It's been seventeen years, but the crew of this World War II bomber are still out in the Libyan desert, wondering if they will ever be saved. They were forced to crash land after their navigator bailed out - the rest of the men thought they were over the sea, but without someone to guide them in the darkness of the thwarted night time bombing raid their mission was well and truly scuppered, and the plane went down in a particularly isolated area. That's why nobody knows where they are, and why they are forced to play endless games of baseball to pass the time, for when they try to walk to civilisation they end up back at the wreck of the bomber once again. Can anything help them?
Sole Survivor, perhaps more than any other made for television movie, carries with it a strong cult following among those who saw it as children and for whom it made a significant impression. The curious thing about it was that nobody could entirely agree on its details, the main issue being whether the lost crew were aware of whether they were dead or not, with some saying they knew from the beginning and others believing there was a twist in the ending where it was revealed to them that they had met an untimely end. There was a Twilight Zone episode from around ten years before that had a similar premise, yet the latter camp was convinced it was not that they had watched.
Perhaps it's appropriate that Sole Survivor, so preoccupied with the spirits of the dead, should have a ghost version that existed in the memories of many viewers, for if you saw the original you would be clear that the crew do indeed know they have died, and are waiting to be not so much rescued as have their corpses found and given a decent burial. Geurdon Trueblood's screenplay was adamant that if the deceased were not offered that service, they would be restless phantoms, or as restless as you can be if you are somehow tethered to the location of your demise, which added a chilling note to the drama when the stakes are raised for the characters. But this was not played out through the boredom of the dead.
That was because someone does find the plane, and they see to it that a party are sent out to the spot to ascertain what occurred, led by the General Hamner (Richard Basehart) who was actually the navigator who bailed out to leave his fellow airmen to their doom. You can imagine they are surprised to see him, and not a little put out when he tries to have his own misbehaviour not included in the official record, but here's the thing: none of the new arrivals can see them, and they can do nothing to alert them to their presence. Therefore the only hope they have is that Major Devlin (Vince Edwards, TV’s Ben Casey) twigs what happened by doing a bit of detective work on the shell of the aircraft.
Also appearing here, though not one of the leads, was William Shatner in the immediately post-Star Trek period of his career where he was showing up in TV movies like this and as a guest star in various series, though in this he was an officer was merely required to toe the party line and back up the plainly corrupt General. Oh and take his shirt off twice, for some reason (nobody else does). There was a light allusion to the Vietnam War era there as the top brass were responsible for allowing the lower stationed soldiers to needlessly die, though with this as expected the General receives a comeuppance of sorts, but while this was fairly talky and suffered from a meandering middle section, it was very effective in its conclusion as it leaves open the question of whether every body was found, much as the real life case of an actual crashed bomber that had inspired Trueblood had been. In its way, that desert location was providing most of the atmosphere, but Sole Survivor did have a certain something that stuck with you. Music by Paul Glass.