Cast & Crew
After learning that he cannot afford to buy the home that he and his wife Mary have their heart set on, John Mitchell drives to Conway Aero Manufacturing, where he works as a test pilot for freight planes. As Mitchell prepares to fly a new aircraft with rocket propulsion for prospective buyers Crabtree and Ashmoore, owner Conway warns him that they must make the sale in order to save the company from bankruptcy. Later, Conway watches from the flight tower as Mitchell, with his co-pilot Peter Hook, crewman Joe Biggs and passengers Crabtree, Ashmoore and Keith, successfully takes off and then begins a feathering routine, in which one engine is shut off to test the plane's ability to sustain altitude without it. During the flight, Ashmoore admits to Mitchell that he likes the plane, but his company has suggested taking their business elsewhere. Suddenly one of the engines catches fire, forcing Mitchell to employ fire extinguishers and radio the control tower. When the second engine goes up in flames, Mitchell orders Peter, Biggs and the passengers to parachute. After the men have safely landed on the ground, Mitchell puts the plane into a nosedive to extinguish the fire. Mitchell then pulls up, circles and attempts to reduce speed so that he can land the craft as hundreds of Conway employees and an ambulance watch from below and listen to the radio dispatches over control tower loudspeakers. After Mitchell finds the port wing lists too sharply to land, Conway orders him to jettison the aircraft into the nearby Irish Sea to save himself. Mitchell, however, believes he can safely land and asserts that he has as much invested in the plane and the success of company as Conway. Soon after, engineer Maine suggests Mitchell fly for a half an hour to empty the weight of fuel held on the port side, which will help level out the plane during landing. Meanwhile, Mitchell's two boys, Nicholas and Phillip, oblivious to the danger, watch from town as their father's plane circles above and a fire brigade rushes past them. Although Conway, Maine and Peter agree Mitchell is an experienced pilot, they are concerned about the fear they hear in his voice. On board, Mitchell nervously sweats as the minutes tick by and the plane squeaks and moans from damage. Soon after, Mrs. Snowden, who works at the plant, asks Peter if Mary should be contacted, but Peter insists Mitchell must make that decision and then laments that as Mitchell's student and friend, he should not have bailed out of the aircraft. Desperate to be granted authorization to call Mary, Mrs. Snowden asks others in charge to give her permission, but all decline. Meanwhile, Maine blames himself for possibly including a faulty part in the design, but Ashmoore is so impressed with the plane's resilience during the nosedive that he promises to purchase the plane if Mitchell can land it, which, he assures the others, Mitchell will be able to do. At the Mitchell house, Mary's mother tells her daughter that one of the engines appears to be out on the craft, but Mary assures her it is just a routine feathering test. Mary's mother remarks that she has noticed tension between the couple, and Mary explains that despite Mitchell's experience and skill, his job is extremely dangerous and underpaid. Mary continues that Mitchell has lost confidence in himself as a man because he is unable to provide the family with a house. Back at the control tower, Conway suggests that Mitchell close the rear hatch used for the parachute bail to prevent drag during the landing. After engaging the autopilot, Mitchell carefully makes his way to the rear of the huge craft as it lurches forward. After quickly sliding the door closed, Mitchell races back to the cockpit. He then writes a note to Mary and drops it near the causeway for Peter, who takes the note as a sign that the pilot believes he will not survive the mission. Overhearing newspaper reporter Ingrams call his editor, Peter is incensed to learn that Mitchell's peril is only worth reporting if the pilot dies. Meanwhile, Mrs. Snowden takes it upon herself to inform Mary of the situation. Shocked by the news, Mary orders her boys to remain at the house as she hitches a ride to the landing strip. With only minutes of fuel left, Mitchell begins to descend as Mary and hundreds of townspeople watch from below. The plane tilts to one side as it lands, but safely comes to a halt. As the group rushes to the plane, Peter offers to take Mary home. A quiet and visibly shaken Mitchell disembarks and walks to his office alone while the hushed crowd looks on. After tearing up his note to Mary, Mitchell returns home and admits there has been a minor "incident." Mary is stunned into silence by his understatement, but then retorts that she witnessed the life-threatening landing. When she demands to know why he insisted on risking his life and thereby his family's welfare, Mitchell tells her that that it was his duty to bring down the plane and that the alternative, to abandon the craft, would have led to not only the company's failure, but also his own humiliation by defeat. Realizing her husband's loyalty to both his job and his family, Mary asks to be forgiven. Mitchell then calls the real estate agent to complete the offer on their dream house and proceeds to the backyard to help his boys rebuild their castle in the sand.
