A mystery with Doris Day as stewardess Julie, with oddball husband Lyle (Louis Jourdan) and friend Cliff (Barry Sullivan). Lyle is such a control freak that he couldn’t even keep it together on their wedding day; after almost trashing everything in a car accident, it comes out that he’d killed Julie’s first husband. So she tries to shake off Lyle, while Detective Pringle (Frank Lovejoy) gets a shot at sorting things out.
With this wild premise in mind, a few things jump out. Since Julie’s a stewardess, there’s going to be something going on aboard a plane, and, what’s chirpy Doris Day doing here anyway? For that matter, what sort of psychopath do we get from Jourdan? Probably want to cross-off your Christmas card list whoever set Julie up with Lyle. That history isn’t at all explored. And, is the airliner aspect going to hijack (bad one, yes) the dramatic atmosphere?
Getting away from Lyle isn’t easy; with her driving away from a country club, he’s in a jealous rage, and mashes her foot down on the gas pedal. Pretty much looks like a stock car race on the 17-mile drive, until Lyle takes the wheel and they slide to a stop. “Help me fight this thing” he implores her. What? Try counseling, bro. “The thought of losing you…” Because she’d been…talking to another guy; wow, next thing, she’ll even look at a billboard.
“No sense in rehashing this thing” (that’s Bob, the former husband thing; but Lyle’s been jealous before Bob died). That’s not rehashing, it’s fore-hashing. Later, talking with Cliff about Bob’s finances, we learn that Cliff was the one who triggered the road rage. He mentions that Bob’s death might’ve been a murder.
Lyle had been visiting with her and Bob when it happened. Cliff tells her “What’s to stop him from again pressing that accelerator to the floor, this time for keeps” Now, Peg (Pamela Duncan) joins the three of them for a drink (more jealousness bubbling up). Lyle’s playing piano in their oceanfront place; but he’s playing with savage fury.” Suddenly, Julie has a plan.
First, she tries to get him to confess. Amazingly, he does, probably he likes gloating about it. She’s got just twenty minutes to escape the leech. But, he sabotages the car. She probably runs a mile just hurrying around the house; to no avail, of course. Cunningly, she hitches it to Monterey. She calls Cliff and goes to the police.
She goes to talk to the chief. She basically wants to accuse Lyle of murder; Cliff comes to join her. The cops shut her down, Bob’s case is officially closed. Not only that, but Lyle turns the tables by insinuating that she’s fooling around with Cliff. Her and Cliff plan to go up to Palo Alto–where her and Bob lived–to see what they can do. In San Francisco, she checks into a hotel.
Meanwhile, Lyle’s lying in the weeds. Rather, on the phone “Julie, you’re going to die.” The S.F. police, that is Lt. Pringle merely says “there isn’t any island of safety for a woman in your spot.” They even say she should change her identity. At least Pringle is concerned, and believes her. At least he gets protection for her.
Lyle plans to intercept her before she gets aboard her plane. Hot on Cliff’s trail, Lyle confronts him with a gun–making Cliff drive on; Cliff thinks he’s going to be toast too, so he jumps out of the car. Lyle shoots him, and thinks he’s dead, but he’s still kicking. (Strangely, Julie’s planned flight is changed.)
Meanwhile, Lyle realizes he has to finish off Cliff. Pretty good cat-and-mouse scene as they stumble around an old guy’s place. Cliff tells the guy what the deal is with Lyle and Julie. Gramps is on the ball, and a life-saver as well. The S.F. police close in on Julie’s apartment, but, I suppose because she’s staying with a friend, they can’t find her. Now she has to leave immediately. Why can’t the police just tell her employer to go fly a kite? By this time they know she’s being pursued by a killer.
Anyway, Cliff’s going to make it, but Lyle is hot on Julie’s trail. Finally, we’re aboard the plane–with Lyle, of course– maybe there’s special rates for murderers. As exasperating as it seems, the police aren’t able to patch through a call to the airline until the plane has taken off. “If that guy’s [Lyle’s] on board, it’s dynamite.”
From the cabin, the captain calls Julie, it’s Pringle on the line. He fills her in on Cliff. Pringle tells the pilot to return to the airport. Julie doesn’t yet know if Lyle’s aboard or not. Nonetheless, it’s not a great hand that Julie’s dealt: if she hides out in the cabin, he’ll storm in there; if she goes back amid the passengers, then she’s a sitting duck. Actually, things are getting more interesting.
The copilot (who has a gun) thinks he should go back with her–and shoot Lyle. Pringle thinks that won’t work either. Eventually, she goes back alone. She spots Lyle, but, amazingly, he doesn’t know he’s ‘made.” But, suddenly: mutual recognition. He follows her up to the cabin. In the ensuing close-quarters battle, both the pilots and Lyle are shot.
Amazingly, the copilot manages to lumber out and try and calm people; nonetheless, he can’t continue. She’s going to have to get a few promotions: instant pilot. He has to coaxe her along–she actually has flown once. All of this stuff is remarkably plausible. The lingering copilot instructs her, the tower guides her the rest of the way. We don’t need to know exactly how difficult this would be for a basically untrained person; this concentrated version works.
We even get some info on the technical “dope” of bringing the plane in. The other problem is that the copilot will die if he doesn’t get on the ground soon. Big entertainment for the airport crowd. Realistically, not everything goes smoothly. But they land ok. The end.
This was surprising both because the second part–the flight–was much more interesting than I thought, and the earlier drama did blend decently into the denouement. After all, once Lyle thinks he’s condemned a whole plainload to death, it makes sense to have Julie prove him wrong by triumphing over him. The most direct way for her to do that is to literally take control of the situation.
Another unexpectedly good thing is Day’s performance. She’s obviously a strong-willed person, who, nonetheless, shows vulnerability in this role. The other leads are much more two-dimensional; Cliff=good; Lyle=bad. That’s ok for Cliff, but, as mentioned earlier, Jourdan’s character is an enigma. As a force of nature, a malignancy, he has to be stopped.
But he’s just not very interesting. Why is he a psychopath? He’s driven to kill from jealousy, but why is he so jealous? The last part is pretty much a relief from character analysis, as we’re in pure action mode–motivation isn’t the issue. The first part (about two-thirds of the movie) runs like a conventional film-noir. It’s drawn-out to the point that interest flags, even though there’s quite a bit going on.
Farmermouse loved all those mid-fifties dreamboats, especially Julie’s ’56 Chrysler. But the coolest ride was that forlorn ’38 Ford coupe in the old guy’s yard (where Lyle was hunting down Cliff). So, Mouse says 7/10 Cypress trees (By averaging 6 for the first part, 8 for the last). 7/10.