Movie about a boy alone in a plane who is guided to a landing

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Ayn Rand (I think) once recommended a show or movie about a boy who finds himself alone in a small plane (presumably because a heart attack or some other affliction had killed the pilot). The boy is scared stiff, but a pilot on the ground helps him to land the plane. The story is about the relationship between the pilot and the boy, and how the boy manages to function despite his fear. This is something I have tried to find on and off for years. A title and perhaps info on where and when Rand's notice appeared would be great if anybody has the info. Thanks.

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  • 11 months later...

Sorry. Your info doesn't ring a bell

But I saw an excellent movie with Russell Crowe from 2010 that I missed when it first came out. But thanks to Netflix and a slow TV day we watched it. It will keep you on the edge of your seat with the action scenes and I highly recommend it. Peter

It’s called, “The Next Three Days” with Russell Crowe, Elizabeth Banks, Olivia Wilde, Brian Dennehy, and Liam Neeson.

Fun fact. There is an actress from the TV show “Chicago Fire,” and an actor from “Chicago P.D.” in the movie, but I did not recognize anyone from “Chicago Med.”

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Sounds like the plot of Emergency! Season 1 Episode 5 (Dealer's Wild) from 1972.


Because John keeps losing at cards and being stuck with doing the dishes at the station, he creates his own card game. Off-duty, Dr. Brackett and Dixie spend time to unwind. Both also meditate on the people that want to die rather than live, and the people that want to live rather than die. Roy talks down a boy in a plane after the pilot (his father) has a heart attack. The paramedics respond to an attempted suicide, an overturned gasoline trailer tanker truck and a teenage overdose victim. Drs. Brackett, Early, Morton (semi-regular Ron Pinkard) and Dixie, take care of a husband who is suffering from a severe hemorrhage. Later on, despite being brought back the first time, the pilot goes into cardiac arrest and despite their best efforts, they're unable to bring back the patient and the boy cries as Dixie comforts him.


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On 4/4/2020 at 7:25 PM, Starbuckle said:

Ayn Rand (I think) once recommended a show or movie about a boy who finds himself alone in a small plane (presumably because a heart attack or some other affliction had killed the pilot). The boy is scared stiff, but a pilot on the ground helps him to land the plane.


I missed this, so thanks to Peter for reviving the thread and to Mr. Swig for his excellent recommendation about the episode from the  Emergency! TV series from the 70's. (I love how people come up with this stuff :) .) Now I want to see it...

Re your request for info, I have some thoughts of my own. 

To begin with, the idea of a scared-to-death non-pilot being talked through a plane landing is a plot that has been done in many successful books and films. If your memory is like mine, sometimes a trope in the zeitgeist like that gets mingled with an actual memory of something seen or something someone said. And it only gets corrected when revisited in light of text or recording. I'm not saying this is what happened with you, but if it did, here is a speculation.

There is an airplane film Rand talked about called Breaking Through the Sound Barrier. It was directed by David Lean with screenplay by Terrence Rattigan. This is the same David Lean that directed The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, etc. There is a reason I think this might be the film you are thinking about.

But first, here is the plot as given on Wikipedia:


After his aircraft company's groundbreaking work on jet engine technology in the Second World War, John Ridgefield (Ralph Richardson), its wealthy owner, employs test pilot Tony Garthwaite (Nigel Patrick), a successful wartime fighter pilot to fly new jet-powered aircraft. Garthwaite is hired by Ridgefield after marrying Ridgefield's daughter, Susan (Ann Todd). Tensions between father and daughter are accentuated by Garthwaite's dangerous job of test flying. In a noteworthy illustration of the new technology, Susan accompanies Garthwaite on a ferrying assignment of a two-seater de Havilland Vampire to Cairo, Egypt, returning later the same day as passengers on a de Havilland Comet.

Ridgefield's plan for his new jet fighter, "Prometheus", has placed the company in jeopardy. (Drawing on ancient mythology, Ridgefield notes that Prometheus "stole fire from the gods".) The problems faced by the new jet aircraft in encountering the speed of sound, the so-called "sound barrier", are ever present. In an attempt to break the sound barrier, Garthwaite crashes and is killed.

Shocked at both the death of her husband and at her father's apparently single-minded and heartless approach to the dangers his test pilots face, Susan walks out on her father and goes to live with friends Jess (Dinah Sheridan) and Philip Peel (John Justin), another company test pilot. Ridgefield later engages Peel to take on the challenge of piloting "Prometheus" at speeds approaching the speed of sound. In a crucial flight and at the critical moment, Peel performs a counterintuitive action (foreshadowed in the opening scene of the film) which enables him to maintain control of the aircraft and to break the sound barrier. Eventually accepting that her father did care about those whose lives were lost in tests, Susan changes her plan of moving to London and takes her young son with her back to live with Sir John.


