Nowadays transatlantic flights are commonplace. In our grandparents’ time, however, this wasn’t the case. The first nonstop transatlantic flight was made in 1919 by British aviators Alcock and Brown. Zeppelin service began in 1928 for very rich passengers. Pan American started the first passenger airplane flights in 1939 but soon stopped because of World War II.
For most people, flying across the ocean remained a dream for a few decades to come and they had to try it vicariously through the movies. Last night, I watched an obscure film called “Non-Stop New York” that included such a flight. Filmed in 1937, two years before Pan American got going, this murder mystery also qualifies as science fiction. It involves a British chorus girl in New York who gets caught up in a murder. When she gets back to England she reads in the paper that someone, who she knows is the wrong man, will be sent to the electric chair for the crime, so she stows away on a flight to get back in time to save him.
And what a flight it is! Every passenger gets their own room, a bugler announces dinner, there’s a well-stocked bar, and even an observation deck so passengers can hang out in the open air. Of course this is pure fantasy, you can’t even roll down the windows on an airplane, despite what some people may wish.
They got a couple of details right. There’s a map with a glowing line marking the plane’s progress and the cockpit has a thick metal door that can’t be broken down. This leads to some heroics during the finale of the film. If you like old movies, check out the link above for 72 minutes of public domain retro goodness.
Non-stop New York wasn’t the only film of its kind. There were movies involving radio-powered speedships and even a transatlantic tunnel. For more on this obscure subgenre of film, there’s an excellent article by film historian M.J. Simpson.
[Image courtesy M.J. Simpson]