Sole Survivor (1970 film)
|Directed by||Paul Stanley|
|Produced by||Wally Burr and Steve Shagan|
|Written by||Guerdon Trueblood|
|Music by||Paul Glass|
|Edited by||Renn Reynolds|
|Distributed by||Cinema Center 100 Productions|
|January 9, 1970 (US)
American Broadcasting Company
ABC Movie of the Week
Sole Survivor (1970) is an ABC Movie of the Week starring Richard Basehart, William Shatner, and Vince Edwards. The film, which was written by Hollywood screenwriter Guerdon Trueblood, was directed by Paul Stanley. It is loosely based on the 1958 discovery of the Lady Be Good in the Libyan desert. The B-24 Liberator had disappeared without trace following its first and only combat mission in World War II in 1943.
While returning from a World War II bombing mission, a United States Army Air Forces B-25 Mitchell bomber sustains damage from action with German fighters. Without any order to abandon the aircraft, the navigator, Hamner (Basehart), panics and bails out. The aircraft, now lost due to having no navigator, and the remaining crew overfly their base and continue on for another 700 miles before eventually crash landing in the Libyan desert.
The five remaining crewmen survive the landing and, believing they are close to their base, strike out across the desert only to die of exposure after several days beneath the relentless African sun.
The ghosts have made their way back to the wreckage of the aircraft where they have spent the next seventeen years in a type of limbo state, playing baseball and longing for repatriation back to their home country, which can occur only if their bodies are recovered.
The plane is finally spotted by an oil surveying aircraft, which reports the discovery back to the United States Air Force. Seeing the survey plane and realizing that they are soon about to "have visitors", the five remaining crew members' ghosts begin returning the plane to its state at the time of the crash, putting objects and artifacts in their original positions in hopes of convincing their visitors they had stayed with the plane and hopefully inducing them to search for their bodies.
Having survived the crash, Hamner, who had remained in the military after the war and is now an Air Force brigadier general, accompanies the team sent to investigate the remains of the B-25. Fearing disciplinary action and the end of his military career should the truth of his cowardice be found out, he tries to convince his fellow investigators that the entire crew bailed out over the Mediterranean with him and that the pilotless plane somehow flew on by itself. Although the discovery of Gant's harmonica indicates that the crew did not bail out over the sea, the bodies are nowhere to be seen.
Unable to find evidence to the contrary, the team has no choice but to accept Hamner's explanation and is about to leave when the ghosts of the crew make their appearance to an inebriated Hamner, leading him to flee in panic across the desert in a jeep. Followed by his colleagues who are intent on preventing the man from injuring himself, the chase ends with them arriving at the scene of an abandoned life raft (the crew having abandoned the plane in the darkness and convinced they were still over open water) and the bodies of most of the dead crew, making it clear the truth behind Hamner's bailout of the aircraft and his apparent cowardice obvious.
In the end, the ghost of each crewman suddenly vanishes as their bodies are recovered, their spirits accompanying their remains back to the United States - the exception being Tony, who had returned to the plane only to die when the tail section dropped on him. Hamner is the sole survivor from the crew and Tony is the sole survivor of the ghosts. The film ends with a solitary Tony at the plane, but also a glimmer of hope as the pilot's log is found, mentioning Tony's return to the plane. One final visit to the crash site is decided upon.
- Vince Edwards as Maj Michael Devlin
- Richard Basehart as Brig Gen Russell Hamner
- William Shatner as Lt Col Josef Gronke
- Lou Antonio as Tony
- Lawrence P. Casey as Gant
- Dennis Cooney as Brandy
- Brad David as Elmo
- Patrick Wayne as Mac
- Alan Caillou as Corey
- Timur Bashtu as Beddo
- Noah Keen as MG Schurm
- Ian Abercrombie as British co-pilot
- David Cannon as Capt Patrick
- John Winston as British pilot
- Julie Bennett as Amanda
- Bart Burns as Older Senator
- Vin Scully as himself (voice of a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball game heard on radio)
The film was the first 'movie made for TV' from CBS. It was broadcast on 9 January 1970. It has never been released on home video.
In 1943, the actual plane - Lady Be Good - failed to find its airbase near the African coast after a bombing raid on Naples. Instead the crew mistakenly flew on hundreds of miles into the desert. This was because the plane's navigation system could not distinguish between a direct or reciprocal bearing contact. The same radio bearing would be returned whether the bomber was inbound or outbound from its base.
Eventually as the B-24's fuel ran out, the nine-man crew bailed out into the Libyan desert. The eight survivors tried to walk to safety; their remains were eventually found in 1960 some 80 to 100 miles north of the wreckage site. The aircraft broke into two pieces upon impact. When it was found in 1958 by an oil surveying team, the bomber remains were well-preserved with edible food and water still on board. Its machine guns and radio were also still in working order.
- McClendon, Dennis E. (1962). Lady Be Good, Mystery Bomber of World War II. Aero Publishers.