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Come Fly With Me

by Glenn Erickson Nov 16, 2015


Dolores Hart, Pamela Tiffin and Lois Nettleton are flight attendants aiming to snag three attractive, wealthy husbands right out of the air — Karl Boehm, Hugh O’Brien and Karl Malden. There’s more social comment in this ‘coffee, tea or me’ romantic comedy than can be found in a graduate thesis about the sexual habits of liberated stewardesses. And Hey, Frankie Avalon warbles the classy title tune!

Come Fly with Me
The Warner Archive Collection
1963 / Color / 2:35 enhanced widescreen / 109 min. / Street Date June 30, 2015 / available through the WBshop / 18.49
Starring Dolores Hart, Hugh O’Brian, Karlheinz Bohm, Pamela Tiffin, Lois Nettleton, Karl Malden, Dawn Addams, Richard Wattis, Andrew Cruickshank, James Dobson, Lois Maxwell, John Crawford, Robert Easton, Maurice Marsac, George Coulouris, Ferdy Mayne.
Oswald Morris
Film Editor Frank Clarke
Original Music Lyn Murray
Written by William Roberts from a book by Bernard Glemser
Produced by Anatole De Grunwald
Directed by Henry Levin

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

What? Isn’t there some horror epic or western that needs reviewing?   Savant hits us with a totally square 1960s MGM movie, one that thinks it’s a ‘with it’ and ‘groovy,’ a ‘swinging’ comedy-drama about those hot-cha stewardesses that were a new addition to a culture suddenly liberated by jet travel. Before the feminist counterrevolution, legend tells us that this new class of aerial hostess lived to be picked up and bedded by attractive males, the kind of connected upscale bachelors that Playboy assured us regularly read Playboy.

Un-cool movies are fascinating, and not as fodder for unintentional retro- comedy. People in the early 1960s were no more or less cool now, even if Hollywood’s image of the culture was five years behind the times and strait-jacketed by the Production Code Administration. 1963’s Come Fly with Me shows the studio’s regulars, who were not necessarily hacks, doing their best in a system geared to turn out entertainment homogenized for the widest possible audience. “Don’t worry, it’s appropriate for children and the church sewing league.”

Come Fly with Me can perhaps be lumped with other romantic fantasies that gather three or four women to compare battle scars in the search for romance: How to Marry A Millionaire, Three Coins in the Fountain, Rome Adventure, The Best of Everything, maybe even Where the Boys Are. Technically, The Valley of the Dolls is a trashy variation on the same formula: instead of separate stories, the shows intercut between the adventures of friends, who either find Mr. Right, settle for what they can get, or get run over by a bus (no kidding). Everybody wins. Young actors get another chance to catch the brass ring, while the studio lizards can toss whatever contract players are available into the mix.

Three attractive stewardesses ply the sky route between New York and European capitals, always on the lookout for the magic man who will change their lives for the better. The schedules are daunting and the stuffy boss Oliver Garson (Richard Wattis) watches out for ‘moral lapses’ that would reflect badly on the airline. Levelheaded Donna Stuart (Dolores Hart) is wary of men looking to take advantage, and shows cautionwith a handsome, titled German with the name Baron Franz Von Elzingen (Karl Boehm). Little does Donna know that Franz is penniless, and out to use her in an illegal smuggling scam. Bergie Bergstrom (Lois Nettleton) wants a nice guy more than a big bank account. She has difficulties handling the attentions of widower Walter Lucas (Karl Malden), who seems to be chasing her because she reminds him of his wife. Flutter-brained Carol Brewster (Pamela Tiffin) makes herself into serious millionaire bait, but is increasingly attracted to co-pilot Ray Winsley (Hugh O’Brien), a nice guy but known as a womanizer. Can Ray possibly be trusted?  What’s it take for a babe on the make to find the right guy?

Stewardesses had an odd reputation in the 1960s as the advance battalion of sexual liberation. Gone were the days when Flight Attendants were registered nurses, there to assure passengers that someone would be on hand to apply tourniquets or fight off sharks with a cocktail tray, should, heh heh, anything go wrong with that balky number 2 engine. No, by the time jet travel came in, flight attendants were there to provide comfort and glamour. They didn’t have

to be showgirl quality in the looks department, but frankly, a lot were. The Pill was a boon to family planning, but it also made feasible other forms of recreational sex, for women sufficiently bold and resilient to play the game without getting burned. Air travel was still an upscale activity, a place where ‘the right people’ could meet. People still assume that attractive women unescorted in public are ‘available,’ and a look back at magazine ads from the ’60s will yield plenty of evidence that airlines were selling their planes as quasi-bordellos in the sky – the stews in the photo layouts look like Brigitte Bardot, with smiles that say ‘just tell me where and when and I’ll bring my own toothbrush.’

Come Fly with Me both humanizes the illusion and exacerbates it. Only a little hanky-panky transpires on board the flights. Any male crewperson with looks below Adonis level is double disqualified, being both ugly and poor. Too-ambitious passengers need to be gently discouraged. The women put all their energy into looking terrific, night and day. The glamour angle surely made many a high school dropout & beauty queen see Stewing as a direct conduit to an affluent future.

