WTFW: Sole Survivor

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

WTFW: Sole Survivor

Sole Survivor (1970) was a ABC Movie of the Week written by Guerdon Trueblood and directed by Paul Stanley.  It starred Richard Basehart, William Shatner and Vince Edwards.  The film is loosely based on a 1958 discovery of the remains of a B-24 Liberator bomber, "Lady Be Good" in the Libyan desert, which crashed following a bombing raid on Naples in 1943.  The plane missed the African coast and flew on into the desert.  Although the craft had broken into two pieces upon impact it remained well-preserved in the desert environment with food and water still aboard.  The bodies of the crew were not with the wreckage as it was later learned that they had bailed out of the aircraft prior to its crash; their remains were eventually found the following year some 80 to 100 miles north of the wreckage site.

The Twilight Zone TV series episode entitled "King Nine Will Not Return" had a similar storyline, and was also based on the discovery of the "Lady Be Good".


Sole Survivor (1970)

  • Genre: Drama – Fantasy 
  • Directed: Paul Stanley
  • Produced:
    • Wally Burr 
    • Steve Shagan
  • Written: Guerdon Trueblood
  • Starring: Vince Edwards, Richard Basehart, William Shatner, Lou Antonio, Lawrence P. Casey, Dennis Cooney, Brad David, Patrick Wayne
  • Music: Paul Glass
  • Cinematography: James Crabe
  • Editing: Renn Reynolds
  • Studio: Cinema Center 100 Productions
  • Distributed:
    • Columbia Broadcasting System  
    • Warner Bros.
  • Rated: NR
  • Release Date: 9 January 1970
  • Running Time: 100 minutes
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English

Back Story:

While returning from a World War II bombing mission, a United States Army Air Forces B-25 Mitchell bomber sustains damage from action with German fighters.  Without any order to abandon the aircraft, the navigator, Hamner (Basehart), panics and bails out.  The aircraft, now lost due to having no navigator, and the remaining crew overfly their base and continue on for another 700 miles before eventually crash landing in the Libyan desert.

The five remaining crewmen survive the landing and, believing they are close to their base, strike out across the desert only to die of exposure after several days beneath the relentless African sun.


Main Plot:

The ghosts have made their way back to the wreckage of the aircraft where they have spent the next seventeen years in a type of limbo state, playing baseball and longing for repatriation back to their home country, which can occur only if their bodies are recovered.

The plane is finally spotted by an oil surveying aircraft, which reports the discovery back to the United States Air Force.  Seeing the survey plane and realizing that they are soon about to "have visitors", the five remaining crew members' ghosts begin returning the plane to its state at the time of the crash, putting objects and artifacts in their original positions in hopes of convincing their visitors they had stayed with the plane and hopefully inducing them to search for their bodies.

Having survived the crash, Hamner, who had remained in the military after the war and is now an Air Force brigadier general, accompanies the team sent to investigate the remains of the B-25.  Fearing disciplinary action and the end of his military career should the truth of his cowardice be found out, he tries to convince his fellow investigators that the entire crew bailed out over the Mediterranean with him and that the pilotless plane somehow flew on by itself.  Although the discovery of Gant's harmonica indicates that the crew did not bail out over the sea, the bodies are nowhere to be seen.

Unable to find evidence to the contrary, the team has no choice but to accept Hamner's explanation and is about to leave when the ghosts of the crew make their appearance to an inebriated Hamner, leading him to flee in panic across the desert in a jeep.  Followed by his colleagues who are intent on preventing the man from injuring himself, the chase ends with them arriving at the scene of an abandoned life raft (the crew having abandoned the plane in the darkness and convinced they were still over open water) and the bodies of most of the dead crew, making it clear the truth behind Hamner's bailout of the aircraft and his apparent cowardice obvious.

In the end, the ghost of each crewman suddenly vanishes as their bodies are recovered, their spirits apparently forced to accompany their remains back to the United States - the exception being Tony, who had returned to the plane only to die when the tail section dropped on him.  Hamner is the sole survivor from the crew and Tony is the sole survivor of the ghosts.  The film ends with a solitary Tony at the plane, but also a glimmer of hope as the pilot's log is found, mentioning Tony's return to the plane.  One final visit to the crash site is decided upon.

The film was produced as a Made-for-TV movie for the ABC television Anthology series "ABC Movie of the Week". It was broadcast on 9 January 1970. It has never been released on home video.

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