Skyjacked is a 1972 American disaster film directed by John Guillermin. The film stars Charlton Heston, James Brolin, and Yvette Mimieux, along with an ensemble cast primarily playing the roles of passengers and crew aboard an airliner. Skyjacked is based on the David Harper novel, Hijacked.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||John Guillermin|
|Produced by||Walter Seltzer|
|Written by||Stanley R. Greenberg|
|Based on||Hijacked (novel)|
by David Harper
|Music by||Perry Botkin, Jr.|
|Cinematography||Harry Stradling, Jr.|
|Edited by||Robert Swink|
Walter Seltzer Productions, Inc.
|Box office||$6.55 million (rentals)|
Skyjacked explores the personal dramas and interactions that develop among the story's characters during a crisis that is endangering all of their lives.
During a routine flight to Minneapolis, a passenger (Susan Dey) aboard Global Airways Flight 502, a Boeing 707, discovers a bomb threat written on the mirror of one of the first-class bathrooms. A second threat is soon found left on a napkin in a galley. Captain Hank O'Hara (Charlton Heston) takes the cryptic threats seriously and follows the instructions -- "Bomb on plane divert to Anchorage Alaska. No Joke, No Tricks. Death"—by changing course for Alaska. To avoid an explosive decompression if a bomb goes off, he flies at lower altitude, increasing fuel consumption.
The weather at Anchorage is so poor, a United States Air Force ground-controlled approach specialist (Claude Akins) is called in. His radar shows a small aircraft with radio failure that is approaching the same runway, but Flight 502 has too little fuel to go around. O'Hara sees the other aircraft at the last moment and manages to avoid a collision and land safely.
On the ground, O'Hara learns the hijacker is one of his passengers, Sgt. Jerome K. Weber (James Brolin), a Vietnam veteran driven insane by war trauma. Whether he has a bomb or not, Weber is certainly armed with guns and grenades. He threatens to detonate a grenade in his hand if anyone attempts to interfere with his plans.
After a majority of economy-class passengers successfully escape by an emergency slide, the remaining passengers and the three economy-class stewardesses are allowed to leave. Weber keeps the remaining crew as hostages, including a stewardess (Yvette Mimieux) with whom O'Hara had been in a relationship, and all of the first-class passengers, including a U.S. Senator (Walter Pidgeon) and a woman (Mariette Hartley) who has gone into labor due to the crisis. A federal agent tries to slip on board, but is caught by Weber and becomes another hostage. Weber demands to be flown to Moscow, where he intends to defect to the Soviet Union.
Although the Soviets deny clearance into their airspace, Weber insists on being flown straight ahead to Moscow, becoming increasingly agitated. Soviet fighters intercept the airliner, but are eventually convinced it is civilian once O'Hara lowers the landing gear and flaps to a full landing configuration. The Soviets then allow the hijacked airliner to land at Moscow, ordering it to stop short of the terminal as armed soldiers surround the plane.
All passengers and the remaining crew are finally released, leaving O'Hara and Weber as the last ones on board. Weber, who had nursed fantasies of becoming a hero to the Soviets, is jubilant to have seemingly achieved his dream. He gloats to O'Hara that no bomb was in his possession. But then he realizes the Soviet forces surrounding the aircraft are preparing to attack him, not welcome him.
Weber prepares to open fire on the Soviets, and when O'Hara tries to intervene, Weber shoots him. Both men stagger down the airstair to the landing strip, where Weber is shot and killed by Soviet forces. O'Hara survives, and looks up to the sky, with a smile of relief, spotting another aircraft that has just taken off.
As first billed:
- Charlton Heston as Capt. Henry "Hank" O'Hara
- Yvette Mimieux as Angela Thatcher
- James Brolin as Jerome K. Weber
- Claude Akins as Sgt. Ben Puzo [Note 1]
- Jeanne Crain as Mrs. Clara Shaw
- Susan Dey as Elly Brewster
- Roosevelt Grier as Gary Brown
- Mariette Hartley as Harriet Stevens
- Walter Pidgeon as Senator Arne Lindner
- Ken Swofford as John Bimonte
- Leslie Uggams as Lovejoy Wells
- Ross Elliott as Harold Shaw
- Nicholas Hammond as Peter Lindner
- Mike Henry as Sam Allen
- Jayson Kane as William Reading (credited as Jayson William Kane)
Film rights were bought by Walter Seltzer. The star was Charlton Heston, who had made four films with Seltzer.
Under the working titles Hijacked and Airborne, principal photography took place from early January to early March 1972. With the emphasis on an aeronautic incident, the production obtained a World Airways Boeing 707 (N374WA) to play the part of the "Global Airways" airliner. With 90% of the filming done inside a 707, Charlton Heston compared his work there to what director Alfred Hitchcock had achieved in filming Lifeboat (1944). Current United States Air Force operational North American F-100 Super Sabres were repainted as the Soviet interceptors. Oakland International Airport was used for the airport scenes.[Note 2]
Filming took place in early 1972. Charlton Heston wrote about the experience in his diary:
January 4: ....I've never done a film with so many scenes I wasn't in. Still there was the 707, all becrewed and passengered. I did get a chance to try my uniform on. I look OK... January 5: ....My first scene today consisted of walking out of the cockpit and into the can. Very demanding bit of emoting there. January 20: The opening shots went well, John Guillermin utilizing his talent for richly textured full shots, most with a moving camera. He provided a good introductory scene for me. I'm beginning to realize this is not a rich role, of course. Nonetheless, if the film comes off, it'll help me. I'm beginning to think it will, too... Skyjacked looks surprisingly good, I was relieved to see...It seems very tight. A pleasure for a change to be in a film that runs under two hours...it's been some time." 
Vincent Canby of The New York Times was generally positive: "... a basically standard melodramatic movie situation can be made diverting and occasionally gripping. Aerial hijacking is a shocking fact of life these days and Skyjacked, a straightforward, simple thriller, which, if memory serves, is the first in this genre, treats it without glamour and as the madness it is. ... John Guillermin, the director, handles an essentially familiar plot with speed and efficiency."
- Kasindorf, Martin. "How now, Dick Daring?" The New York Times, September 10, 1972, p. SM54.
- "All-time Film Rental Champs." Variety, 7 January 1976, pg 44.
- "Notes: 'Skyjacked'." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 6, 2014.
- Koerner, Brendan I. (18 June 2013). "Skyjacked: The Strange History of Plane Hijackings in America". Wired.
- New Books New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 24 Oct 1970: 28.
- Heston Returning to MGM for 'Airborne' Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 30 Oct 1971: a6.
- Murphy, Mary. "Fryer to Produce 'Mame'." Los Angeles Times, December 25, 1971, p. c10.
- "Original print information: 'Skyjacked'." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 6, 2014.
- Eames 1982, p. 364.
- Soares, Emily. "Articles: 'Skyjacked'." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 6, 2014.
- "Skyjacked". Turner Classic Movies.
- Canby, Vincent. "Skyjacked". The New York Times, May 25, 1972.
- "MGM Says Earnings From Operations Rose 15% in Its Aug. 31 Year: After Extraordinary Gain From Sale of Properties, It Expects To Report Net of $10.5 Million". Wall Street Journal. 1 Nov 1972. p. 14.