Marriage is the common goal for these three, with the theory that once the contract is signed, all troubles will be over forever, provided they’ve picked a sufficiently rich Mr. Right. The story wastes no time mixing the boys and girls, as it were. Donna and Lois have been burned in the past, and are wary of new men in their lives. Yet Donna plays hardball, tossing herself at the Baron and then playing hard to get. Little does she know that the personal items Franz is having her carry, contain serious illegal contraband. The hotel bedroom action is restricted to a sort of inverted farce. Carol is attracted to Hugh O’Brien’s Ray, even though pilots aren’t the best marriage prospects. Ray is trying to extricate himself from the demanding, married Katie (Dawn Addams, a great beauty who was nailing bigger roles a few years earlier). When it looks like Katie’s violent husband is going to catch her in flagrante delecto, Carol pulls off a slick game of musical closets, saving the two of them.

The screenplay patronizes Lois Nettleton’s Lois, as somehow more plain than the other two and willing to settle for less. But even she resists the slightly older Karl Malden, who flies from city to city to pursue her. The movie gives them a sappy date night in a carnival, complete with a cute French kid (Alain Morat) in tow, serving as both a romantic cheerleader, and an obvious representative of the family they might create if married. Seen today, Karl Malden’s Walter is nothing less than a psychotic stalker. What would you do if you were taking three flights a week, and a middle-aged man with hearts for eyes showed up at every airport carrying flowers? Walter turns out to be both sincere and benign, but, honestly…

The direction of Henry Levin is strictly by the numbers. We are served an impressive helping of Panavision travelogue material. Some fun character actors show up in small parts. I’m guessing that even established English and European talent was quick to sign on to high-visibility Hollywood pix, just for the guaranteed exposure. We get James Bond’s new sidekick Lois Maxwell as another stewardess, George Coulouris as a cop and Ferdy Mayne as a hotel clerk. Richard Wattis seemingly had first dibs on big American movies being made abroad; either that or casting agents found his fussy Brit persona irresistible. Americans John Crawford (The Invisible Monster, Solomon and Sheba) and Robert Nichols (This Island Earth) show up as well.

All three leading ladies are charming. This was Dolores Hart’s penultimate movie role — when her commitment was up she split from the Hollywood program and began a successful new life as a nun, eventually becoming Mother Dolores. Hollywood didn’t have a suitable slot for Lois Nettleton, although she had a long, mostly supporting career with bigger roles on stage and television. Like Hart, she had an intelligent, ‘I’m a real person’ look in her eye. Pamela Tiffin played airheads so well that she became typed as that until shifting most of her work to Europe in the 1970s. She gives Carol the full measure of her distinctive personality.

Hugh O’Brien we accepted as okay, although I can’t remember him ever selling a real dramatic scene (please correct me on this). Karl Malden is practically slumming, playing up the sentiment with great energy. Karl Boehm probably gave thanks each night that not enough industry people saw Peeping Tom to typecast him as a psycho — the former golden boy of German romance movies had a good deal with MGM, starring in some of their bigger films.

Come Fly with Me pretty much proves itself a lightweight in the final act, which is so insulting as to justify a Spolier. The Karl Boehm Euro-crime subplot ends quite well, without excess dramatics. But Hilda finally finds out what we already know, that the eccentric Walter is actually filthy rich, like, Santa Claus rich. He charters a plane for a honeymoon ride, which delivers the finale into the romantic comedy-drama equivalent of Never Never Land.

The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of Come Fly with Me is an okay transfer of elements that show the effects of fading. The enhanced widescreen transfer is sharp and reasonably clean, but color values and density are not strong. The interiors are fine, but library shots of Paris and stock shots from the airlines are much weaker. We quickly adjust, and the show is still attractive, but don’t expect to be dazzled. It does look like a new transfer, and not something found in an old vault.

The audio is bright and rich. The show does indeed feature the hit song “Come Fly With Me”, which in the late ‘fifties was an unofficial anthem of the Jet Set. Workaday proles were convinced that there was a ring-a-ding social class where well-heeled guys would conquer women simply by offering a weekend in Bermuda or Hawaii. Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn wrote the song in 1957. It waited six years to have a movie written around it, although earlier titles under consideration were Champagne Flight and The Friendliest Girls in the World. Does the fact that MGM didn’t license Frank Sinatra’s signature recording indicate a lack of enthusiasm for the movie? Frankie Avalon sings the tune, and does a better than okay job with it.

The WAC DVD includes an original trailer, with color values on a par with the feature. It sells the movie as a sex romp, which is fair enough. The first line up is Dolores Hart chirping, “Can I tempt you?” out of context. She’s just offering a passenger a drink, but the meaning is clear.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Come Fly with Me DVD-R rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good minus
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: trailer
Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 15, 2015

Text © Copyright 2015 Glenn Erickson

About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.