Three beautiful airhostesses fly from New York to Paris and Vienna, whilst looking for love. Carol Brewster (Pamela Tiffin) has her heart set on handsome co-pilot, Ray Winsley (Hugh O’Brian), whose job is at risk because of his past fling with a wealthy Frenchman’s wife. The jaded, Hilda ‘Bergie’ Bergstrom (Lois Nettleton) resists the advances of kindly, widowed millionaire, Walter Lucas (Karl Malden). And Sassy, gold-digger Donna Stuart (Dolores Hart) enters into a whirlwind romance with aristocrat Baron Franz von Elzingen (Carl Boehm), who may in fact be a diamond smuggler.
A jet-setting, travelogue romance from arguably the chicest era in American pop culture, Come Fly With Me is a quaint, intermittently charming relic from a more innocent age. An era when air travel was impossibly glamorous, people still smoked on airplanes, and a little in-flight flirting was all part of the fun. Based on Bernard Glemser’s novel, “Girl on a Wing”, the film is very much in the vein of MGM’s earlier hit, Three Coins in a Fountain (1954), with its classic girls-on-the-make plot (indeed Pamela Tiffin later starred in Jean Negulesco’s remake: The Pleasure Seekers (1964)), international locations and title culled from a Frank Sinatra song. This time around, the studio were reluctant to shell out the cash for old blue eyes and had Frankie Avalon record it instead.
Screenwriter William Roberts streamlined the novel’s five high-flying heroines to a more manageable three (the fourth-billed stewardess is played by Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell, with nary a line of dialogue), but the end result is tissue thin, better on delivering spectacular scenery in eye-popping Cinemascope than genuinely swoonsome romance. Though the script suggests dippy Carol is meant to be the annoying one, with other characters constantly threatening to smack her over the head, and despite being saddled with the dullest plot thread, gifted comic actress Tiffin plays her role with an appealing childlike sweetness. Carol eventually proves quite moral and smarter than she seems. Selfish, mercenary Donna, with her acidic putdowns (as Carol bursts into tears she mutters: “Remind me to buy some earplugs”), proves far more irritating. Her flip attitude makes it harder to sympathise when she’s left heartbroken. It’s a criminal waste of the talented Dolores Hart, who shone so brightly opposite Elvis Presley in King Creole (1958). Hart grew disillusioned with life in tinsel town and gave up her career to pursue a higher calling. She is now the Reverend Mother Dolores Hart, prioress of a Connecticut abbey.
Lois Nettleton shoulders the most endearing plot strand of the three, as the eldest, most romantically-jaded stewardess (“I always figured life would get better as it went along”). She doesn’t want to use Walter for his money or become a temporary substitute for his late wife, and has a hard time believing a man could still want her. Their courtship is well drawn and consequently, the one you most want to see have a happy ending. Aside from Karl Malden’s likeable widower, the men here are all smug, self-satisfied sharpies. The climax wherein Ray gags Carol before he lays down the law (“If I decide to marry you we’ll get married”) is disconcerting to modern eyes. Carl Boehm - miscast in so many Hollywood roles following his Austrian film work and the British Peeping Tom (1960) - is especially charmless, although it is fun watching him water-ski wearing a suit!
One could say Come Fly With Me is deeply dated by its sexual politics, but this is really a moot point. How could the film not reflect the era in which it was made? As colourful, splashy entertainment - the kind Henry Levin specialised in - it passes the time quite nicely. Plus Pamela Tiffin looks gorgeous in uniform. Er, what was I saying about sexism?