The Crowded Sky

The Crowded Sky

Theatrical poster
Directed by Joseph Pevney
Produced by Michael Garrison
Screenplay by Charles Schnee
Based on The Crowded Sky
by Hank Searls[1]
Starring Dana Andrews
Rhonda Fleming
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Music by Leonard Rosenman
Cinematography Harry Stradling Sr.
Edited by Tom McAdoo
Warner Bros
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
September 2, 1960 (1960-09-02)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English

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

The Crowded Sky 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. 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 U.S. Navy Lockheed TV-2 jet piloted by Captain Dale Heath (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), with an enlisted man (Troy Donahue) as a passenger, runs into trouble as soon as it is in the air. 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 load of passengers, each with their own worries and problems to deal with.

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), who has his own demons, including his relationship with his father and an affair with head stewardess Kitty Foster (Anne Francis).

Both aircraft, through various errors in their flight path, are on a collision course that air traffic controllers on the ground are unable to avert. When the crash occurs, Heath sacrifices himself and his passenger, making amends for a past tragedy he had caused. The airliner is badly damaged with Louis Capelli (Joe Mantell), the flight engineer, being blown out of the aircraft to his death, and the rest of the passengers and crew fighting 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 also planning a future life together.



Miniatures were used extensively to depict the aircraft in flight including the climactic crash scene.

Film rights to the novel The Crowded Sky - written by a former US Navy flyer - were sold before it was even published.[5][6] The screenplay extensively employs the device of characters thinking aloud. Screenwriter Charles Schnee made this decision because he felt audiences at the time required more subtlety in characterization and that more dialogue helped provide that.[7]

It was the first film in over a year for Dana Andrews who had been appearing on Broadway in Two for the Seesaw. Andrews described the film "... as a kind of Bridge of San Luis Rey of the air".[8]

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.[9] For Troy Donahue, his role was a departure from the usual "teen heartthrob" films he had made for Warner Bros.[10] Principal photography took place from mid-October to mid-November 1959.[11]


The Crowded Sky was received by audience and critics alike with mixed reviews. 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."[12]Variety gave a mixed review upon the film's release, criticizing Pevney's directing, but praising the aerial scenes.[13]

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."[14]

Later reviews were more favourable. 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.[15] 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."[16]

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. "The Crowded Sky". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved March 3, 2016.
  3. "Crowded Sky cast set." The Pittsburgh Press, November 2, 1959. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.
  4. 1 2 Nixon, Rob. "The Crowded Sky (1960)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
  5. Witkin, Richard. "Heavy traffic over Amarillo: 'The Crowded Sky' by Hank Searis." The New York Times, March 1960, p. BR42.
  6. 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.
  7. Schumach, Murray. "Day of improved movie dialogue and characterization in offing." The New York Times, June 25, 1959, p. 21.
  8. Scheuer, Philip K. "Pantomimist will spout beat' verse: Dana Andrews resumes acting; Oakie returns to Paramount." Los Angeles Times, September 29, 1959, p. 27.
  9. "Zimbalist takes pilot training for film role." St. Petersburg Times, August 2, 1960. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.
  10. Maltin 1994, p. 236.
  11. "Original Print Information: The Crowded Sky (1960)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.
  12. Scheuer, Philip K. "'Crowded Sky' planes keep date with destiny." Los Angeles Times, September 1, 1960, p. C12.
  13. "The Crowded Sky." Variety's Film Reviews: 1959-1963. New Providence, New Jersey: R.R. Bowker, 1989. ISBN 978-0-83522-789-6.
  14. Archer, Eugene. "The Crowded Sky (1960)". The New York Times, February 11, 1961.
  15. Erickson, Glenn. "Review: The Crowded Sky." DVD Talk, January 25, 2010. Retrieved: August 26, 2014.
  16. Maltin 2009, p. 300.


  • 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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