Fate Is the Hunter (film)

Fate Is the Hunter is a 1964 American black-and-white aviation disaster film from 20th Century Fox, produced by Aaron Rosenberg, directed by Ralph Nelson, that stars Glenn Ford, Nancy Kwan, Suzanne Pleshette and Rod Taylor. Fate Is the Hunter also features Jane Russell (playing herself entertaining for the USO in a flashback sequence), Nehemiah Persoff, Wally Cox, and Mark Stevens. Dorothy Malone also makes an uncredited appearance. The film features an early film score by composer Jerry Goldsmith.[3]

Fate Is the Hunter
Directed byRalph Nelson
Produced byAaron Rosenberg
Written byHarold Medford (screenplay)
Based onFate Is the Hunter (memoir) by Ernest K. Gann
StarringGlenn Ford
Suzanne Pleshette
Nancy Kwan
Rod Taylor
Music byJerry Goldsmith
CinematographyMilton R. Krasner
Edited byRobert L. Simpson
Arcola Pictures Corp.
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • November 8, 1964 (1964-11-08)
Running time
106 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$2.2million[2]

The film's storyline concerns the crash of a commercial airliner that killed all aboard except for one of the crew, a stewardess (flight attendant in today’s lexicon). Civil Aeronautics Board investigators blame pilot error, but the airline’s Director of Flight Operations, himself a pilot, refuses to accept that conclusion and demands that the inquiry probe deeper into all the circumstances that contributed to the disaster. The film explores the lives of passengers and crew as well as the technical operations of aircraft, the process of investigation, and the pressures brought to bear by relentless news media and industry politics.


A bird strike shortly after takeoff disables one of two engines on a Consolidated Airlines passenger jet. Soon after shutdown of the damaged engine, the fire alarm for the remaining engine sounds, and pilot Jack Savage (Rod Taylor) shuts down the second engine, successfully belly landing and coasting along what was thought to be an open stretch of beach. The plane, however, crashes into a pier, killing all 53 passengers aboard and all but one of the crew. Savage is initially suspected of drinking and causing the crash that leaves flight attendant Martha Webster (Susanne Pleshette) the sole survivor of the flight.

Early in the investigation, it is found that Savage was seen in a bar as little as an hour before the flight. The captain's wartime buddy, airline executive Sam C. McBane (Glenn Ford), is convinced of his friend's innocence and doggedly investigates. Flashbacks deal with both Jack's past and Sam meeting him, plus others they used to know, as well as Savage's ex-fiancee and his current girlfriend Sally Fraser (Nancy Kwan). Sally introduces the idea of fate to McBane, who rejects it. During the investigation, it is revealed that the pier structure had been scheduled for demolition but the project had been delayed a few days; had the pier been dismantled on time the plane would have made a successful belly-landing. A flashback shows that Savage had accompanied another war buddy to the bar and had not been drinking himself. During a press conference, McBane struggles with the concept of fate and coincidence as the possible cause of the tragedy. Meanwhile, Webster, when interviewed in the hospital, insists that she witnessed both engine fault warnings and alarm bells, not just the one from the bird strike.

Eventually, a test flight is organized as part of the investigation. Piloted by McBane, its purpose is to exactly recreate in every detail the flight of the ill-fated airliner. Every detail is replicated in sequence. McBane tries to convince Webster to board the test flight, as she is the only remaining eyewitness to the cockpit procedures. She struggles through her post-traumatic reaction and boards the flight at the last moment. After take-off, Webster performs all of her normal duties and brings McBane coffee, just as she had done for the original flight crew. He sets the cup on a center console just as Savage had. McBane then shuts down an engine, simulating the bird strike. He orders the craft to not be immediately trimmed, as it was not during the original event.

A short time later, the second engine warning light and alarm indicates there is a serious engine fire in the remaining good engine, exactly as Webster had reported. McBane powers up the first engine to maintain flight. He notices the pilot's coffee cup on the console spilled during the turbulence of the first engine shut-down. He opens the console's access panel and finds that coffee seeped in, shorting-circuiting the wiring of the warning system. In reality both the original and test flights still had a fully functioning second engine that could have prevented the crash. McBane successfully powers up the second engine, disregarding its fire warning, and the plane returns safely to the airfield. Savage is therefore exonerated of pilot error by the chain of coincidences that caused the accident.



