Exploring The Twilight Zone, Episode #54: "The Odyssey of Flight 33"
A jet airliner begins accelerating for no apparent reason, heading far away from its destination of New York City in 1961.
The Twilight Zone, Episode #54: "The Odyssey of Flight 33" (original air date 02/24/61)
The Plot: Preparing to land at Idlewild Airport in New York at the conclusion of a transatlantic flight, the crew of a passenger jet suddenly find themselves accelerating at speeds they've never before experienced.
The Goods: As a kid, I was always fascinated by tales of the jet age, and so it's no wonder that I'm an easy mark for movies and TV shows about airplanes. Thus, I'm sure it's no surprise that "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" is one of my favorite TZ episodes, and "The Odyssey of Flight 33" ranks high with me as well.
Janie (Beverly Brown), the head stewardess, happens to be in the cabin with the crew when things go haywire. She tells fellow stew Paula (Nancy Rennick) about the trouble, who then struggles to fight back panic. One of the passengers, a British Group Captain, a military attache, notices "the strangest sensation of speed."
The tension among the four men in the crew cabin builds; they can't figure out what's happened, especially after they lose radio contact. Captain Farver (John Anderson) remains calm, but makes the perilous decision to descend "blind" so they can make visual contact with their surroundings. When they emerge from the clouds, however, they are greeted by an unexpected sight.
The episode taps into fears that have been felt by nearly everyone who has boarded an airplane. Director Justus Addiss, working from a superb script by Rod Serling, fills the screen with tight close-ups as the tension continues to rise, looking outward when needed, but otherwise staying within the claustrophobic confines of the crew cabin. Full credit as well to series editor Bill Mosher, who did an exceptional job with this episode.
This episode remains one of my favorites, and easily earns a grade of A.
The Trivia: John Anderson is credited with IMDb with appearing in 238 movies and television shows. This episode was the second of four TZ episodes he did, which may be a record for guest actors in the original series.
Rod Serling's brother, Robert J. Serling, is credited as a consultant. At the time he was aviation editor for United Press International, a post he assumed in 1960, the same year his first book was published. He wrote numerous non-fiction and fiction books, including the histories of five different airlines. His 1967 thriller, "The President's Plane is Missing" -- which is a very good read and well worth seeking out -- becoming a best-seller and enabled him to quit UPI and write books full-time. He outlived his brother by 35 years, passing away at the age of 92 in 2010.
Idlewild Airport was built in 1942, using hydraulic fill over the marshy tidelands of Idlewild Golf Course. Commercial flights began in July 1948. The airport was renamed John F. Kennedy International Airport on December 24, 1963.
Jack H. Harris is credited for a special sequence, which I won't reveal to avoid spoilers; the expense of the shots cost $2,500, reportedly making it the most expensive footage in the original series.
On the Next Episode: "A timid vacuum cleaner salesman is given the strength of 300 men by some experimenting aliens."
We're running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes, and we're not doing it alone! Our friends at Film School Rejects have entered the Zone as well, only on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at FSR and feel free to also follow along on Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.