Hangar 18 (James L. Conway, 1980)
In 1981, I lived in Morgantown, West Virginia, and had only broadcast TV. (Granted, these were the days when you could turn on a broadcast channel on a Saturday afternoon and see a kickass second-run movie instead of a raft of crappy infomercials—I specifically remember one Saturday afternoon being at a friend’s house, passing through the living room where his father was watching In Like Flint, and stopping dead in my tracks, flopping down on the couch, and watching the rest of it with him. Thus began my lifelong love of James Coburn.) In late ’81 or early’82—for some reason my memory of that period of time is quite foggy—we moved to State College, PA, home of the Penn State Nittany Lions. Which has nothing at all to do with this review. What does have to do with it, re the State College experience, is that my parents, when we moved, signed up for this newfangled stuff called Cable TV, and something called Home Box Office.
Mind = blown.
Five years before that, in order to see Star Wars twenty-three times, I had to go pay for twenty-three tickets! (To this day, the only movies I’ve come close to seeing in theaters that many times are River’s Edge and The Return of the Living Dead, at a dozen apiece.) Now, I could be completely obsessive in the comfort of my own family room! And three movies that were playing the month we signed up were pretty much tailor-made to attract the attention of monster-movie-loving me: 1979’s Alien, which of course has a place in my top 100 movies of all time; 1980’s The Return, which I’ve been meaning to re-watch and just haven’t got round to it; and fellow 1980 Hollywood alumnus Hangar 18. “It stars Darren McGavin? Sold!” (I was already a devotee of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. For that matter, thanks to the magic of Netflix, I still am.) Needless to say, it made an impression, but over time, that impression got fragmented; it popped up on Netflix Instant, so I sat down to see if it had aged well.
Man, my memory is a mess. I had grafted the Kolchak character onto McGavin in my head and remembered him as an investigative reporter trying to uncover the secrets of Area 51. In fact, he plays a high-ranking government official, Harry Forbes, who’s part of the attempt to keep a lid on the fact that a US-launched spacecraft collided with a UFO. The government, embroiled in an election year, hide the remains of the UFO in the titular hangar and start a smear campaign against Bancroft (Airport‘s Gary Collins, who died last year) and Price (Sling Blade‘s James Hampton), the shuttle pilots, blaming the accident on incompetence. Bancroft and Price have to avoid government agents, led by semi-psychotic Gordon Cain (The Towering Inferno‘s Robert Vaughan), while figuring out how to prove their innocence and expose the government conspiracy.
Once you get past the presence of McGavin and the sci-fi angle (which is actually kind of incidental, more a plot point than anything else), this is a standard, somewhat forgettable seventies action thriller, save that it was made during the eighties. It’s not horrible (certainly not horrible enough to have gotten the MST3K treatment—though it did, in 1989), but it’s not nearly as good as I remembered it being, either. No wonder I’d forgotten most of the details and had been left with vague impressions. Still, if you’ve nothing better to do, there’s a whole lot of stuff on Netflix Instant that you’ll enjoy far less than this. ** ½