed in The Avengers and Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, but the film turns on the performance of Laurence Olivier as long-fuse test pilot Tony McVane.
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His early scenes show why he was England’s top screen idol, displaying a brooding quality in a cool leather coat, presaging Sam Shepard in The Right Stuff. When he encounters Kay, Major Hammond’s undercover-reporter sister, sparks fly (Kay is played Valerie Hobson, a few years after her role as Baroness Frankenstein in The Bride of Frankenstein and ten years before her performance alongside Alec Guinness in Kind Hearts and Coronets, not long after which she would marry the scandal-bound John Profumo).
An intervention by Richardson’s Major sends the film almost into His Girl Friday-style romantic comedy, but the final segment of Q Planes is Olivier in action mode, kicking butt, taking names and spraying bullets unlike any Brit many in the U.S. would see until a certain Mr. Bond came along almost a quarter century later. (Another interesting link to similarities between Q Planes and Non-Stop is that the former’s screenwriter Jack Whittingham would in 1965 collaborate with Ian Fleming on the screenplay to Thunderball, which also featured an aircraft hijacking)
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