Now here is the reason I mentioned. In Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A Paperback edited by Robert Mayhew (affiliate link), Rand said the following:


There is something strange about Breaking the Sound Barrier. I’ve seen it several times, and I have the impression that Rattigan presents his industrialist and pilot as concerned about their grandchildren or baby’s diapers, and so on, only because he wanted somehow to anchor his characters to earth.

I haven't seen this film yet, but I imagine there might be a relationship thing between the industrialist and a grandchild that dealt with fear.


At any rate, this got me thinking about Terrence Rattigan, so I made a collage of free association comments. I could try to tie a nice bow on this package, but I prefer to let each reader do that for himself or herself.


1. This is just a thought, but I believe Rand might have personally met Rattigan. I have no proof, only speculation. He was a famous screenwriter in the British film industry at the same time she was a screenwriter in Hollywood and she admired his writing. Here in O-Land, just about every time Rattigan is mentioned, he's identified as a playwright, which he certainly was, too. But the screenwriter part gets left out. I wonder why... At any rate, in my mind's eye, based on the things Rand said about him, I can easily see her studying his screenplays and/or movies (in addition to his plays).


2. Whenever Breaking the Sound Barrier is discussed online (in the places I have read), the issue of Chuck Yeager, the American pilot who really broke the sound barrier, comes up. The best explanation I've seen about why Rattigan attributed this feat to the British was given here on OL by Greybird (unfortunately now deceased), see here.


Another brilliant turn from the early '50s, well worth watching for, is his take on "Breaking the Sound Barrier." (As fiction and set in Britain, with no civilians then being allowed to know about Chuck Yeager of the USAF having already done it at that time.)


3. As an added thought to the previous one, much is usually made about Rattigan being gay and repressed about it. I guess that's important, but I don't see it reflected in his work (except, maybe in the throwing off shame climaxes I mentioned below, but I am not aware of any that deal with homosexuality). Also, in today's woke culture, I'm sick of self-righteous idiots forcing this stuff on the mainstream in places where it doesn't belong. So Rattigan being gay, to me, goes into the category of "good to know, but then forget." :) It's just not relevant to what I seek and get from his work. To me Rattigan was a wonderful writer. Full stop.


4. In an interview by The Atlas Society, Nathaniel Branden discussed the movie:

Ayn Rand's Inspiration: In Real Life and In Fiction


TAS:  Do you recall having ever attended movies or plays that ever moved her?

NB: Yes. The English playwright Terence Rattigan wrote a script called Breaking Through the Sound Barrier, which was a fictional account of how the sound barrier was broken by a British aviation company. I didn't realize what a strange movie it was, because when I later learned how that actually happened in America, I couldn't imagine how a person could justify inventing a totally fictional portrayal that bore no relation to historical reality. Just the same, the movie was brilliant in its own terms. I saw it and raved about it, and I took Ayn and Frank to see it, and they were very enthusiastic.


5. Here is the full quote from Ayn Rand about Terrence Rattigan in the Ayn Rand Answers book. According to the description of the abbreviations in the book, NFW 69 means "outtakes from Ayn Rand's 1990 nonfiction-writing course (which were edited and published as The Art of Nonfiction)." In other words, the section below is an outtake from that course, I wonder what else was left out in The Art of Nonfiction. I wish ARI would release the recording of the full thing like they did with Rand's fiction writing course. At least we have glimpses of a few extra things in Ayn Rand Answers, including the quote below. As to the quote, I don't know who asked the question, but Rand provided the answer and Mayhew edited it (probably with a meat cleaver :) ).


What do you think of Terence Rattigan? Do you consider him a romanticist, and specifically, is he a romanticist who uses conventional characters?

Rattigan is a repressed romanticist, and incidentally, a very good writer.

The Browning Version has a good, though subdued, plot. It seems naturalistic, but it has a well-constructed, romantic plot. In that sense, Rattigan is closest to Ibsen. The trappings are realistic and on the verge of naturalism, yet it is never naturalism. In The Browning Version, the professor is not a grand hero. But neither is he a conventional man. Nor is the relationship between the professor and the boy conventional. It is beautifully presented. Rattigan seems very sensitive to the devotion to values in human psychology; but all he can do is express this devotion. He has no philosophy with which to express values. That’s why I don’t consider him a writer who presents heroic actions by average men. The conformist touches are simply thrown in. He is not a romantic with conventional characters—he is better than that. The same is true of The Winslow Boy. It’s a historic event presented realistically, but it’s very abstract.

