Flying Couch Potato: Trouble Aloft

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To the U.S. Air Force, a happy 50th, and some condolences. Empathize civilian-style along with Jimmy Stewart in 1966's Flight of the Phoenix. It's Lifeboat in the desert, or maybe a grim, post-war Gilligan's Island, with Stewart as an old-dog Skipper forced to yield to the "push-button world" and the ice-cold young German (the Professor?) who embodies it. You'll wince, maybe proudly, when Stewart tells us that "the little men with the slide rules and the computers are going to inherit the Earth." And then consider that this week, the whole thing could have been filmed off the coast of New Jersey.

But you're a savvy taxpayer. You want to know what all those computerized stealth thingies are for. Take either according to your mood: tragedy or satire Lumet or Kubrick, Fail-Safe (1964) or Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1963). And watch them nukes fall.

So after all that, why get off the ground? Fifty years before Maverick and Goose, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy dared the clouds in Test Pilot (1938), a paean to the thrills, thralls and tragedies of dancing with that blue-clad lady (more of the last, apparently, when in a military aircraft). Just ask weak-kneed Myrna Loy when her man goes plummeting. It was MGM's biggest hit, and you get Lionel Barrymore thrown in. And remember: they died at their trade.