Skyway to Death is another TV-guest-stars-in-jeopardy disaster flick that is surprisingly effective in building considerable suspense. As an act of revenge, a distressed technical operator sabotages an aerial tramway when he is fired from his job due to his drinking problem. An assortment of passengers become trapped when the aerial tramway breaks down at 8500 feet in the air. Meanwhile an ominous storm is heading their way threatening to plummet the all-star tramway earthward.
The special guest victims include Ross Martin as an unfaithful husband, traveling with his hurtful but devoted wife played by Nancy Malone. Also in this bunch we have a non committal potential bride played by Stefanie Powers traveling with her eagerly to get married and pushy wannabe groom played by Joseph Campanella. Other characters include Ruth McDevitt as Aunt Louise, the obligatory charming little old lady wearing a funny hat and filled with wise insight ; Bobby Sherman, as the aerial tramway operator; Tige Andrews and David Sheiner as the tramway operation engineers; Billy Green Bush as the saboteur with a drinking problem; Severn Darden as a professional pick pocket artist; and John Astin as a man suffering from acrophobia who decides to save some mula in therapy sessions by facing his fear and riding the aerial tramway hoping that will result in a cure.
The film was directed with a good sense of pacing and visual style by German born director Gordon Hessler, best known for his films: Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1971 and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in 1974. The film was originally released on U.S. TV on January 19, 1974 and was later given a theatrical release four years later in West Germany.
The production values are way above average featuring some dazzling aerial photography by J.J. Jones and an effective music score by Lee Holdridge. The film also features spectacular stunt work and simple but highly effective special effects. There are several highlights in this film including an exciting rescue attempt involving a helicopter and the nerve wrecking climax when the tramway's hydraulic breaks suddenly fail plummeting it out of control towards disaster.
Skyway to Death is not high art and at times falls on the inevitable predictability of most disaster flicks particularly when it delves into the melodramatic and soapish stories of its many characters but when compared to other more ambitious but even more immensely flawed films like Irwin Allen’s The Swarm, When Time Ran Out and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure it almost puts Skyway to Death in the category of a mini-masterpiece. With a running time of less than 80 minutes, Skyway to Death is a tightly paced suspense drama, perfectly executed for what it aims at and a wonderful example of how a talented production team can put together an exciting piece of entertainment considering the limitations of a limited budget. In fact, Skyway to Death, makes the later Allen efforts and other late 70's and early 80's multi-million disaster epics pale in comparison by looking better and accomplishing more with less.
The film has not been officially released on either tape or DVD but an “unofficial” DVD transfer from a Showtime broadcast is available for purchase at http://www.ioffer.com/i/15188084