|Murder on Flight 502|
|Written by||David P. Harmon|
|Directed by||George McCowan|
|Music by||Laurence Rosenthal|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Executive producers||Leonard Goldberg|
J. Bret Garwood (associate producer)
|Cinematography||Archie R. Dalzell|
|Running time||97 minutes|
|Production company||Spelling-Goldberg Productions|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Television|
Murder on Flight 502 is a 1975 American made-for-television drama mystery thriller film directed by George McCowan. The film stars Robert Stack, Sonny Bono and Farrah Fawcett-Majors, along with an all-star ensemble television cast in supporting roles. It was inspired by the success of the Airport films.
TOA airlines flight 502 - a Boeing 747-100, takes off from New York City to London. At the airport, a bomb threat in the airline's first-class passenger lounge turns out to be just an elaborate prank smoke bomb disguised as a more sinister explosive time bomb. In relief that the incident is just a prank Donaldson complains how this needlessly caused him stress on his weekend off work, to which the bomb technician derisively states how much more stressful the call to the bomb scare was for him because he was at a motel when he was called and thought it was his wife calling trying to reach him, implying he thought he had been caught in tryst with someone other than his wife.
As the stress has momentarily passed this leads the assistant to Head of Security, Robert Davenport, to fortuitously presenting him with a letter found in his desk in-box he would not have received until the next morning. The letter explains that a series of murders will take place on Flight 502 before it lands. Robert Davenport notifies Captain Larkin, via the airline's direct radio channel. Donaldson and his team go over the backgrounds of all the passengers to find possible suspects, which irritates Larkin for the lack of details, causing him to be terse with an equally aggravated Donaldson who is none the happier for being talked down to while nursing a painful toothache. In the air, Captain Larkin, off duty Police Officer Daniel Myerson, and flight attendant Karen White look for suspicious passengers.
At first teenage passenger Millard Kensington is suspected because he has a history with the airline as a known prankster who clogged a previous flight's toilets with 13 sponges he carried aboard. He is suspected of placing the fake bomb in the first class passenger lobby in New York is now on Flight 502. After confronting the teenager regarding the seriousness of his actions and getting him to admit he did place the fake bomb in the airline passenger lobby, he is nevertheless apparently clueless about the serious nature of the found letter. Realizing the teenager's lack of malice Captain Larkin demonstrates he too means no harm to the boy and successfully defuses the moment when he invites him to visit the cockpit later so he can show him "How this thing practically flies itself." which the boy cheerfully accepts. He then relays a message back to Davenport that he thinks this is a red herring and requests further detailed backgrounds on the passengers as he only has names and addresses to go on from the flight manifest.
Relationships develop on board between elderly singles Charlie Parkins and Ida Goldman, who acts as a comic relief with her Yiddish sense of humour, rock star Jack Marshall, and Marilyn Stonehurst, mystery writer Mona Briarly, and suave passenger Paul Barons. Briarly suspects Barons is actually a criminal who got away with stealing seven million dollars from a bank, but Barons denies it.
The investigations on the ground and in the air produce several leads. It is discovered that the wife of passenger Otto Gruenwaldt who died because fellow passenger Dr. Kenyon Walker was not available to help. Then Gruenwaldt suffers a heart attack on board. Dr. Walker rushes to aid the dying man. Captain Larkin voices his apprehension at allowing Dr. Walker to treat Gruenwaldt and Myerson concurs openly stating "it wouldn't be the first time" implying someone in his position could take advantage of the situation to eliminate Gruenwaldt. Dr. Walker turns the tables on Larkin regarding whether he should apply the life saving drug or not, telling him "Alright you make the decision.". This puts the weight of life and death on Larkin's shoulders for this patient. Larkin clearly realizes he now may be to blame for stopping Dr. Walker from administering a life-saving medical treatment. He reverses his decision and allows Dr. Walker to go ahead and inject the life saving drug. While doing so, Dr. Walker brazenly states to Larkin and Myerson that they wouldn't even know if he gave Gruenwaldt "too much or too little" of the drug demonstrating to Larkin and Myerson how far they are beyond their depth of knowledge regarding medical expertise.
Once the drug is administered via syringe Captain Larkin again attempts to assert his authority over Dr. Walker again by demanding he surrender the used syringe, implying it may be needed as evidence. Dr. Walker stands his ground and refuses to surrender the syringe in question and states that he is only answerable to "my peers and my profession" implying his Hippocratic Oath supersedes the Captain and Myerson's legal authority. Larkin sharply replies that while Dr. Walker may be responsible for just this one life but as Captain of the airplane he is responsible for over 250 passenger's lives. Dr. Walker again immediately cuts him short when he pointedly draws the line by stating to the Captain "we each have our jobs to do, you do yours and I'll do mine".
Finally someone ventures to ask how long before they know about Gruenwaldt's survival, which he states will be in just few minutes and goes back to attending to Gruenwaldt who momentarily gains consciousness and begins to get upset that he has come to, realizing he might be expected to thank the same man responsible for his wife's death. He perceives this as dereliction of duty because Dr. Walker failed to receive the call, being at a party, missing the delicate operation he could have provided.
