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No Highway in the Sky
Directed by Henry Koster
Produced by Louis D. Lighton
Written by Alec Coppel
Oscar Millard
R. C. Sherriff
Starring James Stewart
Marlene Dietrich
Glynis Johns
Jack Hawkins
Music by Malcolm Arnold
Cinematography Georges Périnal
Editing by Manuel del Campo
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) United Kingdom June 28, 1951
United States September 21, 1951
Running time 98 min.
Country UK
Language English

No Highway in the Sky is a 1951 British disaster film directed by Henry Koster and starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. The film is based on the novel No Highway by Nevil Shute, and was one of the first films that involved a potential aircraft crash.



The film follows Theodore Honey (James Stewart), a highly eccentric "boffin" with the Royal Aircraft Establishment. A widower with a precocious young daughter, Elspeth, Honey is sent from Farnborough to investigate the crash of a "Reindeer" airliner in Labrador, which he theorizes occurred because of a structural failure in the tail caused by sudden metal fatigue. To test his theory in his laboratory, an airframe is continuously shaken in eight-hour daily cycles.

It isn't until Honey is aboard a Reindeer that he realizes he himself is flying on one such aircraft and that it may be close to the number of hours his theory projects for the fatal failure. Despite the fact that his theory is not yet proven, Honey decides to warn the passengers and crew, including actress Monica Teasdale (Marlene Dietrich). After the Reindeer lands at Gander Airport an inspection clears it to continue on. He takes drastic action to stop the flight by raising the undercarriage while the aircraft is still on the ground. The ensuing flap includes demands that he be declared insane to discredit his theory.

Teasdale and flight attendant Marjorie Corder (Glynis Johns) both take a liking for Honey and Elspeth, who is lonely and isolated from her schoolmates. Teasdale speaks on his behalf to his superiors, while Corder, seeing that he is a decent but disorganized, decides to marry him.

During a hearing in which his sanity is questioned, Honey resigns but continues trying to prove that his mathematics are sound. In the laboratory, the time he predicted for failure passes without failure. However, the Reinder he disabled is repaired, but after landing from a test flight the tail falls off. Shortly afterwards, the same thing happens to the test frame in the lab, and Honey discovers that he failed to calculate temperature as a factor in his calculations.


Life imitating the movies

Three years after the film and six years after Neville Shute's original novel (No Highway) there were two fatal crashes of the world's first jet passenger airliner, the de Havilland Comet. Investigation found that metal fatigue was the most likely cause of both accidents, albeit in the fuselage and not the tail.


  • Jones, Ken D., Arthur F. McClure and Alfred E. Twomey. The Films of James Stewart. New York: Castle Books, 1970.

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