Rattigan employs dramatic characterization by essentials, and is concerned with the characters’ values. Separate Tables is beautifully done and romantic, although it has all the trappings of naturalism. It involves characters at a run-down resort hotel, and not one of them is treated naturalistically. They represent certain psychological abstractions, and are very beautifully done. It has almost no plot; yet there is action integrated into the theme. It has what I call a rudimentary plot. Something is resolved at the end. All the complex relationships—including the poor girl and the posturing man, and the central male character and his ex-wife—are resolved in action, even though it is not a fully integrated action leading to a climax. It’s a series of small climaxes.

What I’ve said applies to his screenplays as well. The V.I.P.s is brilliant as writing. The characters in Breaking the Sound Barrier are not entirely conventional men. The industrialist is not conventional in regard to his profession; neither is the young pilot who finally breaks the sound barrier. They are conventional in regard to their personal lives, and that is Rattigan’s great error. There is something strange about Breaking the Sound Barrier. I’ve seen it several times, and I have the impression that Rattigan presents his industrialist and pilot as concerned about their grandchildren or baby’s diapers, and so on, only because he wanted somehow to anchor his characters to earth. But his heart wasn’t in it; he obviously didn’t know how to present heroes in regard to daily life or human relationships. All the relationships in the movie seem to be thrown in as side details, and they had a negative effect on the total film. Rattigan’s focus was so obviously on their professions alone that I had the impression that he was asking the audience for forgiveness, in the same way the old industrialist begs his daughter to remain with him. It was as if Rattigan were saying to the audience: “I’m not inhuman; I do appreciate human relationships, only I don’t know what in hell to say about them. I’m interested in man the producer.” I’m putting words in his mouth, but that was my impression.

Judging by his works that I have read or seen, he is not good at presenting the conventional. He’s at his best presenting the unusual (though not always heroic), for example, the professor in The Browning Version. [NFW 69]


6. I came across the following post I made on The Browning Version thread here on OL (see here). Incidentally, that thread has several interesting comments about Terrence Rattigan. As to my post, I made it and reminded myself to add it to my fiction-writing notes, then promptly forgot about it. :) So I am very glad I found it just now. This is useful info for my own stories and I intend to revisit Rattigan for further study.


I've seen three Terence Rattigan films so far and I'm detecting a pattern in his climaxes: a great moment of shame being overcome, not just by the character feeling the shame, but the moment intensified by the acceptance of others.

In The Deep Blue Sea, Hester Collyer overcame her own shame after she realized what it was, that it existed in the first place, and that the doctor saw her for what she was (good, bad and ugly)--and he let her know it was OK. In fact, he was the one who explained her need to her and let her know she was the strong one. Climax as she underwent a huge immediate change in character.

In Separate Tables, the acceptance of the Major in his greatest moment of shame was by everybody in the restaurant except the busybody mother. Climax. Tearjerker climax at that. I liked the line where the other couple (who, to paraphrase, tore each other to pieces when together and tore themselves to pieces when apart) talked about the hotel restaurant being unlike the big city and high society of facades where one was lonely in the crowd, instead it was a place where everyone sat at separate tables, but talked to each other.

And in The Browning Version, Andrew Crocker-Harris was outright applauded by the students when he bared his heart to them after an entire career of emotional repression. Climax.

This makes me wonder... Ayn Rand gushed so much about Rattigan, I wonder about the role of shame in her idea of Romantic Realism, how fundamental it is. Shame looms large in her own fiction, it's the core of sanction of the victim. Her "shame" protagonists don't feel shame from actually feeling unworthy, though. They are conflicted by the shame they think they should feel, but can't.

Shame certainly was one of the main glues that held the early Objectivist movement together. People were constantly ashamed of not living up and it cut deep. (Hell, now that I think about it, unacknowledged and repressed shame is probably the reason for the snarkiness and quickness to reject and denounce by the more Randroid types.)

I'm going to think on this some...


That's all I've got for now. Even if it didn't answer your question, I hope you enjoyed reading about this stuff as much as I did digging it up and presenting it.



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  • 4 months later...
  • 2 years later...

Thanks for the responses. It's been many years, but I have seen this show or movie. The story is as I describe it; a young boy who ends up with the responsibility of landing a plane is talked down by a pilot who is on the ground. Maybe I'm wrong that Rand mentioned it somewhere. 

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