FATE IS THE HUNTER provides a first-rate cast with an interesting 1964 drama dealing with a plane crash and the ensuing investigation. Ralph Nelson (Requiem For A Heavyweight, Lilies Of The Field) directed Harold Medford’s screenplay, which lifts only the title and the aviation theme from a memoir by author/pilot/adventurer Ernest K. Gann. Like two more of Gann’s aviation-centered books adapted to film, The High And The Mighty and Island In The Sky, this deals with personalities as they interact and react to stress situations, as much as with the nuts & bolts depiction of crisis situations and solutions.
Shortly after takeoff from Los Angeles, a passenger airliner crashes. Only a stewardess (Suzanne Pleshette) survives. The airline’s flight operations director (Glenn Ford) tries to find out what may have been responsible, while being pressed to accept it may have been pilot error from his old friend (Rod Taylor), a veteran hotshot with a rowdy reputation. Flashbacks intertwine with interviews. *
Melodrama takes a back seat to a sincere, lever-headed approach, and the stars (including Nancy Kwan) are backed by a strong array of character players, with particularly neat jobs coming from Wally Cox (his meatiest film role) and Mark Stevens. Cameo roles are given to Dorothy Malone (always welcome) and Jane Russell (playing herself). Characterizations are well drawn, and Ford is excellent: this is his best work from the decade.
Other than the rather startling crash, the special effects of planes in flight are dated, but Jerry Goldsmith contributes a somber, quietly effective score, and Milton R. Krasner’s fine black & white cinematography earned an Oscar nomination. Made for $2,525,000, it’s listed by Cogerson as grossing $5,700,000, 50th place in ’64.
Making impressions to effect are Nehemiah Persoff, Constance Towers, Mary Wickes, Max Showalter, Robert J. Wilke, Bert Freed, Robert F. Simon, Howard St. John, Stanley Adams and John Hubbard. 106 minutes.
* In one of the flashbacks, Jane Russell plays herself doing a USO tour, where Ford and Taylor meet her during WW2; they’re flying cargo planes “Over the Hump” into China. Russell was a major WW2 pinup but your diligent fact-checker cannot find anything about her doing any overseas USO tours during the war (she did do so during the Korean War). For the record, Jane would’ve been in her early 20s at the time: she was 43 when making the cameo appearance.