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The Ghost of Flight 401

February 6th, 2009 by aunt john · 7 Comments

Continuing with the theme of '70s made-for-television movies set on unbelievably roomy commercial airplanes comes the ERNEST BORGNINE-led THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 401. The opening credits feature a flight crew of pretty stellar actors (RUSSELL JOHNSON of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND, HOWARD HESSEMAN of WKRP fame, and the lovely and talented KIM BASINGER); however, save for BASINGER, none of the aforementioned icons survive the routine flight from New York to Miami and all perish when their plane crashes in the swampy Florida Everglades.

Of course, a major airplane disaster is no match for co-pilot BORGNINE, and he manages to make it out of the bog and to the intensive care unit where he flat lines in the subsequent scene, but not before telling his wife that he loves her and their two small children. Cut to the obligatory graveyard scene, followed by some reminiscing over the loss of Papa Bear BORGNINE, and the lives of those that work at the airline seemingly return to normal. The salvaged pieces of the crashed plane are used as replacement parts for other planes within the fleet and BASINGER eventually finds herself passing out peanuts and reminding passengers to return their seat-back trays to the upright position.

Alas, BASINGER is not the only flight crewmember from the doomed Flight 401 to return to the friendly skies; the ghost of BORGNINE joins her. At first he only appears to the female stewardesses in the galley, and their claims are dismissed as hysteria by smarmy airline pencil pusher GARY LOCKWOOD. In fact, he sends BASINGER off to a company therapist before allowing her to fly again, and she delivers one of those over-the-top, Emmy-baiting monologues about her dead Mama worthy of recitation by MARY CATHERINE GALLAGHER. The supernatural cameos by BORGNINE continue to escalate, and after the male pilots begin to substantiate the stewardesses’ claims, LOCKWOOD begrudgingly agrees to attend a séance to rid the airline of its in-flight ghost once and for all.

As far as séances go, THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 401 features a real snoozer. No crystal balls, no Ouija boards, just two really dull mediums who tell us that the late co-pilot is attached to the repurposed parts of the plane and he wants everyone to be safe. Even BORGNINE skips this scene and it anticlimactically ends on a dull note with a stock shot of the clouds and a voiceover saying that the ghostly appearances promptly stopped after the séance.

Based on a book based on the actual crash of an Eastern Air Lines plane, THE GHOST OF FLIGHT 401 pales in comparison to THE HORROR AT 37,000 FEET. It tries too hard to be serious, and sidesteps it full potential. With BORGNINE haunting the plane and a young BASINGER pushing a drink cart, one should expect first-class thrills, not cramped, coach chills.

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Tags: Telenasties

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Feb 7, 2009 at 8:13 am

    There are two versions of this story, this one and the Crash of Flight 401 with William Shatner. i don’t know what the difference is. I havev both but haven’t seen either one. I actually started to watch this one not that long ago when I was doing chores. That Ernest. He’s a wonderful actor!

    My friend read the book, btw and loved it!

  • 2 aunt johnNo Gravatar // Feb 7, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Amanda: The one with SHATNER focuses solely on the crash of the plane; the one with BORGNINE starts with the crash, but then gets into the whole ghost story aspect. I had really high hopes for the BORGNINE one (he’s aces in my book for marrying ETHEL MERMAN for a month; plus he knows the secret of life!), but it was such a snooze-fest, it literally put me to the sleep the first time I watched it.

  • 3 Meep ParkerNo Gravatar // Feb 7, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I remember hearing about Borgnine’s secret some time back, but it was great to actually see it. And on FOX NEWS no less! It kind of makes me want to be a republican now. Well, kinda! Anything is worth being as cool as Mr. B.

  • 4 micksterNo Gravatar // Feb 7, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    Oh my goodness! Aunt John, I stopped by my parent’s house today on my way back from TN and for some reason my mom mentioned Borgnine’s super brief marriage to Ethel Merman. That is so weird! As for Borgnine’s “secret”, I saw that clip on The Soup several times. It made me laugh hysterically.

  • 5 aunt johnNo Gravatar // Feb 8, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Mickster: Speaking of the many wives of ERNEST BORGNINE & THE SOUP,  I love it when JOEL McHALE busts on TOVA BORGNINE. Sadly, I can’t find any clips to link to… 🙁

  • 6 micksterNo Gravatar // Feb 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Yes! I also enjoy the slamming of Tova. I remember one time a caller (on QVC) said someone had asked her, “What are you wearing?” and she replied, “That’s my Tova.”

  • 7 DarthPariahNo Gravatar // Feb 9, 2009 at 11:15 am

    Ernie Borgnine has done some definite vid nasties over the years. He did The Devil’s Rain with John Travolta and William “I Overact Every Bloody Scene” Shatner…supposedly Anton LaVey, head of the Satanic Church, was an “advisor” on that movie.

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