Fate Is the Hunter was nominally based on the bestselling 1961 memoir of the same name by Ernest K. Gann, but the author was so disappointed with the result, as it bore no relation to the book which was about Gann's own early flying career, that he asked to have his name removed from the credits. In his autobiography, A Hostage to Fortune, Gann wrote, "They obliged and, as a result, I deprived myself of the TV residuals, a medium in which the film played interminably". (Some prints of the film were released with Gann's name still in the opening credits immediately before that of Harold Medford, author of the screenplay.)[4]

The "Consolidated Airways" jet aircraft used in the film was one of two fabricated from DC-7(B) donors, the second was used to create the crash scene (on the beach). The wings were reportedly removed and reversed, a Boeing 707 nose cone along with "supersonic spike" were also added in order to achieve the appearance of a modern jet airliner. Modifications to the rear section of the aircraft included the addition of two nacelles to accommodate the simulated jet engines. A rear-mounted Boeing 707 spike-styled HF antenna isolator, and antenna were also added to the tail section.[5]

An area of the Twentieth Century Fox back lot was converted into the tarmac, taxiway, and runway seen in the film. Because of the fear of litigation, it was reported that no airframe manufacturer or airline was willing to cooperate in the production of the film, making these steps necessary. The "Fate" aircraft was later used in the filming of an episode of the ABC television series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964–1968), and remained parked for several years on an overpass used for movie prop storage by the adjacent 20th Century Fox Studios.[5]


Bosley Crowther of The New York Times gave the movie a strongly negative review, writing that it would surely not be shown as in-flight entertainment and that "it might be better for airline travelers if they never see it anyplace." He called it "a stupid, annoying film".[7]

Tony Mastroianni of the Cleveland Press reviewed the movie as "generally well-acted" and "melodramatic and sometimes suspenseful," while noting that its "series of minor situations that are important in revealing character are also very trivial and lacking in drama."[8]

Box Office

According to Fox records, Fate Is the Hunter needed to earn $4,800,000 to break even and made $2,210,000.[9]

Awards and honors

Fate Is the Hunter was nominated for a 1964 Academy Award for Best Cinematography.[10][N 1]

See also



  1. An excerpt from Fate Is the Hunter was used in the 1980 comedy film Airplane! The film is also mentioned in the 1995 JAG episode "Pilot Error"; the protagonist, who is the lead investigator in a mishap, relates the film's plot to his partner, comparing it to their current predicament.


  1. Solomon 1989, p. 254.
  2. Vagg 2010, p. 102.
  3. Clemmensen, Christian. "Jerry Goldsmith (1929-2004) tribute." Filmtracks.com. Retrieved: April 14, 2011.
  4. Gann 1978, p. 457.
  5. Santoir, Christian. "Fate Is the Hunter." Aeromovies. Retrieved: July 3, 2015.
  6. Beck 2016, p. 82.
  7. Crowther, Bosley. "Movie Review: Fate Is the Hunter (1964), Screen: 'Fate Is the Hunter' Opens: Film of Plane Crash at Local Theaters Glenn Ford Is Starred With Nancy Kwan." The New York Times, December 10, 1964.
  8. Mastroianni, Tony. " 'Fate Is the Hunter' is just so-so." The Cleveland Memory Project (Cleveland State University), 1964. Retrieved: August 12, 2019.
  9. Silverman 1988, p. 323.
  10. "Fate Is the Hunter" Awards Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: September 25, 2012.


  • Beck, Simon D. The Aircraft-Spotter's Film and Television Companion. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, 2016. ISBN 978-1-4766-2293-4.
  • Gann, Ernest Kellogg. A Hostage to Fortune. New York: Knoff, 1978. ISBN 978-0-3944-9984-0.
  • Silverman, Stephen M. Fox That Got Away: The Last Days of the Zanuck Dynasty at Twentieth Century-Fox. New York: Lyle Stuart, 1988. ISBN 978-0-81840-485-6.
  • Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1.
  • Vagg, Stephen. Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood. Duncan, Oklahoma: BearManor Media, 2010. ISBN 1-59393-511-0.
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