No Highway in the Sky

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
No Highway in the Sky
No Highway in the Sky.jpg
Directed by Henry Koster
Produced by Louis D. Lighton
Written by Alec Coppel
Oscar Millard
R. C. Sherriff
Based on No Highway
1948 novel 
by Nevil Shute
Starring James Stewart
Marlene Dietrich
Glynis Johns
Jack Hawkins
Music by Malcolm Arnold
Cinematography Georges Périnal
Edited by Manuel del Campo
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • 28 June 1951 (1951-06-28) (UK)
  • 21 September 1951 (1951-09-21) (U.S.)
Running time
98 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $1,150,000 (US rentals)[1][2]

No Highway in the Sky (a.k.a. No Highway) is a 1951 British disaster film directed by Henry Koster and starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. The film is based on the novel No Highway by Nevil Shute, and was one of the first films that involved a potential aircraft crash. Although the film follows Shute's original novel closely, No Highway in the Sky notably omits references to the supernatural that had been contained in the original novel, including the use of automatic writing to resolve a key element in the original novel's story.


Theodore Honey (James Stewart), a highly eccentric "boffin" with the Royal Aircraft Establishment is working on a difficult problem. A widower with a precocious young daughter, Elspeth (Janette Scott), Honey is sent from Farnborough to investigate the crash of a "Reindeer" airliner in Labrador, Canada. He theorizes the crash occurred because of a structural failure in the tail caused by sudden metal fatigue. To test the theory in his laboratory, an airframe is continuously shaken in eight-hour daily cycles.

It isn't until Honey is aboard a Reindeer that he realizes he is flying on an aircraft that may be close to the number of hours his theory projects for the fatal failure. Despite the fact that his theory is not yet proven, Honey decides to warn the passengers and crew, including actress Monica Teasdale (Marlene Dietrich). After the Reindeer lands at Gander Airport in Newfoundland, an inspection clears the aircraft to continue on, he decides to take drastic action to stop the flight. Honey raises the undercarriage while the aircraft is still on the ground, lowering the aircraft to its belly and damaging it. Shocked by the act, some of his colleagues demand that he be declared insane to discredit his theory.

Teasdale and flight attendant Marjorie Corder (Glynis Johns) both take a liking to Honey and Elspeth, who is lonely and isolated from her schoolmates. Teasdale speaks on his behalf to Honey's superiors, while Corder, seeing that he is decent but disorganized, decides to accept his offer of marriage.

During a hearing in which his sanity is questioned, Honey resigns but continues trying to prove that his theory is sound. In the laboratory, the time he predicted for a structural failure passes without anything untoward happening. The Reindeer he disabled, however, is repaired, but after a test flight, the tail breaks off. Shortly afterward, the same thing happens to the test airframe in the lab, and Honey discovers that he failed to include temperature as a factor in his calculations.



The fictional "Reindeer" aircraft in No Highway in the Sky was depicted in both full-scale mock-up and models.

The first writer who worked on the script was R.C. Sheriff. The novel was then assigned to producer Buddy Lighton who hired Oscar Millard to do the screenplay. Millard says he spent six months writing the script without ever looking at a Sheriff draft. In London, the producer Buddy Lighton hired Alec Coppel to re-write some scenes based at the Farnborough Aircraft Establishment.[3]

The working title was No Highway which was also the British release title. As noted in contemporary sources, filming took place in 1950 at Denham Studios with location shooting at Blackbushe Airport, Hampshire, England, although a scene with a Gloster E.1/44 prototype was possibly staged at Boscombe Down.[4]

The November 1950 Hollywood Reporter news items noted while the film was in production, Stewart underwent an emergency appendectomy in London.[4]


Reviews of No Highway in the Sky were decidedly mixed. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times had a favorable review, noting the film's "... sly construction of an unusual plot and wry suspense."[5] In a later appraisal, reviewer Dennis Schwartz opined: "American military war hero pilot James Stewart plays the eccentric Yank scientist working for a British airline, and gives one of his better and more pleasing performances as someone kindhearted but a bit daffy. ... The one-dimensional characters add no emotional depth, especially when the awkward romance is tossed onto the airplane drama; but Stewart plays a likable character that translates into a rather genial pic with much appeal."[6]

Three years after the film and six years after Nevil Shute's original novel (No Highway) there were two fatal crashes of the world's first jet passenger airliner, the de Havilland Comet. Investigation found that metal fatigue was the most likely cause of both accidents, albeit in the fuselage and not the tail.[7]

Adaptations in other media[edit]

On 21 April 1952, before a live studio audience. Stewart and Dietrich, along with a full cast, reprised their roles in an adaptation of No Highway in the Sky on the CBS Lux Radio Theatre.[8][N 1]

The central element of No Highway in the Sky, of a concerned airline passenger having unique knowledge of an imminent danger, taking drastic action to eliminate it and then being regarded as insane, is comparable to that of The Twilight Zone episode "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet". An additional similarity in the 1983 Twilight Zone scene in the later anthology movie is that the character of John Lithgow, like that of James Stewart, is portrayed as an engineering expert.[9]



  1. ^ The radio broadcast featured Evelynne Eaton in a co-starring role.[4]


  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey (1989). Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History. The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. 
  2. ^ "The Top Box Office Hits of 1951." Variety, 2 January 1952.
  3. ^ Millard, Oscar. "Movies: What's in a name? Ask the writers." Los Angeles Times, 28 August 1983, p. s18.
  4. ^ a b c "Notes: No Highway in the Sky." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 17 October 2014.
  5. ^ Crowther, Bosley. "No Highway in the Sky (1951), With James Stewart and Marlene District, Opens at Roxy." The New York Times, 22 September 1951. Retrieved: 3 January 2011.
  6. ^ Schwartz, Dennis. "No Highway in the Sky." Ozus' World Movie Reviews, 14 August 2011. Retrieved: 17 October 2014.
  7. ^ Davies, R.E.G.; Birtles, Philip J. (1999). Comet: The World's First Jet Airliner. McLean, Virginia: Paladwr Press. p. 30. ISBN 1-888962-14-3. 
  8. ^ Steffen, James. "Articles: No Highway in the Sky." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: 17 October 2014.
  9. ^ Bloch, Robert (1983). Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography. New York: Tor Books. pp. 388–89. ISBN 978-0-312-85373-0. 


  • Jones, Ken D.; McClure, Arthur F.; Twomey, Alfred E. (1970). The Films of James Stewart. New York: Castle Books. 
  • Shute, Nevil (1954). Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer. London: William Heinemann Ltd. ISBN 1-84232-291-5. 

External links[edit]