The Crowded Sky

The Crowded Sky is a 1960 Technicolor drama film produced by Michael Garrison, directed by Joseph Pevney,[2] and starring Dana Andrews, Rhonda Fleming, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.[3] [Note 1] The Crowded Sky is based on the novel of the same name by Hank Searls. The film was distributed by Warner Bros.

The Crowded Sky
Directed byJoseph Pevney
Produced byMichael Garrison
Screenplay byCharles Schnee
Based onThe Crowded Sky
by Hank Searls[1]
StarringDana Andrews
Rhonda Fleming
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Music byLeonard Rosenman
CinematographyHarry Stradling Sr.
Edited byTom McAdoo
Warner Bros
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
September 2, 1960 (1960-09-02)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States

The film's storyline follows the back stories of the crew and passengers of a US Navy jet and a commercial airliner carrying a full load of passengers during a bout of severe weather.[5] Other issues such as a malfunctioning radio make it nearly impossible to communicate with air traffic control and set the two aircraft on a collision course.[4]


A US Navy Lockheed TV-2 jet piloted by Captain Dale Heath (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), with an enlisted man (Troy Donahue) as a rear passenger, runs into trouble as soon as the aircraft gets airborne. Both Heath's radio and his navigation system become disabled, with no way to correctly determine their altitude. At the same time, a Douglas DC-7 airliner, piloted by veteran Dick Barnett (Dana Andrews), is carrying a full passenger complement, each with their own worries and problems with which they must deal.

Both Barnett and Heath have their personal crises, including Heath's unhappy marriage to an unfaithful wife (Rhonda Fleming) and Barnett's long-time conflict with his co-pilot, Mike Rule (John Kerr). Rule has his own personal demons, including no meaningful relationship with his catatonic father, and an affair with head stewardess Kitty Foster (Anne Francis).

Both aircraft, through various errors with their flight paths, are now on a direct collision course that air traffic controllers are unable to avert. When the crash inevitably occurs, Heath sacrifices himself and his passenger, making amends for a past air tragedy that he had caused. The airliner is badly damaged, and Louis Capelli (Joe Mantell), the flight engineer, is blown out of the aircraft, falling to his death, while the rest of the passengers and crew fight for their lives. Even with one engine destroyed and a wing on fire, Barnett brings the airliner down safely, but accepts responsibility for the collision during the accident investigation. In the aftermath of the crash, Mike and Kitty are not only survivors but are now planning a future life together.



Film rights to the novel The Crowded Sky, written by a former US Navy flyer, were sold before it was even published.[6][7] The screenplay extensively employs the device of characters thinking aloud. Screenwriter Charles Schnee felt that audiences at the time required more subtlety in characterization. Additional dialogue helped provide that, he concluded.[8]

The Crowded Sky was the first film role in more than a year for Dana Andrews, who had been appearing on Broadway in the play Two for the Seesaw. Andrews described the film "... as a kind of Bridge of San Luis Rey of the air".[9]

In order to prepare for his role, Zimbalist trained for 20 hours in a jet flight simulator to familiarize himself with the controls that his character would use.[10] For Troy Donahue, his role was a departure from the usual "teen heartthrob" films that he had made for Warner Bros.[11] The main theme music from Donahue's preceding film, A Summer Place, appears in the film's soundtrack. Principal photography began in mid-October and concluded in mid-November 1959.[12]


The Crowded Sky was received with mixed reviews by audience and critics alike. As a progenitor of the disaster films of the 1970s, it had some of the elements of the genre, but relied heavily on dialogue to the detriment of the impact of an aerial disaster. The Los Angeles Times called it "interesting but uneven".[13]Variety gave a mixed review upon the film's release, criticizing Pevney's directing, but praising the aerial scenes.[14]

In a more critical review in The New York Times, Eugene Archer called The Crowded Sky "reprehensible", as it exploited human tragedy. His review noted, "Possibly a meaningful film could be developed from this theme, but as directed with an emphasis on sensationalism by Joseph Pevney, the effect is as meretricious as it is harrowing".[15]

Modern reviews were more favorable. Glenn Erickson in DVD Talk gave a mostly positive review, but commented that The Crowded Sky came off more as an "unintentional comedy" than a serious drama film.[16] Reviewer Leonard Maltin called it a "slick film focusing on emotional problems aboard jet liner and Navy plane bound for fateful collision; superficial but diverting".[17]

See also



  1. In Airport 75, both Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and Dana Andrews reprised their roles, but in a reversal, Andrews does the crashing.[4]


  1. Williams, Wirt. " 'Crowded Sky' weaves actual crises into pattern of disaster." Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1960, p. J7.
  2. "Overview: 'The Crowded Sky' (1960)." Turner Classic Movies, 2019. Retrieved: August 12, 2019.
  3. "Crowded Sky cast set." The Pittsburgh Press, November 2, 1959. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.
  4. Nixon, Rob. "Articles: 'The Crowded Sky' (1960)." Turner Classic Movies, 2019. Retrieved: August 12, 2019.
  5. Carlson 2012, p. 201.
  6. Witkin, Richard. "Heavy traffic over Amarillo: 'The Crowded Sky' by Hank Searis." The New York Times, March 1960, p. BR42.
  7. Scheuer, Philip K. "Paul Douglas will figure in 'Kidnap': Sturges to guide squadron; Russ discuss film exchange." Los Angeles Times, December 1, 1958, p. C15.
  8. Schumach, Murray. "Day of improved movie dialogue and characterization in offing." The New York Times, June 25, 1959, p. 21.
  9. Scheuer, Philip K. "Pantomimist will spout beat' verse: Dana Andrews resumes acting; Oakie returns to Paramount." Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1959, p. 27.
  10. "Zimbalist takes pilot training for film role." St. Petersburg Times, August 2, 1960. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.
  11. Maltin 1994, p. 236.
  12. "Original Print Information: 'The Crowded Sky' (1960)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.
  13. Scheuer, Philip K. "'Crowded Sky' planes keep date with destiny." Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1960, p. C12.
  14. "The Crowded Sky." Variety's Film Reviews: 1959-1963. New Providence, New Jersey: R.R. Bowker, 1989. ISBN 978-0-83522-789-6.
  15. Archer, Eugene. "The Crowded Sky (1960)". The New York Times, February 11, 1961.
  16. Erickson, Glenn. "Review: The Crowded Sky." DVD Talk, January 25, 2010. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.
  17. Maltin 2009, p. 300.


  • Carlson, Mark. Flying on Film: A Century of Aviation in the Movies, 1912–2012. Duncan, Oklahoma: BearManor Media, 2012. ISBN 978-1-59393-219-0.
  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia. New York: Dutton, 1994. ISBN 0-525-93635-1.
  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide 2009. New York: New American Library, 2009 (originally published as TV Movies, then Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide), First edition 1969, published annually since 1988. ISBN 978-0-451-22468-2.
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