Dr. Walker cuts him short and explains that he doesn't expect anything from Gruenwaldt but only asks he try to understand that life and death situations occur daily to the extent that he can't remember them all. Gruentwaldt eventually gives grudging thanks for the saving of his life but makes it clear that he will still carry a hatred of his saviour for the loss of his wife, which Dr. Walker sagely replies "then that is something which we will both have to live with."
Ray Garwood attacks Marshall, blaming him for the death of his daughter due to an overdose. Garwood denies leaving the note, and Captain Larkin and Myerson believe him. Then an apparent break in the investigation comes when Briarly tells the captain that a priest on board may be an imposter, because he did nothing when it appeared Gruenwaldt was near death. Donaldson checks the priest out and discovers he is indeed an imposter and a known thief, thereby placing him under suspicion. Myerson looks for the priest, but finds him dead in the dumbwaiter. At this point the threatening letter's contents are revealed to the passengers. Briarly again notices that Barons seems the most fazed by the priest's death, and wonders if the two men knew each other. Soon a second murder occurs; flight attendant Vera Franklin is found dead by the co-pilot, meaning the real murderer is still lurking.
Concerned that he may be at risk now, Barons confesses to Myerson that he committed the bank robbery, and that the priest and Franklin were both involved in smuggling the money out of the country on the aircraft. Barons says he is the next target. Myerson agrees and pulls out a gun, proving he is the killer, having snapped when Barons escaped justice for his crime after no proof was found.
Myerson takes the passengers hostage and explains he murdered the priest and looked through the luggage of the crew and found the money in Franklin's bag. Captain Larkin makes a drastic move to distract Myerson by releasing the oxygen masks and going for the gun. In the ensuing struggle, Barons is killed, the cabin catches on fire, and Myerson is badly burned. The passengers extinguish the fire just as the crisis ends. Coincidentally, Donaldson belatedly calls to warn Larkin about the danger of Myerson being reported by his superiors as unstable, much to the Captain's irritation regarding the timeliness of the message. Larkin voices his frustration with Donaldson's slow methods as the flight lands safely in London.
On the ground, flight attendant White is alone with Captain Larkin in the cockpit and comes to say a final good bye and expresses her gratitude for Larkin saving the passengers but in a turnabout Larkin reveals his realization that White has conspired as the money smuggler of the stolen money. He explains how before the aircraft took off Franklin had dropped her bag, which had no money inside. Therefore, the money was put in the bag by the real guilty smuggler, Karen White. Larkin, in an ironic statement, tells White that in fact this will definitely be her last flight but not because of her originally expected honorable resignation. She will have to soon face the authorities in London to face responsibility for her actions that lead to the death of the innocent flight attendant Vera Franklin.
Garwood still visibly frustrated about the circumstances of his daughter's death apologizes to Marshall. Dr. Walker and Gruenwaldt reconcile and form a new relationship with a promise to meet in the future for a game of chess. Charlie Parkins and Ida Goldman decide to share a hotel room. The elder man, Parkins, expresses his concerns of a potentially scandalous social appearance of the unmarried seniors sharing a room and how that will come across by asking "What will they think of us?" to which a typically unshakable Ida shrugs and responds "So they'll call us swingers".
In the final scene, as Larkin accompanies Myerson down an escalator to hand him off to the waiting British police. Myerson demonstrates he is clearly delusional. He states that he and Larkin are in the "same business of protecting people". He further attempts to justify his actions, claiming he will be commended for protecting the people from criminals because he brought a thief to justice when the law would not. Mired in the delusional belief that he will be vindicated he shouts back to Larkin that he will put in a good word to the authorities for the Captain to get a commendation. Captain Larkin stoically looks on as Myerson is led off by the uniformed London "Bobbies".
Principal cast listed alphabetically:
Murder on Flight 502 took place primarily on a Boeing 747, purportedly flying out of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, but the opening title credits and first scenes are shot at Los Angeles International Airport. The "tacky production values" were evident throughout. Two different 747s with different liveries were shown at the airport, the aircraft takes off with a fake jet sound, then they show a different aircraft type landing than the 747 in flight. Despite having two flight attendants assigned to First Class, no one is served a drink except for Polly Bergen and the passenger next to her and maybe one other in the first row, and dinner is never served.
Robert Stack, then mainly shooting in Europe, was still a television icon and was in demand for the movie-of-the-week features that were common in the 1970s. In later interviews, Stack revealed that one of the prime incentives to sign on for Murder on Flight 502 was the opportunity to work with his wife Rosemarie and daughter Elizabeth.
The Los Angeles Times called it "an ill-begotten 'Son of Airport' that never gets off the ground having been fogged in by trite dialogue and cliche characterisations."
Reviewer Keith Bailey considered Murder on Flight 502 as typical of the 1970s disaster film. "The '70s was the era of the 90-minute (including commercials) TV movie, unlike this one; had this movie been cut down to fit a 90-minute slot, I am sure it would have been a definite improvement." Bailey considered that the film didn't work as a murder mystery but could have worked as a character study.
It was the 10th highest rated show of the week from November 17–23.