Howard Marion Crawford
S. K. Andrews
J. B. Smith
Decision Against Time
Ealing was known most for its comedies, of course, but Decision Against Time is a drama. Jack Hawkins plays a test pilot whose plane becomes crippled and may not be able to land safely. If the plane is lost, an entire company will go out of business. Meanwhile, Hawkins is having domestic problems with his wife (Elizabeth Sellars).
As directed by Ealing stalwart Charles Crichton, whose most famous movies are The Lavender Hill Mob (1951) and A Fish Called Wanda (1988), Decision Against Time made an impression with its aerial photography and moderately suspenseful storyline, but did not register as anything exceptional. As Variety declared: "[It] has its moments of suspense but lacks development of this quality that might have made this British import a truly gripping melodrama." The critic added perceptively: "Hawkins has good support from players in usual matter-of-fact roles which characterize so many British films but don't appeal particularly to American audiences."
In his autobiography, Hawkins later wrote that Decision Against Time contained one of his favorite scenes from his entire career: "In the first scene we shot I had to land an aircraft that had developed a serious fault in mid-air and then, in the most humdrum way, climb into my car, stop to pick up some laundry, make my way home...and start to run a bath. My wife, beautifully played by Elizabeth Sellars, asks me how the day has gone, and I said 'all right' in an offhand manner. Unknown to me she had witnessed the near-disaster, and she rounds on me, accusing me of being prepared to sacrifice her and our children simply for my job.
"I then had a six-minute speech, which was really the justification why a man does a job - any job - which was brilliantly written by Bill Rose, one of the finest screenwriters, and a man who wrote perfectly for me. This speech attracted a lot of attention, and for an actor no feeling exceeds the satisfaction when people come up afterwards and say that the character you played was splendid, and you were the right person to play it."
Film historian William Everson also wrote about the scene in a thoughtful little essay. "Rather like a low-key Ceiling Zero ," he wrote, "deliberately downplaying the tension on the ground, Man in the Sky gives Hawkins a role different from yet at the same time emotionally parallel to the one he had played in The Long Arm . It's not in essence a typical Ealing story, [but] there are some surprises, especially the heated climactic exchange between Hawkins and his wife, ...a reminder of the pre-war and wartime Ealing films in which Ealing recognized the (now-outdated) position of the husband/father as undisputed master of the household, at least in British society of that period. The film is strongest in its opening and closing reels; if the middle section seems slacker it is only because by then the plot has revealed that it is not going to be complex or spectacular but basically simple... But it is thoroughly satisfying in a way typical of Ealing."
Look for Donald Pleasence in a small role.
Producer: Michael Balcon, Seth Holt
Director: Charles Crichton
Screenplay: John Eldridge, William Rose
Cinematography: Douglas Slocombe
Film Editing: Peter Tanner
Art Direction: Jim Morahan
Music: Gerard Schurmann
Cast: Jack Hawkins (John Mitchell), Elizabeth Sellars (Mary Mitchell), Jeremy Bodkin (Nicholas Mitchell), Gerard Lohan (Philip Mitchell), Walter Fitzgerald (Reginald Conway), John Stratton (Peter Hook).
by Jeremy Arnold
Decision Against Time
The film was released in Great Britain under the title Man in the Sky. The opening cast credits differ in order from the closing credits. As noted in modern sources, in 1955, English producer Michael Balcon sought financial help for his company, Ealing Films, Ltd., from Arthur Loew at M-G-M and agreed to make six pictures for M-G-M's release. Decision Against Time was the first of these films. A modern source adds Mary Mackenzie and Glynn Davies to the cast. The film was nominated in 1958 for a BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay.